MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — The lack of beds at juvenile centers across Tennessee has, at times, led the courts to allow suspects to go home for the night rather than being put behind bars.
As Montgomery County continues to grow, area leaders are working towards creating their own juvenile resource center to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future and that kids in the county are not placed too far from home.
“It’s very frustrating when they try to do everything they can but they don’t have the resources to get the job done,” said Montgomery County Mayor Wes Golden of his team. “When they are calling all over the state to try to find beds for these juveniles, they don’t exist. So, in the end, if we don’t have a place to hold them, we have to turn them loose.”
Mayor Golden said when there was a shooting at West Creek High School in August, the juvenile court team spent hours finding a bed for those accused of being involved.
Ultimately, the suspected shooter was detained that night, but the teenager accused of assisting the shooter went home that night.
“It’s disappointing for having a lack of resources here, it’s what we are supposed to have, it’s part of our job,” he said.
Golden said that often times these children are being placed two hours or more away from the county and that is draining the county of resources and harming their potential development.
“We are using two officers at a time to transport these juveniles across the state to every doctor’s appointment, every court appointment, and we are removing these kids from their support systems, their families. And a lot of these families can’t drive across Tennessee to make these visits and trips and everything else,” he said.
The lack of space for juvenile detention and children without care is not just a problem in Montgomery County.
The new commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services told lawmakers it’s happening across the state.
| READ MORE | Latest headlines from Clarksville and Montgomery County
But after conducting an analysis of the need for a juvenile justice center in Montgomery County in 2021, local officials concluded there is “near-unanimous support among stakeholders for a juvenile justice center that would be utilized for teacher, resources and detention.”
The study found that from 2017-2021 there was a 12% increase in children in juvenile custody, and considering the current rate of county growth they expect caseloads to go up 45% by 2051.
“We are growing at such a fast rate. We can’t find beds across the state many times, and we know that problem is only going to get worse. We don’t see a lot of these facilities popping up across Tennessee,” Golden said.
On Monday, the Montgomery County Commission formally requested that the Montgomery County Delegation of the General Assembly put money towards this regional juvenile justice and resource center.
However, the mayor says he is determined to move forward with this project no matter what action lawmakers take.
He says he is still working on researching other justice centers across the state, scouting possible locations, and looking at a potential budget.
“We know we have to do something now to take care of our kids,” he said.