Letter To The Editor, Disturbing Changes Announced by DCS – Possible Negative Affects on Local Schools

Letter to the Editor

“Letters To The Editor” do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Jefferson County Post nor any of its employees.  The Jefferson County Post does not underwrite any of the facts or situations mentioned in the letters.

Submitted by: David Seal, Jefferson County Commissioner District #9

Disturbing Changes Announced by DCS

Several elements of the announced changes to Mountain View Youth Development Center in Dandridge cause me great concern for the safety and security of Jefferson County. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS), the agency that operates the facility, announced on Tuesday February 9, 2017 that “changes are coming to Mountain View.”  Among those announced changes are plans to contract with a private company to operate the facility, remove the razor wire security fence, “de-emphasize correctional-style, hardware-secure institutions in favor of programs that can treat and educate youth,”  in other words, relax security and coddle the inmates. This change, according to the press release, is required to secure partial federal funding. The DCS press release actually said “ youth [level 3 offenders] would have more freedom inside the facility.”  The entire approach that DCS is taking sounds experimental, and in my opinion places the community at risk.  Make no mistake, the inmates that DCS houses in its detention facilities, like Mountain View in Dandridge, are dangerous convicted criminals; in many cases they are hardened repeat offenders that have been given numerous chances by Juvenile Court to comply with the law.  In September 2014, Reporter Adam Tamburin of The Tennessean reported on a mass escape of 13 juvenile inmates at the Woodland Hills location that went on a late night rampage of vandalism and thuggary that terrorized the Woodland Hills area until Nashville Metro Police and THP apprehended all but one of the escapees. Keep in mind that Woodland Hills (a DCS facility) was secured with a razor wire fence identical to the one at Mountain View in Dandridge; the inmates successfully escaped anyway. The text of the news story and 13 photographs of the vandalism spree, Woodland facility, and escapee arrest can be viewed at https://www.google.com/amp/amp.usatoday.com/story/16339829/

Possible Negative Affects on Local Schools

The other aspect of proposed changes at Mountain View that concern me is the possibility that some inmates in DCS custody may be eventually placed in our local schools.  I base this concern on two sources of information.  One source of information is the DCS Press Release itself.  The language used in the February 9 release would suggest that educational services will be emphasized over correctional-style treatment.   When DCS contracts with private “providers” to operate facilities like Mountain View, those providers are held to a set of standard guidelines that include among other things ”education standards” (Section 13 in the Provider Manual, pages 6-8).  This manual describes circumstances under which inmates can be placed in local public schools. A link to that manual can be found at:  http://www.tennessee.gov/assets/entities/dcs/attachments/Section_13-Education.pdf

DCS Documentation

In speaking with DCS Deputy Director of Juvenile Justice Debbie Miller last Friday, she indicated that DCS has no plans to place offenders held at Mountain View in local schools.  However, language in the DCS Provider Manual would suggest otherwise.  In reading this provider manual, I discovered several references that indicate local public schools may play a role in serving the educational needs of the inmates, especially those with special needs. The state Provider Manual even makes reference to having a “school liaison to work with the public schools,” a point of contact  between the “Contract Provider” and local public schools. It also refers to “b) Youth who are certified for special education upon admission [to the detention facility] are referred to the Director of Special Education of the school system in which the detention center is located.” Under “Establishment of Guidelines,” Sub-section (c), the manual states: “Students are assessed to determine placement in public school or the in-house school.”

Troubling Questions

The language of the Provider Manual begs several questions: will the State of Tennessee, having the goal of saving three million dollars annually at Mountain View, or its private contractor, use the services of local schools to cut the cost of educating the inmates at Mountain View? Will the new arrangement change the security structure of our local schools? Given the fact that DCS is headed away from a correctional environment to one of education, what threat, seen or unseen, will affect our local community once the razor wire fence is removed? Will our local schools be expected to bare the financial burden of educating the inmates in DCS custody? Since the new management at Mountain View may be a private provider, will the Special Education funds allotted to Jefferson County Schools be reduced due to a state provision called “Proportional Sharing,” a system by which special education funding is divided between public and private schools in a given district?

My Conclusion and Suggestion

Please review the documents that I have provided and draw your own conclusions.  The text of the DCS Press Release, Provider Manual, and the Tamburin Article referenced from The Tennessean are crystal clear. The safety and security of our community may be affected by the proposed changes; and your role as a citizen is to make your concerns known to your elected leadership, especially state officials and state legislators. The links below will be helpful in contacting those officials.

David Seal

Jefferson County Commission, District 9

https://www.tn.gov/dcs/topic/dcs-staff

http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/

http://www.jeffersoncountytn.gov/media/file/lib/2016-2018_Current_Government_Officials.pdf

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