Lawmakers in Tennessee are raising serious concerns about the treatment of incarcerated children within the state’s juvenile detention system, calling for a comprehensive audit after revelations that children were subjected to isolation for minor infractions.
The focus of these concerns is Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center, which has been under the leadership of its namesake since 1972 and is facing allegations of outdated and punitive practices.
Reports by investigative outlet ProPublica have shed light on practices at the facility, with Richard L. Bean himself stating, “What we do is treat everybody like they’re in here for murder.” Such an approach has raised alarm bells, particularly when dealing with minors incarcerated for various reasons.
Tennessee Department of Corrections policies, implemented in 2017, outline guidelines for seclusion, stating that incarcerated children can be secluded into a room measuring 50 square feet but should consider seclusion as a last resort.
According to the policy, staff are strictly prohibited from using seclusion as a means of discipline, punishment, administrative convenience, retaliation, staffing shortages, or for any reasons other than addressing immediate threats of harm to a youth or others.
However, reports indicate that these policies have not been consistently followed. A 2018 report from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (TDCS), which oversees the Bean Center, highlighted instances where children were placed in seclusion for seemingly minor infractions, including one child who was secluded for forgetting to bring his books to class.
Tennessee Legislators Seek Child Solitary Confinement Audit
Further investigations revealed that several children, both at the Bean Center and other facilities across the state, were subjected to solitary confinement, sometimes for minor reasons such as laughing during a meal.
TDCS had taken corrective action against the Bean Center in 2018, citing the misuse of seclusion as punishment. Nevertheless, in 2019, the corrective plan was removed, and the facility’s license was renewed, even though reports indicated that seclusion continued to be employed as a disciplinary measure.
In a letter dated November 16, 2023, a group of 14 Tennessee Democratic legislators has called upon the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (TDCS) to carry out a comprehensive audit of the state’s children’s prison system.
This request comes in light of concerning findings that have recently surfaced. State Sen. Heidi Campbell, one of the signatories, emphasized the department’s constitutional duty to ensure the humane treatment of youth in state-licensed facilities and stated her intention to introduce legislation to prohibit corporal punishment for children in Tennessee.
The lawmakers expressed deep concern over Richard L. Bean’s comments, particularly his assertion that all children at the Bean Center were treated as if they were “in here for murder.” Such remarks, they argued, were disturbing and emphasized the need for immediate action.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has not yet responded to Insider’s request for comment but has assured the public that it is taking urgent steps to address the concerns raised within the Bean Center.
In a statement, TDCS acknowledged that the matter was a priority for the department and was being treated with the utmost urgency. The situation is likely to continue garnering attention as lawmakers and advocates seek meaningful reform and transparency within the state’s juvenile detention system.
Read Next: State Program Offers Financial Support to Relatives for Providing Childcare