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Concerns grow after recent escapes from Wilder Youth Development Center

Records show teens have been found on roofs, have stolen keys, and used sheets to try to climb to freedom.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — What is going on at the Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County?

Records show nearly ten times in the past two years that teens have either escaped, been caught trying to escape, been caught on roofs or causing a major disturbance. The most recent incident was Monday, when four kids got out of their dorms, and were caught trying to escape.

On the Somerville square, residents said they are very concerned about what's happening just down the street at the youth center.

"For one thing, I think someone's not doing their job 'cause they are getting out too often," said Beverly Feathers.

"They need to straighten things up over there and get the right people in place," said Harold Todd.

The Wilder Youth Development Center detains some of the state's most violent youth. Three schools are located near the facility. Chief Deputy Ray Garcia with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office says that is a big concern for residents. 

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"We as the sheriff's office have to be be concerned with the safety of the public, so that's where we are becoming alarmed about the frequencies of the the incident," said Chief Deputy Garcia.

Garcia said even though it is run by the state, deputies are called to respond to incidents at the center. According to FCSO records, the teens are often found on the roofs of their dorms and other buildings. They have gotten a set of dorm keys and escaped, and they have thrown sheets over the razor wire on the fence to try and escape.  

There was a riot in 2019, and in the past two and a half years, Garcia said records show deputies have responded to 20 assault calls on the property, four sexual assault calls, 14 disturbance calls, and two complete escapes.

"I'm not sure if it's a manpower issue, not sure if it's an issue with the physical facility - knowing the age of the facility and when it was built. I don't know if it was built to the level of offender they house, in terms of the seriousness of the crime that they commit," said Garcia.

No one from the Department of Children Services would agree to an interview, but in a statement a spokesperson said they take security breaches seriously. 

The department has taken steps to make the facility safer - that includes hiring private security, improving lighting on the campus, and improving video surveillance. The Department of Corrections also sent a team of security specialists to Wilder to evaluate existing security protocols.

The department is also hiring and its spokesperson said they are working to improve staff pay and policy.

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