Henry: No Plans to Privatize Woodland Hills

The state isn’t looking to privatize the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville, despite media reports saying otherwise, Jim Henry told members of the Tennessee Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.

The Tennessean reported late Monday that Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget for next year — unveiled during his State of the State address that night — included a plan to privatize operations of the troubled juvenile detention center.

Henry explained to lawmakers he thinks the confusion about privatization arose from the governor’s budget calling for millions of dollars in cuts and a reduction of 131 positions from the development centers as a result of the ongoing restructuring.

“That is not what is happening here. There are dollars that are going toward what will be private residential services, but Woodland Hills would still be operated by DCS — albeit, fewer people will be served in those centers,” the Department of Children’s Services commissioner told lawmakers.

Currently, there are only 52 offenders held at Woodland Hills and 267 system-wide, but the YDCs were still being funded as if they held 144 persons each, Henry said.

Henry said the only ones they want kept at YDCs are “the very difficult of the difficult.”

According to Finance & Administration Commissioner Larry Martin, who presented the budget to the committee, Haslam’s budget includes a cost increase of $1.9 million and a decrease of $7.7 million, related to the restructuring of YDC services.

Martin said moving juvenile offenders to community care is becoming a national best practice, improves the care and treatment of offenders and is “more cost efficient.”

Henry agreed that community-based care provides “better therapeutic services” and allow offenders to be “closer to their families.”

And residential services are also more “cost-effective” for the state, because “two-thirds of those dollars are paid for by the federal government, and we pick up all the dollars for the YDCs in state dollars,” he added.

In September 2014, residents of Woodland Hills staged three separate escape attempts, leading DCS to send several of the repeat offenders to Texas while the agency restructured its program.

During his department’s November budget hearing, Henry said he was planning on changing the way DCS handled its juvenile offender program. With a goal of “changing the culture,” the DCS head said he wanted to move away from the traditional punitive model, to “provide more trauma-informed and therapeutic services.”

Henry also told Haslam during the budget talks that his department was maximizing the amount of federal funding it receives, and he was going to work to bring in more.

In other Woodland Hills news, the facility’s new security manager, Michael Gordon, announced his resignation in a letter to the facility superintendent earlier this month.  Gordon, who has a law enforcement background, said in the letter that investigative work was a cornerstone of “past successful employment,” and he hoped to return to similar work.

In his letter, Gordon also alluded to personnel issues, and problems with employees who were unwilling “to accept the culture change required to keep the WHYDC a positive change-agent.”