Standing in the shadow of the Tennessee Titans home turf at LP Field, the Davidson County Juvenile Justice Center on Woodland Street has been viewed as an inadequate facility by many court officials since it was built in 1994.
Now, a Davidson County grand jury is officially agreeing with that sentiment, saying a new facility may be needed at taxpayers’ expense.
“[The detention center] was not well thought out when it was built and that’s nobody’s fault now,” said Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green. “But, we are still dealing with a number of issues.”
Those issues include not having enough shower stalls for the number of residents in the facility, smaller than normal classrooms that are too few in number, an uncovered courtyard serving as the only place for juveniles to play sports or exercise and the location of cells housing female inmates.
These issues recently caught the attention of the Davidson County grand jury, which filed a report last week emphasizing the need for an upgraded facility, or a new one completely.
The grand jury, as part of its service to the city, is asked to report on other areas of Metro government that have a hand in the administering of justice in Nashville.
“We are concerned that the design flaws may even contribute to unsafe situations and we strongly recommend either an upgrade or a new facility,” the reports states.
“It was clear to us that the services are being provided in a facility that has outgrown its usefulness for the population it serves.”
Currently, about 36 juveniles reside in the facility, two of which are female, with charges ranging from armed robbery to attempted burglary, according to Tim Adgent, Judicial Court Administrator.
They are required to complete 6.5 hours of school a day, including a break for physical education, which is conducted in the open courtyard that has become the focus of much of the staff’s aggravation.
“That’s probably the biggest single thing,” Green said.
The courtyard cannot be used in extreme weather, including rain or snow and extreme heat. Juveniles are forced to then return to their pods, or groups of cells, to take a kind of study hall period, according to Adgent.
The spring weather yesterday was the perfect setting for a pick-up game of basketball, but Adgent said the addition of a roof over the courtyard would allow the juveniles many more days like that.
“As far as utilization of that, today is a wonderful day for them to be out there when school is over with, but if it was like last week, when we had rain and it was 30 degrees — forget about it,” he said yesterday morning.
Just as students in Metro schools around the city are required to attend classes, so are the inmates at the detention center.
Only, many of them must attend classes in the cafeteria, because there aren’t enough classrooms in the facility and the ones available are small.
They also lack some basic supplies, according to the grand jury, such as copy paper, finger paints, color pencils, computer equipment and library books.
“We just have to do the best we can,” said Patrick Curran, superintendent of the detention center.
Curran works for a private company, Group 4 Securicor, that contracts with the detention center to provide security.
He said many aspects of the facility, including not having enough shower stalls, insufficient cell size and the uncovered courtyard, cause the center to lose points during the accreditation process.
Currently, the Davidson County detention center is the only accredited juvenile jail by the American Correctional Association in the state, and has been since 2000, according to Curran.
Green said even some storage space in the facility had to be converted into housing.
Now, those two rooms, on either side of a hallway that leads to the courthouse attached to the center, house the female pods.
Because of the location of those rooms in relation to the courthouse door, guards are required to announce when all inmates are being transported, or taking a circuitous route, as to not compromise the privacy of the female inmates.
Adgent said it’s a hassle.
The facility can hold up to 48 inmates, and on average have around 40 at any given time. The average length of time a juvenile spends in the facility is around six to seven days, according to Adgent.