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The Tennessee Conservative [By Adelia Kirchner] –
Despite changes in law regarding the treatment of juvenile delinquents, one juvenile detention center in East Tennessee had neglected to keep up with new regulations and continues to punish children with isolation more than any other facility in the state.
83-year-old superintendent, Richard L. Bean, took charge of what is now called the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center back in 1972 and prefers the way that things used to be done, i.e., corporal punishment.
“We didn’t have any problems then,” said Bean. “I’d whip about six or eight a year and it’d run pretty smooth. They’d say, ‘You don’t want him to get hold of you.’”
Now Bean relies on a different way of keeping the youth in line: locking them in cells alone, for hours or even days at a time.
“What we do is treat everybody like they’re in here for murder,” he said. “You don’t have a problem if you do that.”
But most of the children at Bean’s detention center are not in for murder. Many of them have been charged with far lesser crimes and are actually still awaiting their court dates.
“It’s difficult to know how children have been treated inside the walls of institutions like this one,” writes Paige Pfleger, “because policies designed to protect the privacy of kids can also obscure what goes on in facilities that break the law.”
Research has shown that solitary confinement can cause depression, anxiety, and even psychosis. Additionally, the majority of suicides within juvenile correction facilities happen when a juvenile is isolated.
While it is not the only institution using seclusion for minor infractions like laughing during a meal or even daring to catch head lice, the Bean Center has locked children alone in a cell for indeterminate amounts of time, more than any other center in Tennessee.
Reportedly, one 16-year-old was even stripped down to his boxers, socks, and a T-shirt before being locked in a cell alone. Another child said that staff “will put you in seclusion if they don’t like you.”
In 2017 the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS), mandated that juvenile detention centers in Tennessee change the way they use they use seclusion and these new standards have been codified into state law.
Statute clarifies that children in Tennessee’s juvenile detention centers can be locked into cells that are 50 sq. ft. typically with a concrete slab for a bed and a metal toilet on the wall.
However, the standards make clear that seclusion is to be used as a last resort “to prevent imminent harm to themselves, another person, prevent damage to property, or prevent the youth from escaping.”
According to state law, seclusion should never be used “for discipline, punishment, administrative convenience, retaliation, staffing shortages, or reasons other than a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate harm to a youth or others.”
The Bean Center’s unlawful use of isolation has been documented for years by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, yet the state agency continues to approve the center’s license to operate.
Some seclusion incidents that were correctly documented showed that Bean was keeping children in their cells longer than he was supposed to.
One young person told an inspector that he was in seclusion for several weeks.
“The idea of this practice ever being used in a foster home or something like that would immediately raise flags and horrify people,” said Policy Director for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, Kylie Graves.
“If I got in trouble for it,” said Bean, “I believe I could talk to whoever got me in trouble and get out of it.”
About the Author: Adelia Kirchner is a Tennessee resident and reporter for the Tennessee Conservative. Currently the host of Subtle Rampage Podcast, she has also worked for the South Dakota State Legislature and interned for Senator Bill Hagerty’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Adelia at email@example.com.