Taft Youth Center clock ticking, workers scramble - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Taft Youth Center clock ticking, workers scramble

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BLEDSOE CO., TN (WRCB) -- The clock is ticking down for employees of the only teen correctional facility in the area.

The Taft center is closing due to budget cuts. Pink slips went out last week for the 168 employees.

The center has operated in Pikeville for nearly a century and has the best rehabilitation success rate in the state.

July 1 is the tentative closure date if Governor Bill Haslam's budget without funding for it passes. Many are scrambling to figure out their next move during what they say is a very emotional time.

"Taft's been good to me, but I thought 37 years would be worth more than what we've got," Robert Worthington said.

Robert Worthington has dedicated his life to turning kids' lives around at Taft.

"A lot of people say 'oh they're just juvenile delinquents.' No,they're just kids that didn't get a break," Worthington said.

Also known as "Coach Rooster," he says he gives young men, many competing gang members, that break on his football team where they learn teamwork, self-confidence, and structure. He says they rise to the occasion.

"I've done my job," Worthington said.

He says more than 80-percent get their diplomas or GED's and there's only a three-percent recidivism rate. That's why he doesn't understand why Governor Haslam wants it cut out of the budget leaving those who've made a difference with only two options.

"Here's your notice. You can go to the prison is you want, or retire," Worthington said.

Coach says many of his co-workers have no other choice than to go to the new prison, and in many cases, take a pay cut. He's going to retire early. So is Dale Hannah, an employee at Taft for 33 years.

"The new prison is not what it's about. That's housing people because they don't have an opportunity," Dale Hannah said.

Governor Haslam says closing Taft will save more than $4 million for the state.

"Evidently Nashville doesn't care. Evidently the dollar is more important that a child's life," Hannah said.

Many in Bledsoe County argue the savings.

"How much money will be saved if just one life in changed, is taken out of the system and they're put back as a useful citizen in the community," Bledsoe County Mayor Bobby Collier asks.

Mayor Collier says Bledsoe County already has an 11-percent unemployment rate and worries about the economic impact.

Again, those workers can be hired at the new Bledsoe County Jail, which will employ 400.

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