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VOL. 36 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 20, 2012




Lawmakers try to keep Taft youth center open

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Several state lawmakers want the commissioner of the Department of Children's Services to reconsider a proposal to close a juvenile detention center in Bledsoe County.

Taft Youth Development Center takes in the state's hardest cases and currently houses about 100 juveniles.

Commissioner Kathryn O'Day proposed its closure after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam asked state departments to prepare for possible 5 percent budget cuts. O'Day has said closing Taft would save $4.4 million a year and the juveniles could be transferred to other facilities.

She also said it has capital needs of up to $37 million.

Democratic Sen. Eric Stewart of Belvidere and several other lawmakers said at a news conference earlier this week that the commissioner was given misleading information. For instance, Stewart said the capital needs cost is from a wish list that was made several years ago.

"We keep getting the figure of $37 million is what it's going to cost to maintain Taft," he said. "That ... is coming from a wish list from back in 2007, which is if you remember, the state had a heck of a lot more money in 2007 to make plans with than they do today."

In highlighting the need for Taft to stay open, Rep. Charles Curtiss noted that almost 30 percent of the population has been transferred from other facilities that weren't able to hold them.

"The concern I got, is where they plan on putting them?" said the Sparta Democrat. "If they couldn't hold them in the other facilities and they're going to do away with this one, exactly what do you plan on doing with them?"

Rep. Cameron Sexton has said officials should also look at Taft's success rate with juveniles. He said compared with four other centers, it has the highest rate of success when looking at juveniles who have been released without committing another offense in a year's time.

At the news conference, Sexton lauded the center' s GED program. He said he was scheduled to speak this Friday at a commencement for several teenagers who graduated from the program, but was told the deputy commissioner of the Department of Children's Services postponed the ceremony.

Sexton said he believes the postponement was politically motivated.

"I think it's very unfitting to play politics with the kids at Taft who spent ... months trying to get their GED," said the Crossville Republican, adding that he hasn't gotten a response from the department about why the ceremony was halted.

Department spokeswoman Molly Sudderth told The Associated Press the cancellation was because families of some of the students hadn't been properly notified, and they live "outside of the area."

"Those are pretty significant trips for those families," said Sudderth, who didn't know when the ceremony would be rescheduled.

On Tuesday, legislation advanced out of the House Health Subcommittee that would set up a sta tewide review committee for youth development centers instead of one for each center. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

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