Issues, projects at Juvenile Detention Center discussed

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 1/19/20

After multiple repair and improvement projects, the Bradley County Juvenile Detention Center is in “a really good place,” according to Juvenile Director Vickie Towne. Speaking last week to the Bradley County Commission’s Juvenile Committee, Towne said she is “really pleased” with the completed projects.

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Issues, projects at Juvenile Detention Center discussed

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After multiple repair and improvement projects, the Bradley County Juvenile Detention Center is in “a really good place,” according to Juvenile Director Vickie Towne.

Speaking last week to the Bradley County Commission’s Juvenile Committee, Towne said she is “really pleased” with the completed projects.

“We are actually in a really good place right now,” she said.

Several projects have been completed over the past year, including:

• Replaced parking lot lights. “That was a big safety issue for us,” Towne said.

• A backup generator has been replaced.

• New security cameras have been installed in the detention area.

• Visitor bathrooms have been repaired, and a diaper changing table is being installed.

• A handrail has been installed to make roof access safer.

• A new catwalk outside, leading into a courtroom, has been installed.

• An AED (automated external defibrillator) was purchased and installed in the detention area.

• A fence has been repaired in the outside recreation area, through which two juveniles escaped custody in November 2018.

• Two new HVAC units have been installed.

Towne said the current project need is a new roof for the juvenile center.

“We’ll be working with the mayor and trying to get that done as soon as we can,” she said.

Replacing the roof was mentioned when the Juvenile Committee last met in March 2019. At that time, Towne said because of “recent torrential rains there have been roof leaks.” She also said the county’s maintenance personnel looked at the roof to see if it could be patched.

“We can patch what’s there … the problem is they will not guarantee and warranty that,” Towne said of the flat, seamed roof over the older sections of the building.

Towne said future needs for the juvenile center include:

• Three more HVAC units: Towne said she will probably integrate this need into the budget “to at least start on one or two more.”

County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull asked about the age of the HVAC units.

Towne said they are about 15 years old. She added they are to the point some replacement parts are not available.

Towne also noted the department has “been blessed” the County Commission gave money to fix the other HVAC units.

• Back wall repair: Towne reiterated concerns she mentioned last March that “a new roof could help with the moisture issues affecting the back wall.”

Last week, she told the committee  the retaining wall is still having issues. A waterproofing contractor came to look at it and Towne said he suggested excavating, installing drainage, and building a berm to the top of the exterior wall. She said the berm should be a solution until the new budget begins in July.

“The wall’s starting to show some cracks,” Towne said.

“These will probably be our two priorities,” Towne said of the HVAC units and back wall.

Commissionr Kevin Raper asked if she could choose just one, which would be the priority.

“The back wall is going to have to be a priority this year,” Towne said.

Raper said the Juvenile Committee could make it known as a priority in the budget process.

Elaborating on the back wall, Towne said there are concerns about mold and mildew if repairs aren’t made.

“The waterproofer has been out and (he said) he’s definitely seen much worse,” she said.

Towne noted she also hopes to put a recording system on the phones in the detention area, adding she doesn’t anticipate a big cost.

Money from the tax increase was passed along to Corrections officers at the juvenile center in the form of salary increases. Corrections officers there received approximately $7,000 more each in additional salary.

“We’re at a little over $27,000 a year,” Towne said of Corrections officer salaries.

Towne said she met with each Corrections officer about the pay increase, to explain how it came about and how much they’d receive. She said several of the employees said it made a difference as to whether they could keep working for Bradley County, or leave to find another job.

“We have several who said this is life-changing for them,” Towne said.

She added  some employees left employment even after the pay increase, but “we’ve not had anybody leave because of pay.”

“I know you hear a lot of negative about all of that (the property tax increase vote)” but she has seen a positive impact on the juvenile center employees, Towne said.

Commissioner Milan Blake asked about the 50% employee turnover rate Towne had mentioned prior to the pay increases, asking about the turnover rate now.

“I can tell you it’s down,” Towne said.

Blake noted when employees leave, the increase in the base salary allows Towne to recruit new employees at a higher pay rate.

Towne agreed, noting at the previous $20,800 base salary “it was a struggle” to even get people to apply. She added there are 24 Corrections officers at the juvenile center.

“I appreciate what you all did to fight for that,” Towne said.

Discussing revenue, Thompson said at the mid-point of the budget year, the juvenile center’s revenue is actually above budget projections for state-hold juveniles. She said $113,000 is budgeted for state holds, and $81,000 has been collected.

Raper said he believes Towne and the juvenile center staff do “a whole lot with a little.”

Commissioner Cindy Slater asked how many juveniles are housed at the center.

Towne said the facility can house 27, but there are some juveniles who have to be housed alone, so that decreases the capacity. She said there were about a dozen juveniles housed last week, and there are usually nine to 16, on average.

Juvenile Committee Chairman Bill Winters said he is proud of the juvenile center and the people who work there.

“Thank you for all that you do,” he said.

Winters also asked about the average time a Bradley County juvenile is housed at the juvenile center.

Towne said it is usually less than a week, but it depends on the offense.

“We have state holds that come from all areas,” Towne said, adding juveniles have come here from Memphis and Nashville, not just surrounding counties.

“We’re in a better spot than we have been in the past couple of years,” Towne said. “I really appreciate what you all do.”

Winters asked Towne to summarize the juvenile center’s work with Centerstone and other groups.

Towne said Centerstone has a lease for an office at the juvenile center, as well as a contract with Cleveland and school-based counselors. Centerstone is a behavioral health care provider. It has been great for kids and families, Towne said.

In addition, Towne said the juvenile center works with other organizations, like Mental Health Cooperative, Lee University, and faith-based programs. She said Juvenile Court is set up to rehabilitate juveniles, and organizers want them to be successful.

“I just want a place where we can do that,” she said. “Without boundaries children don’t know how to operate” and youngsters do want boundaries, no matter how much they fight against them.

Speaking on Campus Court, Towne said the state changed the way it deals with truancy, which has affected the program. In Campus Court, they have staff who volunteer in the schools to meet with families, to look for issues and how to help.

“Sometimes it’s just helping them connect some dots,” she said. “It’s a great program.”

With the state changes, the program is now a three-tier system, with Campus Court becoming involved in the third tier. Towne said they have to wait until a juvenile enters the third tier, after going through the other two.

Towne said she would prefer to be able to work with juveniles at the lower tiers, when they have fewer absences from school.

“The kids with 49 or 50 absences, there’s a problem at home with that,” she said.

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