DANDRIDGE (WATE) – After the previous superintendent at Mountain View Youth Development Center was removed, a new interim superintendent, Misty Neeley, has stepped-up to fill in until a permanent superintendent is found.
Neeley is the Director of Residential Operations, so she actually oversees all superintendents at youth detention facilities across Tennessee. Neeley started Friday, but she’s already made some big changes, hiring an internal affairs investigator, Dave Anderson that will be at the facility at least one day a week to investigate any issues.
“He’s going to introduce himself to the staff members and the students, get out his card and let students know and let staff know that under this leadership we will be very transparent and youth, as well as staff, will have every opportunity to speak,” said Neeley. “I hope that having someone assigned here can address the issues quickly. He can come in do his interviews, create his reports and let leadership know and then we can move on and take the appropriate action.”
Neeley said Anderson has served in the department for a long time and has already worked handling internal affairs. She also assigned a new interim security manager, Lauren Dockery. She said the facility had not had a permanent security manager in months and staff were getting burned out.
Decision to expire previous superintendent’s contract was mutual, according to DCS
The Department of Children Services decided to expire the previous superintendent, Tommy Francis, on Friday.
Debbie Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, said the decision to expire Superintendent Tommy Francis’ contract was mutual. He had been at the facility for 90 days and Miller said Francis’ had not made as much progress as the department wanted him to make.
“Tommy had done some good work, but it just wasn’t going in the right direction,” said Miller. “The department is seeking accreditation for all three of our hardware secure facilities and Wilder has been through that process and did very well and Woodland Hills is going through that progress today and we have been working through Mountain View for some time now and we just didn’t feel like we had made the progress that we needed him to.”
Friday, the Department of Children’s Services said there was no specific allegation or investigation that prompted the change, but a series of developments. Thursday, Jones was under investigation for allegedly directing a racial epithet toward a student, according to a spokesman with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. A former guard at the facility was also arrested for allegedly having sex with a student and a staff member was injured during a small disturbance.
“As you know, young people make allegations as do other staff. We investigate all of those and we take those very seriously, but there was no one particular thing that we decided to cause a termination of contract,” said Miller. “It was just we weren’t going in the direction we needed to go.”
Going forward, Miller said she is looking for less disruptions, less incident reports, less complaints from young people and a better atmosphere that is more conducive to treatment and behavior modification. She said when the Department of Children Services compared Mountain View to the other types of facilities, there seems to be more unrest and not as much gelling of a program or progress that they made at the other two programs.
Tennessee breaking new ground on accreditation of youth development centers
The Department of Children Services said their goal is to become the first state in the United States to have all of their hardware secure facilities accredited.
“We are cutting new ground for juvenile justice, there is no road map. Other states have been accredited for child welfare, but we are the first state to be accredited for juvenile justice,” said Miller.
Miller said the accreditation council did a walk-through of facilities and made recommendations. The Department of Children’s Services is working on corrective plans.
“One of the major parts is getting that behavior modification program fully implemented and fully working, so we could show that incident reports were going down, that the assaults were going down, that young people were finishing school in a timely manner and getting their credits” said Miller. “We didn’t have all of the parts.”
One of the ways they are hoping to accomplish that is through behavior modification. Instead of punishing someone for showing aggressive behavior, they are encouraging staff to coach, talk through issues and offer rewards and incentives for good behavior.
“Sometimes we label behavior as bad, but it is a behavior they learned in their community or in their family as an adaptive behavior, because that’s how they react to a chaotic situation or living in some other type of situation that is not what you would consider the normal two parent family in middle class America,” said Miller. “When you’re here and living amongst other people then it’s not okay to assault people when they say something to you, it’s not okay to break furniture or the TV, so it’s something that you talk them through what’s a more appropriate behavior and then what kind of reinforcements and rewards do we get when we have a good day.”
Miller said the previous superintendent, Francis, had experience running an administrative program, but not with the behavior modification. Under typical programs if something goes wrong, youth are punished, but with their new program it takes a lot of working with coaching staff.
“If you had a 3-year-old that threw their dinner plate on the floor, you tend to get a little upset about that and sometimes we have to walk through staff with that and say calm down, settle down, just because something got broken doesn’t mean that we react and go into a strain or go into a immediately reaction, so it takes a little bit for that culture to go about,” said Miller.
The Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Justice said she hopes Neeley’s experience with accreditation will help them accomplish their goal. She said they are looking for someone to take leadership.
“Prior to moving over to the office of juvenile justice, I was in quality control and backed-up the process of the state becoming accredited, so I think one of the things that I bring to the table is the leadership that it took to get through our 12 regions and one of our facilities has already been through the accreditation process,” said Neeley. “I know what it takes to be accredited in a facility, as well as in a region, that’s what we want to do, is move Mountain view closer to accreditation. It’s not going to happen tomorrow or not even next month, but we’re going to get there and we’re going to get there as soon as we can.”
Mountain View’s long history of problems
The Department of Children’s Services took some time Monday to address issues at Mountain View Youth Development Center.
Over the weekend three staff members went to the hospital after a disturbance. Neeley said more than one youth became assaultive, staff members stepped in and were able to contain the situation.
“These are difficult youth, they are here for a reason. I watched the entire thing,” said Neeley. “I felt like the Mountain View staff handled it very appropriately.”
Before this weekend, Jones was under investigation for allegedly directing a racial epithet toward a student, according to a spokesman with the Tennessee Department of Children Services. Also, a former guard at the facility was arrested for allegedly having sex with a student and a staff member was injured during a small disturbance.
Miller said the College of Accreditation (COA) understands that violence is going to happen.
“I think COA’s approach to this is they understand in a hardware secure facility that kids are going to fight, that they do have anger issues, that there is going to be issues where young people make allegations against staff,” said Miller. She said the College of Accrediation is looking at how leadership investigates the problems and corrects it.
“”With secure facilities, there are always going to be fights. Kids are going to fight. Kids are going to pick-up a chair and throw it across the room,” said Miller. Her vision is that they can help the youth to be engaged in meaninful work, finish school and prepare them for what they will once they leave.