On a Razor Wire Fence

editorial-logo3Isn’t it funny how bad decisions don’t seem to have a shelf life? It may take a year, or ten years or thirty years or a lifetime but somehow truly bad decisions always know just where you live. Take, for instance, the current situation at Mountain View Youth Development Center. Years ago we, Jefferson Countians, were sold a bill of goods. We were told that Mountain View would be safe. It would not be an eyesore for our community and, most of all, it would bring good paying, middle and upper management jobs for our people. That was then and this is now.

Now, we know better than to believe that Mountain View is safe. There are multiple documented incidents of violence at the facility, so many, in fact, that the Governor made a public relations trip to the facility to calm the nerves of those in the know individuals that have been keeping their eyes on Mountain View. We know that Mountain View has had to seriously drop the number of inmates that are housed in the facility because it cannot be controlled. And we know that those “good” jobs that were promised never really came. Oh, there were a few and we do have some local people that are employed at the facility but the lion’s share of the highest paying jobs were not filled with Jefferson County residents. They were initially brought in by the private contractor that ran Mountain View until the State of Tennessee took it over and then they were filled with a string of rotating State employees that filled the administrative positions. Recently, it has appeared to be much like a revolving door of employees. Don’t get me wrong. I think that type of work has to be emotionally straining but there seems to be more going on than just routine emotional wear and tear. As late as last week there were whispers of yet another employee that was attacked by an inmate.

If it appears that the incidents at Mountain View have been on the rise, one only has to look as far as the data for some head scratching answers. Yes. Incidents have been on the rise since the State of Tennessee instituted a “therapeutic” model in recent years and, if the data is correct, it just isn’t working. Apparently, teens with three felonies just aren’t that impressed with getting a “time out”. According to a former head administrator for Mountain View, it takes three felonies to land you at a level four facility like Mountain View. These inmates are not the kid next door that just got into a little trouble. Those kids are in an altogether different type of facility. These kids are inmates. And, they are doing time for some very serious crimes.

So, now the State of Tennessee has decided that they want to leave a few dozen beds for “hardware inmates” like those that are there now, with fencing and a controlled facility, and then they are going to have 60 or so Level III offenders in an area that has no fencing and a one to eight inmate to employee ratio. Now, that might sound good-decreasing the level of inmate that is housed at Mountain View- right up until you find out that the only difference in a Level III and current inmates at Mountain View is that a Level III has not had a violent incident on their record in six months. Yep. Six whole months without a violent incident and we are going to take down the fencing and turn Mountain View into a glorified half way house for wayward teens. Well, that is unless the Superintendent of Mountain View gets a call from the State and is told to “level down” an inmate, regardless of their crime or their in house record of violence. Why would the State of Tennessee want to level down inmates? It is simple really. The State can get federal funds for Level III inmates that it cannot get for the worst of the worst.

It is in the best financial interest of the State to “level down” inmates, regardless of what is in the best interest of our community. By the State’s own policy, Level III inmate facilities do not have fencing. It is considered contrary to their “therapeutic model”.

As appalling as taking down the only protection that our community has between this group of serious three time offenders is that, if the State brings a private contractor in to run Mountain View there is a distinct possibility that those inmates that are “leveled down” will find their way into our schools. They could soon be walking the halls of Maury Middle School, the Patriot Academy and Jefferson County High School. The party line from the State is that there is no plan to place those students in our schools but their own policies for privatization provide the opening and that is one threshold that I am not willing to sit by and watch be crossed. The State has a history of misrepresenting the community impact of Mountain View. Why should we believe them now?

It is irresponsible for the State of Tennessee to allow any fencing to be removed from Mountain View. It is irresponsible for the State of Tennessee to impact our community any further than it already has with this facility. We have played nice and fair for years and deserve much more consideration than we are being given by the State of Tennessee. Go on down to Nashville or West Tennessee and take down their fences. Privatize their facilities so that the community has absolutely no input through their elected officials. Take what few jobs there are for their residents and leave them looking for work or moving out of County. Filter inmates into their schools because a “private” contractor can’t meet their academic needs. Believe me, they won’t be near as nice as we have.

We have been carrying the black eye of Mountain View and all of the promises made and broken for decades. Through the riots and breakouts and changing of hands and changing of the guard we have sucked it up because we stood by our bad deal. But this time, this proposed action, is unacceptable. We are not fools and we are not fooled by your industry jargon. Call it level III or call it level 33, heck call it daisy mae, the name is unimportant. The felons at Mountain View are just that-felons. They may be underage but they are far from being “just kids”. This is about safety but it is about much more than just a fence. It is about how the State of Tennessee protects its law abiding citizens. Politics and federal dollars just don’t cover the cost of community safety. This is one issue, one fence, that no one should be sitting on.

Source: K. Depew, News Director

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