Proposal to close youth center controversial - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Proposal to close youth center controversial

PIKEVILLE, BLEDSOE COUNTY (AP) - A proposal to close a juvenile detention facility in Bledsoe County is creating controversy.

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

Department of Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day is proposing its closure due to a call from Gov. Bill Haslam to cut departmental budgets by 5%. O'Day has said closing Taft would save $4.4 million a year and the juveniles could be transferred to other facilities.

She said the facility cost more than any other in the system with its $12 million operating budget and capital needs of up to $37 million.

Lawmakers who represent Bledsoe and the surrounding area have raised objections to the proposal.

Republican state Rep. Cameron Sexton suggested other solutions to cut spending, such as eliminating jobs that have been frozen. He says Taft "takes the offenders that the other centers can't control" and closing it is "not a solution to the problem."

He also noted that closing the facility would mean putting nearly 170 people out of work.

O'Day has countered that many employees at Taft are trained by the Tennessee Department of Correction and would have a good chance at getting hired when the $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex opens, which is scheduled to occur in 2013. Officials say the prison will employ at least 400 people.

Other lawmakers who have voiced opposition to the proposal include Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Sens. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere; and Charlotte Burkes, D-Monterey.

Harmon, who represents Sequatchie and Van Buren counties, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the Department of Children's Services "jumped in a little early" with the proposed closing. He said officials need to look at short-term and long-term impacts before making any final decisions.

Taft inmates can't be put "back where they've already been disruptive," he said. "And juvenile problems and gang problems are not getting any smaller."

Sexton 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.

Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier said closing the facility would affect government, businesses and local utilities - but he said the biggest impact "is the disservice they are doing to the children."

"To me it's strange, you've got a model institution of rehabilitation for students and we're going to close it down," he said.

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