Data obtained by WMC Investigators shows number of disturbances has increased at Wilder Youth Development Center

Data provided by Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is for January 2015 - October 2019

Wilder Youth Center Assaults

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Data provided by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services shows disturbances at Wilder Youth Development Center are on the rise.

Fourteen 18-year-olds and approximately 30 juveniles were charged in connection with a disturbance that occurred Sept. 22. According to Fayette County prosecutors, the youth left their dorm rooms and caused over $30,000 in damage to the facility.

Wilder Youth Center Riot

The Fayette County Sheriff’s Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol were called to the center at the time.

After the incident, the WMC Action News 5 Investigators requested information about how often disturbances occur inside the facility.

DCS defines a disturbance as an event that both causes a disruption and necessitates an emergency response.

It took DCS over a month to fulfill the request.

The data DCS provided showed the number of youth disturbances at Wilder has gone up every year for the past three years.

There have been six disturbances so far this year while last year there were three total.

Meanwhile, the data shows that the number of assaults at Wilder is down.

Wilder Youth Development Center -- reports of assault (1/2015-10/2019)
Wilder Youth Development Center -- reports of assault (1/2015-10/2019) (Source: WMC)
Wilder Youth Development Center -- incident reports (1/2015-10/2019)
Wilder Youth Development Center -- incident reports (1/2015-10/2019) (Source: WMC)

In 2016 there were 499 assaults, which include youth assaulting other youth or staff members. So far this year, there have been 220 assaults reported at the facility.

DCS spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals attributes the decrease in assaults, in part, to a policy change that went into effect in 2017 when the department banned using seclusion as a form of punishment.

However, she cites the same policy change as a reason for the increase in disturbances.

Multiple teens arrested after riot in youth center

“Much of our response is speculative but there are some indicators that DCS staff has noticed that may account for the increased number of disturbances,” Donnals wrote in an email. “First, the number of rival gang members housed in the same facility has risen; next, youth are aware of change in the seclusion policy; and finally, the seriousness of offenses that brought a youth to the YDC, in other words – their individual backgrounds – includes more weapon and violent offenses.”

Donnals attributes a focus on therapeutic approaches to the treatment of youth at Wilder as well as more time for physical activity for the decrease in assaults.

“The staff has built in incentives into programming and there is a heavy emphasis on verbal de-escalation techniques and developing therapeutic rapport,” Donnals wrote to WMC Action News 5. "There has been an increase in structure, including adding more planned activities to decrease down time, and encouraging more outdoor gross motor activity. "

According to DCS, Wilder Youth Development Center was also understaffed at the time of the disturbance in September.

The department wrote in an email that it is working with the national non-profit, the Council of Juvenile Correction Administrators, for technical support to improve recruitment, hiring, and retention of staff at Wilder.

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