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Broken: Controversial juvenile facility has powerful owners

Posted: 11:01 AM, Nov 21, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-26 22:29:05-05
Middle Tennessee Juvenile Dentention Center sign 2.jpg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A controversial juvenile detention facility has a powerful list of owners including a current state lawmaker and a judge's wife.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first exposed solitary confinement conditions inside the Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Maury County.

But the Department of Children's Services, which inspects and licenses the facility, insists it is in good standing.

State Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, is among the owners of the facility.

Other owners include Phyllis Parkes, the wife of Maury County Circuit Court Judge J. Russell Parks.

Here, according to the facility, are all the owners and the percentage each owns:

  • Jim Biggers - 18.46 percent
  • Gene Davidson - 13.46 percent*
  • Martin Haggard - 10.46 percent
  • Madora Bevis - 10.0 percent
  • Gaines Ramsey - 10.0 percent
  • Randy Butler - 9.96 percent
  • Phyllis Parkes - 7.5 percent
  • Wayne County Bank - 6.5 percent
  • Jason Crews - 6.0 percent
  • Autry Gobbell - 5.0 percent
  • David Byrd - 2.62 percent

(*An earlier version of this story identified Gene Davidson as a former state lawmaker. It is a different Gene Davidson. NewsChannel 5 regrets the error.)

Middle Tennessee Juvenile Dentention Center ownership.jpg
Owners include a state representative and a Circuit Court judge's wife

The state pays the facility $132 dollars "per child per day," according to its DCS contract.

At full capacity, which is 57 juveniles, it would make more than more than $2.7 million dollars a year.

The center is the first place that DCS sends most juveniles from Davidson County once they are in state custody.

Juvenile Court Administrator Kathy Sinback said, "It's not a secret they have terrible facilities, terrible programs and policies for our youth."

"The sad thing," Sinback continued, "is the majority of kids who leave our jurisdiction, that go into DCS custody as juvenile justice youth, go directly to the Middle Tennessee Detention Facility, and they stay there for weeks, sometimes months."

The DCS licensing director, Mark Anderson, oversees regular inspections at the facility and said it is in compliance with state policies and laws.

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Anderson insisted its powerful owners do not impact state inspections.

"We have had several facilities in the past that have had a connection to very important people, and we have made it very clear that does not matter to us," Anderson said.

He said the state only "recently" became aware there was more than one owner at the facility because it had always dealt with just one person - Jason Crews.

"We don't always know who owns a facility and it wasn't until very recently that we realized Jason Crews was not the sole owner of the facility," Anderson said.

Middle Tennessee Juvenile Dentention Center sign.jpg
The facility is located in a rural part of Maury County

The Detention Center looks like an office building, but 911 calls reveal the chaos inside.

"I need an ambulance ASAP. I have a juvenile cutting herself," one caller said.

On a different call the operator asked, "How bad is she bleeding and where is she bleeding from?"

The caller responded, "I don't really know. I'm not allowed to go in the room right now, she's on lockdown."

The calls show suicide attempts, vandalism and fights with staff.

Juveniles, ages 12 to 19, are there waiting on DCS to place them in more permanent facilities.

"All they are doing is warehousing kids until they go to the next placement they can find, and DCS seems like they don't know where that is going to be," Kathy Sinback said.

As NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported, Davidson County officials believe the chaos is in part because juveniles are often locked inside their cells 22 hours a day or more.

"They have solitary confinement policies. They force their children to be in their cells for sometimes 23 hours at a time in solitary confinement for no reason," Sinback added.

But Davidson County officials say it's not just the confinement, it's the lack of counseling or steady schooling that have them concerned.

Davidson County juvenile probation officer Kelly Gray points to what happened to a 16 year old from Davidson County earlier this year.

"He is very meek and very mild, very quiet," Gray said.

Juvenile Probation Officer Kelly Gray.jpg
Davidson County Juvenile Probation Officer Kelly Gray

Gray said the teenager went into DCS custody after pulling a gun on his mom's abusive boyfriend.

"When he was leaving juvenile court, he was hugging everybody including myself telling me this is what I need," Gray remembered.

"During his time at Maury County, he went into a deep, dark depression."

When Gray asked how often he went to school, he told her in an interview that "some days he didn't get the opportunity to go at all. They only picked certain people and he was picked about 5 times. He was never told how they determined who was 'picked' to attend."

"There's only a certain number of kids who are able to go to education on any given day and the kids never really understand the rules about when they are going to get services and when they are not," the probation officer explained.

The 16 year old said "he went to counseling one time" during his 20 days there.

"They're getting no treatment, no rehabilitation," Gray said.

And a picture posted on Facebook shows when juveniles get to visit with their families, they are often shackled and handcuffed.

The Department of Children's Services emphasized the facility is not supposed to provide long-term services, but said kids can stay locked inside for three months or more.

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"These are not designed to be long-term facilities," Mark Anderson said.

"Unfortunately they end up being that sometimes when we are waiting on a court date or waiting on a placement somewhere."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Should juveniles be shackled and handcuffed during visitation?"

Anderson responded, "I don't think it's ideal that youth would be shackled and handcuffed while they are visiting family."

But the DCS licensing director said shackling kids is not a violation of DCS policies - and said it is for security and safety.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Is there a problem with schooling at the facility?"

"I don't think so," Anderson said. "Schooling at the facility is handled through the Department of Education."

Davidson County Juvenile Court officials blame the state for allowing kids to go to place where they're not getting the help they need.

They say its another tragic example of our broken juvenile justice system.

Related: Juvenile dentention center locks children in solitary

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