House Dems: Escape from Woodland Hills direct result of shrinking state government
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
Tennessee House Democrat leaders say this week's violence and escapes at Nashville's Woodland Hills facility for juvenile offenders is a direct result of budget cuts and a shrinking state government, but the Haslam administration says its numbers for the department overseeing the facility are different.
House Democrat leader Craig Fitzhugh pointed to a 40 percent budget reduction for the Department of Children Services (DCS) since Republican Governor Bill Haslam took office.
He told News 2 the DCS budget has gone from $66 million in 2009-2010, which was the last year of the previous Governor Phil Bredesen, to $39.2 million for the current fiscal year under Governor Haslam.
Haslam Administration spokesperson Lola Potter said its numbers for the 2014-2015 DCS budget were $50.6 million, up from $49.6 million for the previous fiscal year, and $46.2 million for 2012-2013.
Potter told News 2 in an email that "prior years because of the recession and ARRA (funds that were part of the federal stimulus program).
She indicated both DCS budgets did not include capital projects for the state agency, such as the $1.8 million slated for upgrades at the Woodland Hills facility.
There was other criticism beyond budget issues from Tennessee House Democrats.
Nashville Representative Sherry Jones points to lack of oversight for DCS since a legislative group she chaired called the Select Committee on Children and Youth was disbanded after Governor Haslam took office.
"We used to call [DCS] up here all the time to ask questions," Jones told News 2 as she and Fitzhugh spoke from Legislative Plaza.
She is also critical for the closing of the Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County two years ago.
Jones said the facility had a number of violent offenders who were transferred to Woodland Hills to mix with its less violent population of teens.
She added that DCS had promised to make the Woodland Hills facility more secure.
"They should have made the changes then. They said they would, and obviously they have not," Rep. Jones said.
House Democratic leader Fitzhugh wants an overall investigation of DCS.
"I don't know whether it should be the TBI or the Attorney General, someone has to look at it, it's not isolated incidents anymore," said Fitzhugh.
Governor Bill Haslam has not made a public statement on the Woodland Hills violence and escapes, but his office says DCS Commissioner Jim Henry is compiling a report on what happened.
"He will have more to say when he has reviewed the report," spokesperson Dave Smith said in an email.
Smith later indicated that the review was likely to be completed in a day or two. Smith said the DCS budget this past year increased $6.44 million from last year to the current fiscal year.