DCS Looks to Improve Woodland Hills YDC Program

A dozen of the Woodland Hills’ escapees from this fall could be transferred to a juvenile center in Texas as the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services works to improve its program at the center.

In September, the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center experienced two successful mass escape attempts. Thirty-two offenders broke out in the beginning of the month, and an additional 13 bolted at the end of the month. Since then all offenders have been returned to state custody.

One result of the repeat escape attempts at the state facility is DCS intends to improve the program at Woodland Hills to be “a much more therapeutic approach than it has been,” Rob Johnson, director of communications, told TNReport this week.

“They want to look at everything from the way the kids do recreation, to the way they are grouped, to the way they’re mentored, to the way they have after school activities and weekend activities. They’re looking at better ways to make sure the security officers are more attuned to what the kids’ therapeutic needs are,” Johnson said. “They’re just looking at a more robustly therapeutic program.”

However, while those changes will allow the facility to “be able to offer the types of services that these kids need,” an overhaul like that will require a lot of training and work, Johnson said.

Because 12 of the escapees were classified too big a security risk for housing at Woodland Hills or any other youth development center, they’re being held at various juvenile detention centers across the state, Johnson said. However, the options those facilities offer in terms of education, therapy and treatment are limited, and DCS wants to transfer them to a private facility in Brownwood, Texas.

“These kids have special needs, I think, in terms of educational, in terms of mental health, in terms of the wide range of services that you offer a kid,” Johnson told TNReport.

The Oaks facility, run by G4s, a private security services provider, is expected to better provide these services to the youthful offenders during the remainder of their sentences.

“Even though these kids have not meshed well in the YDC program we still have an obligation to try to offer them services that they need,” Johnson said. He added that the DCS staff has visited the Texas facility, and determined that it can offer the juveniles the proper services. “Right now, this is probably the best option that we’ve got in terms of making sure that these kids get the services they need while they’re still in state custody.”

In the Volunteer State, G4s operates the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center, as well as the G4S Academy for Young Women in Nashville.

Before the transfers can occur, they have to be approved by the juvenile courts in the offender’s home county, according to a press release from the department.

Johnson said he believes G4S would pay for family members to fly to central Texas to visit their kids, but other logistical components for the transfers — such as ensuring that caseworkers are able to visit monthly — still need to be worked out.

According to the Tennessean, three of the transfers have been approved.