Jul 28, 2022 - News

Emergency contract for Nashville's juvenile detention center

An exterior photo of the Juvenile Justice Center in Nashville.
The Juvenile Justice Center in Nashville. Photo: courtesy of the Nashville-Davidson County juvenile court

The private contractor that oversaw the juvenile detention center in downtown Nashville pulled out of its $28 million contract four years early this summer, leaving city leaders scrambling to secure a new provider.

  • An emergency contract with a new company started July 1.

Why it matters: The downtown detention center is where juveniles accused of serious offenses are held.

Flashback: Four teenagers at the detention center escaped in 2019 after a series of policy violations from multiple contractor employees.

  • The contractor, Youth Opportunity Investments, acknowledged employee mistakes at the time. It fired some employees and made changes to improve security.
  • After a competitive bidding process, YOI secured a new contract to continue the work from 2021-2026.
  • YOI shifted the detention center contract to the affiliated entity Youth Opportunities of America in 2021.

Driving the news: The company notified juvenile court officials of their intention to scrap that contract in May.

Between the lines: Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway tells Axios the company had "escalating" staffing problems including high turnover and excessive overtime hours for staff.

  • The new contract allowed for financial penalties if the company failed to fulfill certain requirements, including maintaining adequate staffing.
  • Calloway says court staff was preparing to alert the company of noncompliance when executives said they were pulling out of the contract.
  • "I give [the company] credit for realizing they couldn't provide the quality of detention services we expected," Calloway says.

What they're saying: In a June 1 email to Calloway and other court staff obtained by Axios, company executive Gary Sallee said the dynamics in the juvenile lockup "have not yielded results we can continue to accept."

  • "Our employees are fearful for their safety, our work is wrongfully demeaned, our reputation is tarnished, and our operations yield little or no net income," Sallee wrote.
  • "We have invested all of the financial resources available to fund Judge Sheila's dream, because we support the dream. … We can no longer pay for the dream."

The latest: A $9.6 million emergency contract with a new provider, Rite of Passage, runs through the end of 2023.

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