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VOL. 36 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 27, 2012




DCS commissioner defends decision on closing Taft

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Department of Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day on Wednesday defended Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's decision to close the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County.

O'Day appeared before the House Government Operations to answer a series of questions from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who oppose closing the juvenile detention center in Pikeville.

An overflow crowd attended the hourlong hearing, and extra security was on hand to limit access to hearing room.

O'Day argued the state's five juvenile jails are not full and that Taft is the oldest and least efficient among them. The other jails are located near Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.

"The system on its best day today operates at 69 percent occupancy," O'Day said. "In my previous career I was a private provider and residential services, and I can tell you that with a 69 percent occupancy rate I would have been out of business in very sho rt order.

Eliminating one of the centers would improve that rate to 87 percent, she said.

That argument didn't resonate with some lawmakers on the panel, who said more is at stake than saving money.

"Is the government in the business of saving every penny, even at the expense of the health and safety of even the criminal as well as the people who could be affected if they get out too early?" said Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City.

"The government cannot always act as an efficient private business," he said. "They can't do it."

Other Taft supporters noted the facility is the most restrictive in the state because it holds older teens who are serious and repeat offenders.

"With the closing of Taft there is concerns about putting these 17 1/2-year-old kids in with kids in another facility who are 14 and 15, and what's going to happen to them?" said Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. "And what's going to have to happen is the department is going to h ave to be held accountable."

O'Day said the administration plan would still separate populations within other detention facilities.

She also noted that a new prison opening in Bledsoe County should provide job opportunities for most of the current workers at Taft.

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