News

DOJ: Youth in Tenn. Juvenile Correctional Facilities at Greater Risk of Sexual Victimization

Youth in Tennessee juvenile correction facilities are at greater risk of being sexually victimized than the national average, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report estimates that 9.5 percent of youth in state or private correctional facilities across the nation were sexually victimized in 2011-2012. The rate for Tennessee facilities was 13 percent. The report defines sexual victimization as forced sexual activity between youths and all sexual activity involving youth and staff. The Tennessean has the story.

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New Bill Defines Sex Trafficking as Child Abuse

Under proposed legislation, child prostitutes would be considered victims of abuse rather than juvenile offenders and be referred to child welfare, WRCB-TV reports. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services. Tennessee recently developed one of the nation’s most comprehensive anti-trafficking programs with 12 new laws approved by lawmakers.

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Initial Reports Positive from Boys & Girls Club Program

An $800,000 grant from the Tennessee Office of Justice Programs is funding a three-year initiative in Columbia that refers juveniles from the city’s heaviest crime areas to the Boys & Girls Club. The program is limited to those who have committed first- or second-time minor offenses. Since the start of the program, 28 juveniles have been referred, mostly for truancy or shoplifting, The Columbia Daily Herald reports. Though it is too early to measure the impact of the program, young people who have participated say they found new friends and decided to stay off the streets.

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More DCS Child Death Records Released

Chancellor Carol McCoy released additional records of children who died or nearly died under the supervision of the Department of Children’s Services, the Tennessean reports. The state indicated that the batch of documents released on Friday contains blacked-out information beyond what the court deemed appropriate, citing federal HIPPA protections. In particular, Janet Kleinfelter with the attorney general’s office said that the date of death, provided medical care and potentially other information is protected information. McCoy said the state will turn the next 50 records over on June 26.

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NAACP Holds Criminal Justice Seminar June 8

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP will host the 6th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar June 8 at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This year’s event, Let the Dreams Live!, seeks to shed light on how legal issues, social challenges and advents in the law affect social welfare. Featured topics and presentations will include youth- and adult-oriented seminar tracks. Youth presentations include a session by Rosalyn L. Rice, southeast regional coordinator for the Tennessee Commission of Children and Youth, who will discuss children's advocacy, juvenile justice and conflict resolution strategies. Adult tracks will feature presentations on evolving gun laws, inmates’ rights, neighborhood safety and identity theft. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP at chattanooganaacp@comcast.net or by calling (423) 267-5637. For more information contact Eric Atkins at (423) 320-8598 or atkinse@hotmail.com. Chattanoogan.com had information on the event.

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Judge Explains Reasons for Tossing Confession

A Shelby County judge filed an order Friday explaining why he tossed out the confession of a teen that admitted setting a house fire that killed his mother. Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael said he considered 14-year-old murder suspect Jonathan Ray’s age, experience, education and intelligence as well as investigators’ actions before agreeing with the teen’s attorney that the boy was not properly informed of his Miranda rights before answering questions about the arson. A review of the videotaped interrogation reveals that police officers did not read Ray his Miranda rights, but instead handed him a piece of paper and said his dad had already signed it and authorized the questioning. But the teen’s stepfather was in Detroit, unaware of the death or his son’s legal predicament, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Juvenile Court Receives $1 Million for Upgrades

After debate over a budget increase request, the Shelby County Commission has approved more than $1 million to give to the juvenile courts after the U.S Department of Justice found problems with discrimination and children not being given their constitutional rights, WREG reports. The state is also giving $1 million. The commission also approved $300,000 to pay for the monitors who will come down from the DOJ to inspect and make sure the county is following orders. Although all don't agree, Commissioner Terry Roland says “the reason why we’re in this situation is because the pool of lawyers over there are mad they’re only making $40 an hour."

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State Takes Tough Stand on Human Trafficking

Tennessee is credited with developing one of the most comprehensive anti-human trafficking programs in the nation, WKRN reports. Survivors and advocates against trafficking gathered at a conference in Nashville on Thursday, where they shared their stories and applauded Tennessee for taking a tougher stand. The state’s new laws create harsher penalties on traffickers and extend the window of time for prosecutors to pursue cases. Furthermore, authorities will be able to prosecute people paying for sex as traffickers.

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Haslam Names Henry Permanent DCS Chief

Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Jim Henry, the temporary head of the troubled Department of Children's Services (DCS), as the department’s new permanent director. He will take office on June 1, WBIR News 10 reports. Henry, who has continued to serve as commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) during the interim period will be replaced there by Debra Payne, a deputy commissioner. Read more about the Henry and Payne appointments in the governor's announcement.

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Conference on Human Trafficking Set for May 23

A workshop on combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the mid-south will be held May 23 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rhodes College in Memphis. The training session is designed for service providers, medical professionals, religious leaders, translators, law enforcement, immigrant advocates or anyone concerned about the growing problem of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation. The event will be held in the McCallum Ballroom, located at 2000 N. Parkway. A fee of $15 covers all materials and lunch. For more information email Bonnie Blair or call her at (901) 752-0328.

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Drink Some Coffee for CASA

Do you love drinking coffee and want to support Tennessee CASA at the same time? Then visit the group’s Just Love Coffee Roasters online store. Just Love Coffee Roasters is a brand of hand-roasted coffee produced by people who also have a desire to help others in their efforts to make the world better. A portion of the proceeds from purchases will go directly to Tennessee CASA.

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Putnam County to Consider Family Justice Center

District Attorney Randall York received approval from the Putnam County Fiscal Review Committee to apply for a three-year, $80,000-per-year Family Justice Center grant that would help fund a Family Justice Center, a domestic violence center to assist victims in Putnam and surrounding counties. York cited the criminal court docket to support why a Family Justice Center should be started, the Herald Citizen reports. “When you go to a docket that’s more than 50 percent domestic-related, what we’re trying to do is break the cycle of violence, and we can only do it if we address the problems head on.” he said.

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Judge: 'Balls Dropped' in Child Deaths

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said at a hearing Friday that after seeing case files of children who died as a result of abuse and neglect, it was clear that Department of Children's Services (DCS) social workers should have done more to protect the children. "There have been balls dropped by several individuals," she said in releasing 42 records of cases of children who died or nearly died after being under the supervision of DCS. McCoy also gave the state until May 31 to release records on 50 additional cases. Knoxnews has the story.

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Fewer Memphis Juveniles Tried as Adults

More juveniles charged with crimes are being given a chance to turn their lives around, instead of being transferred to adult court. Since 2009, the number of juveniles charged as adults has declined each year, with 29 transfers so far this year compared to 99 last year. The Commercial Appeal reports that the decrease corresponds to the U.S. Department of Justice’s three-year probe into allegations of civil rights and due process violations at Shelby County Juvenile Court.

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DCS Can’t Produce 8 Child Death Records

The Department of Children’s Services announced last week it could only produce 42 of the court-ordered release of 50 records of children who died leading up to July 1, 2012. “There were eight case files in which no referral concerning the death of the child was made to the Department of Children’s Services and, therefore, the Department did not conduct any sort of investigation as to these deaths,” the DCS court filing said. DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth declined to answer any questions about why the records were unavailable, citing the ongoing litigation. The Tennessean has the story.

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Shelby Juvenile Court Battling for Budget Hike

Shelby County commissioners appear reluctant to grant the Juvenile Court’s request for a $1.6 million budget increase, the Commercial Appeal reports. Meeting Wednesday night, commissioners questioned the need for the increase that court officials say is necessary to fund measures required to be in compliance with a memorandum of agreement reached between the court, the county mayor’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice. Larry Scroggs, the court’s CAO and general counsel, said “We have been told we cannot safely operate a detention facility without having the mental health and medical comprehensive care. So what do we do? That is a huge issue."

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DCS Appeals Cap on Document Production Charges

Lawyers for the Department of Children’s Services say they will appeal a judge’s ruling limiting how much the agency can charge for records of children who died or nearly died in its care. Instead of the 50-cent per page cost ordered by Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy, lawyers for the state argue the department will spend thousands of dollars to hire, train and supervise contract paralegals to review the records before making them public. By its internal calculations, DCS predicts it will cost $5 a page or an average of $212 for each case to produce the records.

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Sumner Teen Court Holding Fundraiser This Week

The Sumner County Teen Court program will host its annual scholarship benefit dinner and silent auction on Thursday.  The event will take place at Hendersonville Christian Academy, 355 Old Shackle Island Rd., Nashville 37075. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by contacting Tammy Kellogg at (615) 451-6035. The annual event honors the legacy of Mary Ann Williams, who spent 20 years with the Department of Children Services and was instrumental in creating the state’s first teen court in Sumner County, the Tennessean reports.

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DCS Disciplines Workers Over Child Death Record Keeping

The state Department of Children’ Services has disciplined three high-ranking employees on the Child Fatality Review Team for deleting child death records and leaving out “significant portions” of the team’s meeting minutes in records provided to media, the Memphis Daily News Reports. The Tennessean and other news organizations sued for the child fatality records to be released but found that the redacted records also had information removed which should have been made public.

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Judge Optimistic about DCS’ New Leadership, Processes

U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell, who is overseeing changes at the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS), expressed cautious optimism that the agency's new leadership can resolve some of its problems, the Associated Press reports. At a hearing Monday, lawyers for the department said DCS has created a process for tracking and reviewing the deaths and near deaths of children the agency has tried to help. Campbell said the department was addressing the concerns he raised in January but he is waiting to see the final results. WATE News 5 in Knoxville has the story.

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Investiture for New Juvenile Judge on Wednesday

An investiture ceremony for new Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw will take place Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Juvenile Court, 1600 E. 3rd St., Chattanooga. Philyaw replaces Judge Suzanne Bailey, whose retirement is effective at the end of April.

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CASA Plans Fundraiser, Volunteer Training

CASA of Northeast Tennessee will hold its 5th Annual Benefit Motorcycle Ride on May 11 at Smith Brothers Harley Davidson in Johnson City. Registration begins at 10 a.m. The ride starts at 11 a.m. A $10 donation is requested per rider. Food and drinks will be provided after the ride. The event also will feature a corn hole tournament from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information contact the agency at (423) 461-3500 or admin@casanetn.org. In other news, the agency also recently announced it would conduct training for new volunteers on May 28.

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Commissioner Questions Quick Appointment of Juvenile Judge

After last week’s appointment of Rob Philyaw as the next Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge, one commissioner is crying foul, the Times Free Press reports. On April 11, commissioners appointed Philyaw over two other finalists -- Juvenile Magistrate Troy McDougal and attorney Curtis Bowe -- to replace Suzanne Bailey, who is retiring. Greg Beck, one of three commissioners who supported Bowe, said the ease with which Philyaw was appointed suggests politics were at play, even raising questions, he said, about Philyaw’s experience and motivation for seeking the appointment.

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DCS Announces Shakeup After Child-Deaths Debacle

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) yesterday unveiled the results of an internal shakeup following months of criticism about its ability to track the death of children in its custody. Under the reorganization, three top deputies have been reassigned or relieved of duties, while a fourth announced his retirement. Two new deputy commissioners — one for child health and one for child safety — will fill new positions that will focus on training Child Protective Services workers and strengthening internal investigations. Finally, the plan calls for collaborating with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to train caseworkers on how to evaluate drug use and other potential criminal behavior. The Tennessean has details on the plan.

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Knox County to Consolidate Juvenile Services

Knox County officials broke ground Friday on a building project to consolidate all juvenile court and child support services in the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center. The addition of four new courtrooms as well as space for county clerks and clerical documents will streamline the process for many families, according to the Knoxnews. Moving juvenile and child support offices from the downtown courthouse also will free up space that that had become so cluttered it was a safety hazard according to Juvenile Court Judge Tim Irwin. The cost of the project is estimated at $3 million. Construction should be completed in a year.

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