“This is not the place to be … they tell you when to take a shower, tell you when to eat, tell you when to sleep,” says a Middle Tennessee teen (name omitted for privacy) in juvenile detention who is charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm, evading arrest, violation of curfew, simple possession of marijuana and driving without a license.
Many people have misconceptions about what juvenile detention – or “juvy” as it’s commonly called – is and what takes place behind those tightly locked doors.
The State of Tennessee mandates certain minimal requirements in regard to a juvenile detention center’s cleanliness, meals, education and exercise offerings for detainees. However, each county differs in how much extra it chooses to provide to incarcerated youth in an effort to give them positive reinforcement and, hopefully, encouragement to become better decision makers.
What Juvy Actually Is
Even though they are at least temporarily incarcerated, keep in mind that kids in juvy are still “innocent until proven guilty.” They have been arrested and charged with a crime, but are still awaiting their trial in court. The youth who are detained are those charged with felony offenses – crimes that carry a heavier punishment.
“There really isn’t one specific offense that stands out as being number one,” says Tim Adgent, juvenile court administrator for Davidson County. “Most of what we see are robberies, assaults and drugs,” he adds, noting that during school terms, assaults tend to increase while thefts and drug-related incidents rise during the summer months.
Parents of status and misdemeanor offenders get the call to pick up their children and take them home to await their court dates.
The ultimate fate of detainees, however, is determined at their court hearing, and depending on the nature of their crime they’ll land in one of three arenas: 1) Back home and on probation; 2) Turned over to the Department of Children’s Services’ custody for further incarceration; or 3) Transferred to a different facility where they will await another court hearing to be tried as an adult.
Davidson County’s Accredited System
The Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center (DCJDC) is a short-term detention facility that is run by G4S Youth Services, contracted by Metro.
“We are the first and only juvenile detention center in the state that is accredited by the American Correctional Association,” says Superintendent Patrick Curran III. There are 419 standards the center must comply with to maintain its accreditation – 30 that are mandatory, the remaining 389 considered non-mandatory.
Curran says there are approximately 550 juveniles booked at the center each month. Of those, 280 are detained at an average of 45 per day.
“The average age of detainees here is 15, and the average stay is three-and-a-half days,” Curran says, noting that the length of stay depends on the crime. More serious charges that include murder or possession of weapons can land a kid in juvy for 30 – 60 days, if not longer.
When a youth is booked, he is given two phone calls, then is photographed, finger printed, given a shower, clean underwear and socks, then is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and orange shoes. During the first 24 hours, detainees are segregated in what is called the Charlie Pod. Here they are seen by a case manager, medical staff, teacher’s aid and the facility chaplain. Longer-term youth are given a complete physical exam within 14 days.
The kids are given three hot meals a day, along with an evening snack.
Where DCJDC stands out is its approach to education and its way of working to encourage and inspire kids to embrace a better way.
The center operates a full-time school that is aligned with the Metro Nashville Public School system, and it has immediate access to Metro’s database. Principal Janette Carter can access each child’s school record and class schedule. Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., each detainee is in one of the center’s classroom areas learning core curriculum in English, math, science, social studies, wellness and career development, and more. A certified special education teacher is on staff as well who also handles any necessary Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings at the facility.
When kids are detained at the center, Carter notifies their appropriate schools to inform them where the students are so they won’t be counted absent. When students leave the center and return to their homes and schools, all of their coursework and grades (including standardized tests like the TCAP) are transferred back into Metro. If detainees are private school students, Carter works with their school administrators and parents to keep them up to speed with their class work.
The kids also participate in physical recreation and leisure activities, which range from weight training to playing ping-pong, basketball or volleyball.
Incentives are given throughout a teen’s stay, from “student of the week” accolades to chances of earning certain privileges (like getting to stay up a couple extra hours on Friday night) based on behavior and grades.
“Our goal is to build a relationship with these kids while they are here,” says Carter. “Most of them are highly intelligent, but have not been encouraged at all.â€
In addition to daily classroom education, mentoring groups – including members of the Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans – come in regularly to visit with and encourage the kids. A full-time chaplain is present, and while religious services are offered, they are not mandatory.
“We don’t want anyone to come here, but if they do, we want it to be productive,” says Yolanda Hockett, assistant superintendent of programs.
Local agencies come in regularly to teach different life skills like nutrition and cooking, STD awareness, drug and alcohol abstinence, and more.
Parental visits are by appointment and take place Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Detainees who have earned a Level III status of good behavior can receive an additional visit on Thursdays.
“We aim to expose kids to different things during the short period of time they are here,” says Curran. “The school is the most important thing; everything else is an enhancement.â€
Measuring the success of the school and overall program at DCJDC, Carter shares a handwritten letter she received from a teen girl who was recently in the center. The girl’s heartfelt words express gratitude for the encouragement and direction she received from the teachers and staff, while stating her plans to go back to school this fall.
“That’s why we’re here doing what we do,” Carter says. “Our staff cares about these kids, and treating them like you’d want to be treated goes a long way. There’s no greater feeling of success than receiving a letter like this,” she adds.
Chad Young is managing editor for this publication.
The Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center offers free Youth At-Risk Tours to teens and preteens in the community who display at-risk behavior. The goal is to show kids what life is like in juvy in hopes of helping steer them toward a better decision-making path.
All youth are screened prior, and the tours are conducted by appointment only. Parents must sign a release of liability form as well. In addition, the facility provides an At-Risk Presentation to large groups of youth at various locations throughout the community. To learn more, call 862-8066, ext. 71004.