News Channel 5 Nashville | Child advocates blast proposed DCS rules for housing delinquent youth

July 7, 2023

One licensing board member: ‘They caught some things maybe we didn’t’

View original article here. Published by Ben Hall on July 6, 2023.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A proposed change to rules at the Department of Children’s Services could lead to widespread privatization of youth detention facilities and may even lead to children being kept in solitary confinement. 

That is the opinion of child advocacy groups that documented abuses at the Wilder Youth Development Center. 

Disability Rights Tennessee was among the groups sounding the alarm at a public hearing on newly proposed DCS rules. 

One member of the DCS licensing board said after the hearing that it is likely DCS will amend the proposed rules after what advocates said, “I think they caught some things maybe we didn’t catch.” 

Child advocates said the Department of Children’s Services is creating an entire new licensing category for facilities that hold delinquent youth. 

They claim the new category has fewer restrictions on things like the use of chemical spray and solitary confinement. 

A representative from the Youth Law Center, a national non-profit law firm,also spoke out against nearly 100 pages of newly proposed rules.

Disability Rights Tennessee and the Youth Law Center published a reportabout abuses at the state-run Wilder Youth Development Center after aninvestigation that began in 2020, which found juveniles kept in solitaryconfinement and guards abusing juveniles.

“We’re concerned about the creation of a new category in licensing,” Jamailsaid at the public hearing today.

“We wonder if it opens up the door for more privatized prison-likeenvironments for children,” Jamail said in an interview.

DCS pushed back against the idea it is creating an entire new category, butsaid the proposed new rules are designed to regulate youth facilities that havestarted operating since the rules were last updated – more than 20 years ago.

“What is new is something that will more clearly define something that isalready in operation,” said DCS spokesperson Alex Denis.

“Our team is going to take everything said into consideration and most likelyadd some things to these rules to make sure they are more restrictive,” Denissaid.

Changing the rules is a long process.

DCS will review the public comments it received today.

Then it will put together the final draft of the new rules which are submitted to the Attorney General. That could be weeks or months away.