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DCS blames Wilder Youth Development Center problems on accreditation limitations

Tennessee Department of Children's Services wants to return to more prison-like standards.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There is new information about the troubles at Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County. After a series of escapes and attempted escapes at the facility, Tennessee Department of Children's Services hopes to scrap the standards it has been following the past several years. The move would allow the department to use more physical force and more restraint with youth in the facility.

Last week state officials revealed their plan during a meeting in Fayette County. For months the Department of Children's Services has refused to be interviewed about what's happened inside Wilder, but an audio tape from the Somerville City Board of Alderman meeting last week revealed what DCS has planned. 

The Wilder Youth Development Center houses youth in custody. Many are accused of committing serious felonies, and many are 18 years old. Those are just a couple of reasons state officials told Fayette County leaders they have had problems at Wilder. According to an audio recording, state leaders also say staffing shortages and age and layout of the facility are an issue.

"Are there challenges? Yes, there are challenges. Do we have things in place to minimize those challenges? Yes," said Darren Goods, Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Justice.

Goods said the recent problems at Wilder are in part due to the facility accreditation. Goods said the facility used to be accredited by the American Correctional Association, which sets the standards for prisons; however, a few years ago, it changed to the Council on Accreditation, which takes a more therapeutic rehabilitative approach to deal with troubled youth. Goods said, under current standards physical force is limited. State officials want to change that. They told Fayette County Officials they have started the process to return to ACA accreditation so they can go use more security measures and restraint on kids at Wilder.

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"It just makes good common sense as go back," said Goods, "That will allow our youth service officers to do more hands on to do more being able to secure these young men."

"We should be looking at additional alternatives or resources to get them support they need, rather than saying let’s just go back to handcuffs because we can’t do anything about it," said Cardell Orrin, Stand For Children.

Orrin said he is concerned about the state's plan to return to ACA standards and questioned if the state's attempt at a more theraputic approach was even given a fair shot.

"We don’t know whether they had the staffing to implement it. We don’t know whether it was implemented with fidelity, according to the standards, they would have. We know that from the reporting that they are short staffed and don’t have enough people there, so we can make an assumption or guess that maybe they didn’t have enough counselors or staff who were also there to implement this well," said Orrin.

Orrin said current national best practices in juvenile justice reform are rehabilitative in nature, not punitive. Many youth from Shelby County end up at Wilder, so Orrin has a lot of questions about what's happening there.

"What’s causing them to want to break out? What are the issues they are happening in the center?," said Orrin. "What’s happening to the children?"

This week, after another incident at Wilder, Local 24 News again asked for an on-camera interview and once again was turned down.

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