NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Creating new beds and transitioning youth to adult court for escaping a juvenile facility are just a couple of recommendations the Ad Hoc Committee on Juvenile Justice sends to the Tennessee legislature.
So far, only one bill has addressed the Department of Children's service after a tumultuous time for the state agency. Throughout the last few months, the Ad Hoc Committee has held eight public meetings on the issue of the juvenile justice system and DCS.
The NewsChannel 5 Investigates team exposed repeated failures inside the Department of Children's Services throughout 2021 and 2022. In those two years, children were sleeping on the floor of DCS offices, staying in hospitals long after they should have left, running away from DCS offices and continuing to experience trouble with juveniles at the Wilder Youth Development Facility.
"We know there's no single issue to solving all the issues, but I think you will see remarkable investments and resources for an agency that needs it," Sen. Page Walley, R-Savannah said.
Gov. Bill Lee fired DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols during the summer. The new commissioner, Margie Quin, took over in September and has been more open about the dire situation the department faces.
"We've left no stone uncovered," co-chair Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, said.
Here's what the committee voted to recommend to the governor and lawmakers:
- To fund a hardwire, secure facility. The state needs more than 200 additional beds. This was proposed to be at the current Wilder facility.
- To increase the compensation of the Department of Children's Services staff
- To fund additional DCS prevention grants to fund the Middle Tennessee area
- To create a unified court system for the juvenile courts. What an actual unified system is to be determined, lawmakers said. The goal is to create an easier flow of information among counties.
- To allow more court access to DCS records
- Create a stronger, clinical presence for the mental health of children at every facility. There are no round-clock therapists at each facility. They want to make a therapist available at each facility.
- To create a second-look process for children in the juvenile court system
- To amend the law that juveniles who escape from a youth center could be sent to adult court for the crime of the escape
- To amend the law to expand the ability of DCS to transfer juveniles to adult court
- To develop a pilot step-down program for children at the Wilder facility before they are released
- Make chaplain services available to youth at all facilities
- Provide additional training for DCS officers for behavior management and conflict