Tensions Rise As Razor Wire Comes Down At Mountain View

Serious changes are on tap for Mountain View Youth Development Center and the impact of those changes have been the cause of concern for local government officials and citizens. Mountain View is currently a state run, “hardware secure” youth correctional facility located on Industrial Drive in Dandridge,Tennessee. As is typical with a “hardware secure” correctional institution, fencing and razor wire surround the $8 million dollar facility but that will not be the case as the state makes moves to privatize Mountain View.

According to DCS representative Rob Johnson, the state is planning to keep 24 “hardware secure” beds and will make 60 Level III offender beds which, according to the therapeutic correctional model that has been used at Mountain View since 2014, will be without the traditional security features such as razor wire. Removal of that security measure has been a point of concern in the community and particularly for Dandridge Police Chief Williams. Last month, Chief Williams expressed his concern to the Dandridge Board of Mayor and Aldermen, noting that even with the security of razor wire in place Mountain View has had a multitude of incidents that have required local police intervention. Of particular concern to Williams is the proximity to Dandridge Elementary School and the Jefferson County Nursing Home, as well as the community at large.

Since the state initiated a therapeutic, rather than correctional, model of treatment for inmates in 2014, violent incidents have been on the rise. In 2014, the last year of the correctional model, two incidents were noted at Mountain View but that number rose sharply with the therapeutic model. In 2015, there were 23 offenses that ranged from sexual battery and rape to weapon related assaults and 2016 saw 37 incidents including escapes, assault, sexual battery and rape. With the increased number of offenses inside Mountain View and growing community concern regarding the safety of the facility, the state dropped the number of inmates housed in the facility to around 40.

The new proposal would find inmates moving in from other locations to fill the 60 Level III beds. Level III offenders may be stepped down from “hardware secure” classification, at the discretion of the Administration or if they have not had a violent incident on their record in six months. It is unclear how the private contractor will address the common areas of the facility to meet the criteria of the Level III Continuum, which requires a more normal environment that is free of razor fencing and only has a one to eight employee to inmate ratio. Johnson stated “ Razor wire will come down on the Level III portion” but acknowledges that they are still working out the particulars regarding common areas such as cafeteria. What they do know is that the time line for the change is on the fast track. Johnson said that the state does not have to go through the bidding process if they use current private contractors which will speed up the process. He expects to have a contract within a few weeks and the privatization to take place before July 1, 2017. Currently, there are no private providers that have experience with “hardware secure” youth facilities and there is no hybrid facility, one that combines Level III inmates with “hardware secure” inmates in the Youth Correctional program.

Should the privatization of Mountain View take place, it would not be the first time that the facility has been privately operated. In June of 1988, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Board sold the current location of Mountain View to Corrections Corporation of America and Mountain View was operated as a contractor for the state for a short period of time. At the time of the inception of Mountain View, the selling point for the newly minted Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and the Jefferson County Industrial Board was the promise of bringing jobs to the area and the infusion of property tax. When the state bought the facility from Corrections Corporation of America the property became tax exempt. The current plan to privatize the facility would include a lease of the facility to the contract company, according to Johnson. Employees at Mountain View are currently state employees. According to DCS, they would have the opportunity to apply with the contractor, thus moving out of state employment, or apply for other positions inside the state employment pool.

Though the state’s own guidelines for Level III Continuum allow, in certain instances, for the attendance at pubic schools, DCS representative Johnson stated that it is not intent of the state to filter those Level III inmates into public school. He also noted that, while “hardware secure” inmates are totally funded by the state, Level III inmates receive federal funds to assist with the cost of their incarnation. While DCS touts their intent to educate inmates at the facility, it is notable that a change in course would not be the first time that intent regarding inmates at the facility was sidestepped. The original agreement between the Jefferson County Industrial Development Board and the state’s private contractor Correction Corporations of America restricted the use of the premises to a juvenile correctional facility for juvenile offenders whose present behavioral status is non-violent. But, despite the stipulations associated with the deed, information from the facility highlights a laundry list of violent offenses that often require local police intervention.

When asked what assurance the community can have that the changes at Mountain View are not just opening the doors for both Level III and “hardware secure” inmates to walk out into the community, Johnson responded “ That is what we are trying to work out.”

Source: K. Depew, News Director

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