FAYETTE COUNTY, Tennessee – Two groups of teenagers recently attempted to escape from the Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, Tennessee.
Three teenagers escaped last Wednesday while at least four minors tried to escape and were captured on Monday evening.
The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and the community want to know why this continues to happen at the state-run facility.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of incidents, and that concerns us,” said Fayette County Deputy Chief Ray Garcia.
On Monday evening, four to six minors escaped from their dormitories at the Wilder Youth Development Center and then attempted to scale the security fence.
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This time, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Department quickly captured the minors, but three teenagers managed to escape from the same facility last Wednesday. A minor is still at large.
“We’re going to be concerned about residents who are nearby, and in addition to residents, we have three schools near this facility,” Garcia said.
Garcia wonders why there is an increase in the number of minors who have escaped from the public establishment.
“I don’t know if it’s a labor issue. I don’t know what’s going on,” Garcia said.
When FOX13 visited the facility, we noticed a “hiring now” sign for more staff.
We also discovered that a total of 13 inmates have escaped from the center since November 2020.
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The sheriff’s office hopes he will eventually get some relief.
“We are limited in our resources at the Sheriff’s Office, so we can use all the help we can to prevent these situations from happening again so that we can continue to keep the citizens of Fayette County safe,” said Garcia.
Garcia said the Wilder Youth Development Center is an older building and may not have been designed to house serious criminals like it does now.
Neighbors who live close to the facility are also affected as three schools are located nearby.
They also wonder if there is a lack of security in the establishment.
“How did they get out? They have to go out somewhere unless someone lets them out,” neighbor Lethie Fleming said.
FOX13 reached out to the Department of Children’s Services, which oversees the facility, and asked how many guards were inside the facility and if they were asking for more resources to prevent these incidents from happening.
The statement below is from DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols:
“The department takes security breaches at Wilder very seriously and DCS took immediate action following an incident involving four youths who left their dorm Monday night but never escaped campus. Two 18-year-olds were transported early Tuesday morning to Fayette County Jail. The other two young people were transported to a detention center for minors. All face criminal escape charges for leaving their dorms, but not campus. DCS is investigating the incident and continues to work closely with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.
The commissioner has also contacted District Attorney Mark Davidson directly, who is considering additional charges.
The Department of Children’s Services said it took immediate action to make the facility safer for young people, staff and the community:
- Increase security presence by adding private security guards this week to patrol the perimeter of the Wilder campus.
- Improve campus-wide lighting by adding portable floodlights beginning Tuesday evening.
- Engage the Department of Corrections to send a team of security specialists to Wilder to audit and evaluate existing security protocols and internal controls related to key access and facility perimeter security.
- Contract with the American Correctional Association to conduct a technical needs assessment to determine compliance with the ACA’s performance-based standards for juvenile correctional facilities.
- Planning to add mobile surveillance units while ongoing work continues with video experts to improve the existing network of security cameras.
- Work on ways to improve staff compensation and recruitment and retention policies for dedicated security officers at Wilder.
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