Statement by DCS Commissioner Jim Henry
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 — Today, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth released its report and recommendations following the two tragic suicides at Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge. The report includes brief summaries of both students’ histories with DCS.
“After 20 years with no suicides at Mountain View, we suddenly experienced two this summer. So I asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the TCCY to review these deaths,” said Commissioner Henry. “I respect both of these organizations for their insight, experience and independence. We wanted a thorough assessment of Mountain View, and I am thankful that they agreed to take on this sensitive task. The TCCY has completed its review while the TBI investigation is in its final stages. We are committed to being as open and forthright about our efforts, while still preserving our students’ confidentiality.
“We are deeply appreciative to Linda O’Neal and her TCCY staff. The TCCY report is tough but fair. It is helpful to have another set of experts take a close look at our programs.”
Some of our ongoing actions and next steps:
- We have reassessed each Mountain View student’s well-being and needs in the past few weeks. A suicide-prevention program is in effect, and we are completing a Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths assessment for all youth at our three YDCs. The CANS helps us identify needs and develop service plans.
- We need to move further away from a correctional-style approach and more closely toward a therapeutic approach in order to get our students on the right track. A majority of our juvenile justice youth has mental-health and substance-abuse issues, and that is one reason we asked Dr. Michael Cull to become Deputy Commissioner for Child Health. He has an extensive background in addressing children’s mental-health needs. We have been reaching out to other states and experts to learn how they have delivered these services to juvenile-justice youth. We will now intensify those efforts to deliver trauma-informed care to our youth.
- Our ongoing work to come into compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act will continue to make our facilities safer. We are already increasing awareness, supervision and safety, including carrying out required facility upgrades.
- We need to improve our ability to fill the vacancies at Mountain View. Our students deserve it, and our staff, which is now working mandatory overtime, deserves it too. Already we have instituted an accelerated interview, background check and training process to get qualified staff into the facility. We currently have 30 vacancies at Mountain View.
- We must make sure that our YDC staff members and regional teams share treatment plans and information about each student with each other. All direct-service employees need to understand how students’ behavior in the dorms might be affected by the students’ histories, backgrounds and ongoing treatment.
- Along with the rest of Children’s Services, the three youth development centers are undergoing review with the Council on Accreditation this year, and if successful, our Juvenile Justice division would the first in the nation to receive COA accreditation.
Meantime, we will address all of the TCCY’s recommendations, and we believe they will continue to help us improve our practice. We will also await any updates and insights from the TBI regarding their continuing review of the Mountain View deaths. The cases have also been investigated by the Dandridge Police Department, the DCS Special Investigations Unit and the DCS Internal Affairs Division.
Click here for a link to the TCCY report.
Facts on Juvenile Justice
DCS operates three Youth Development Centers: John S. Wilder, Woodland Hills and Mountain View.
These YDCs are secure residential treatment facilities that provide delinquent male youth, ages 13 to 19, with 24-hour supervision and care. Most of these youth have committed at least three felonies.
Each YDC has a superintendent that manages the daily operation and care of the youth residing in their facility. The current total population of youth in all three facilities is 329. The staff-to-student ratio during waking hours is 1 to 12 and during sleeping hours is 1 to 16 for all the facilities.
It is up to each county’s juvenile judge to determine a youth’s sentence, and the state’s judges take into account a youth’s history and the seriousness of his crimes. There are two types of commitments at a youth development center: determinate and indeterminate sentences.
When a youth is adjudicated delinquent, a judge sentences the youth to either a determinate or indeterminate sentence. In a determinate sentence, youth spend a set amount of time, usually until they are 19, before they can leave custody.
Determinate sentences are often used for extremely serious and violent crimes. Twenty-eight percent of all YDC youth have determinate sentences. Youth who have an indeterminate sentence can leave custody after completion of their treatment. Typically, this takes about 18 months and the department has to petition the court for the youth’s release. Currently, 72 percent of youth have an indeterminate sentence.
DCS tries to place a youth in a YDC as close to home and family as possible. But the department must balance that with the need to match a youth with the services he requires, as some YDCs have different programs.
Services at all three facilities include:
- screening and assessment;
- case management and individualized planning for youth;
- on-site accredited school programs with GED preparation;
- contract medical and dental care;
- religious services;
- individual and group counseling;
- Aggression Replacement Training, to improve student’s social skill competence, anger control, and moral reasoning;
- individual and family therapy;
- psychiatric services, contract personnel that provide evaluations, monitoring, and medication management;
- Level I & II alcohol and drug treatment;
- a structured community service program for students to work with various agencies;
- student council, student representatives meeting monthly with staff to discuss student life issues and concerns;
- structured indoor and outdoor recreational activities.
Services specific to particular YDCs
Wilder YDC —A 144-bed facility located in Somerville. Most of the youth at Wilder are from Shelby County, and most have a determinate sentence. Treatment services specific to Wilder include:
- Crisis Assessment
- Case Consultation
- Sex Offender Treatment
- Student Rewards Program
- Programmatic Segregation Unit.
Wilder has a total of 202 allotted staff positions, but as of August, there are 13 vacancies. The average age of a youth at Wilder is 16.7 years old. Currently, Wilder has one youth on suicide watch.
Woodland Hills YDC —A 132-bed facility in Nashville. Treatment services specific to Woodland Hills include:
- Student Newsletter
- SPARCS, a program to help trauma survivors
- Students on the Right Track
- Victim Impact, which helps students understand the impact of the crimes they commit
- Therapeutic Response Unit
- Vocational Training
Woodland Hills has 191 allotted staff positions, but as of August 26, there were 28 vacancies. The average age of a youth at Woodland Hills is 16.9 years old. Currently, Woodland Hills has one youth on suicide watch.
Mountain View YDC —A 144-bed facility located in Dandridge. Treatment services specific to Mountain View include:
- Incentive Program
- Ambassador Program
- Special Management Program
- Volunteer Services
- Level 3 Sexually Abusive Youth Program
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Mountain View has 205 allotted positions, but as of August, there were 30 vacancies. The average age of a youth at Mountain View is 16.8 years old. Currently, Mountain View has no youth on suicide watch. All three YDCs are accredited by American Correction Association with a 100 percent rating. Mountain View has completed the Prison Rape Elimination Act audit with no findings. Wilder and Woodland Hills will complete the PREA accreditation process in the next two years, one per year. All three facilities will complete the Council on Accreditation process this year: one in October, November, and December. Tennessee’s YDCs will be the first youth development centers in the country to go through the COA process. The Division of Juvenile Justice’s annual budget is $39.1 million. Of the 7,873 children in custody, 15 percent are in Juvenile Justice. Of our Juvenile Justice youth, 27 percent are in a YDC and the remaining 73 percent are receiving services within the community.
- Overview of the Youth Detention Centers operated by DCS on tn.gov/youth.
- The CANS, short for Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths tool, is used by the Department of Children’s Services to help the staff determine the best placement and services for children and youth in our care. CANS is a scientifically-based process and it consists of approximately 65 items that are used to evaluate a youth’s background, family and needs. Versions of the CANS are currently used in 25 states in child welfare, mental health, juvenile justice and early intervention applications.
- DCS this month welcomed Dr. Michael Cull, who has an extensive background in children’s mental health, as the new Deputy Commissioner for Child Health. Under Cull’s leadership, the department is looking to a more therapeutic approach at youth detention centers.
- Dr. Robert Anda, co-principal investigator of the ACEs study and senior scientific consultant for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has spoken with DCS staff about Adverse Childhood Experiences and the importance of trauma-informed care, which DCS uses in working with children and families. To learn more about prevention, healing and resiliency watch this video presentation by Dr. Anda.
- Helen Ross McNabb therapists provide mental health services to youth at Mountain View. The therapists have offices in the Mountain View units and are on-call if their services are needed after-hours. You can read more about the East Tennessee agency on their website.
- Aggression Replacement Therapy is a nationally recognized evidence-based program that has proven successful in teaching new coping and interpersonal skills to youth in DCS detention centers and across the country. Mentioned in the TCCY report, you can read more about it here.
- The Prison Rape Elimination Act is a federal law focused on eliminating sexual abuse in confinement settings. DCS is working toward PREA compliance in 2017.