State Representative Sherry Jones told News 2 she was not surprised when she heard about the escape of 32 Woodland Hills Youth Development students Monday.
“We knew when DCS told us they were closing the other secured facility that moving them here to Nashville was going to be a problem,” she said. “With kids like this you have got to be sure you have the security you need. DCS knew that going in and they did not prepare their facility for these types of kids.”
Around 11 p.m. Monday a number of disturbances started inside dorms on the Woodland Hills campus. Eventually the teens overwhelmed the guards on duty and were able to escape their dorms and then the complex.
DCS said 33 students broke out of their dorms, but only 32 left the property.
Many of them were caught immediately, turned themselves in or were returned to the facility by family members. Two guards suffered minor injuries during the escape.
Representative Jones said closing the Taft Youth Development center in 2012 and relocating the offenders to three other less secure facilities was a mistake she predicted.
DCS closed the Pikeville facility in a cost-saving moving. At the time, judges and lawmakers warned that closing the maximum security facility would cause safety concerns.
“If you don’t have a facility that is secured, you don’t have the appropriate personnel there and you don’t have the appropriately trained personnel you are not going to have a good working facility,” she said.
The representative told News 2 she has been contacted by Woodland Hills YDC employees who have complained of being so short staff some of them are forced to work double shifts with little to no notice.
DCS reports that Woodland Hills has 28 job openings. The facility needs to have 201 total filled positions to be fully staff.
Likewise, Wilder YDC in Somerville, has 13 job openings and Mountain View YDC in Dandridge has 30 job openings.
“If it takes the money I am all for spending the money,” she said. “I always have been, but you need to do a good job with children.”
This is the second time since May students at the Woodland Hills YDC escaped their dorms. In May, six students escaped their dorms, but did not get off of the property.
According to DCS, those students have since been reassigned to other facilities.
DCS reported on its website that staff spent the morning debriefing, reviewing security arrangements and thinking of ways to better strengthen the perimeter fence the students breached, Monday night.