Oct 28, 2021 - News

Juvenile justice complex on cusp of upgrade

The Juvenile Justice Center on Woodland Street.

The Juvenile Justice Center on Woodland Street. Photo courtesy of Kim Head/Davidson County Juvenile Court

After years of pleading, Nashville's juvenile justice complex is on the cusp of an upgrade.

Why it matters: The juvenile justice center on Woodland Street opened in the 1990s and has run out of space to meet basic needs. The infrastructure has been in dire shape for years.

  • "We have literally made courtrooms from closets," Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway tells Axios.
  • Raw sewage sometimes flooded hallways and courtrooms, Calloway told council members in January.

Flashback: The complex, which includes a connected courthouse and detention center, has been on the city's shortlist for major investments. Funding pushes stalled in 2015 and 2017, according to The Tennessean.

  • A 2019 escape exposed flaws in the building design and management that allowed four teenage detainees to enter the unsecured courthouse after-hours and run out the front door.

The latest: Cooper's plan includes funding to buy land for a new 14-acre campus off Brick Church Pike.

  • "That has been years in the making," Cooper tells Axios. "I feel a little bit guilty I'm the person who gets to announce it."

What's next: It will take about three years to finish the new campus, according to Calloway.

  • The initial wave of funding covers land acquisition and early architectural and engineering work. Metro General Services is determining the total cost, but Cooper says the long-term benefits make the price tag worth it.

What they're saying: "All of the things that we need, this will be the difference," Calloway says. "This is going to be a game-changer on everything we do."

  • Calloway says more space will allow for a 24-hour assessment center to get help for runaways and other delinquent youth who legally cannot be held in lock-up.
  • Officials currently have to send them home to wait hours or days for support.
  • The added space would also improve security around the detention center and make room for delinquent youths to be separated during intake from juveniles accused of serious crimes. The two groups currently have to share the same area.

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