Officials question increase in incidents at Wilder Youth Development Center

FAYETTE COUNTY, Tenn. — Two groups of teens recently tried to escape the Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, Tennessee.

Three teenagers escaped last Wednesday while at least four juveniles attempted to escape and were captured on Monday night.

The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and community want to know why this continues to happen at the state-run facility.

“We definitely see an increase in the number of incidents occurring, and that’s of concern to us,” said Fayette County Chief Deputy Ray Garcia.

Monday night, four to six juveniles escaped their dorms at the Wilder Youth Development Center then tried to climb over the security fence.

RELATED: 6 teens attempt to escape youth development after 3 escaped less than a week ago, sheriff says

This time, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Office captured the juveniles quickly, but three teenagers managed to escape the same facility last Wednesday. One juvenile is still on the run.

“We are going to be concerned for residents that are nearby, and in addition to residents, we have three schools nearby that facility,” said Garcia.

Garcia questions why there is an increase in escaped juveniles from the state facility.

“I’m not sure if it’s a manpower issue. I’m not sure what’s going on,” said Garcia.

When FOX13 went to the facility, we noticed a “now hiring” sign for more staff.

We also found out a total of 13 detainees escaped the center since November of 2020.

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The sheriff’s office hopes it will eventually get some relief.

“We are limited in our resources at the Sheriff’s office, so we could use whatever assistance we can to prevent these situations from continuing to occur so 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 might not have been designed to house serious criminals as it does now.

Neighbors who live close to the facility are also concerned because three schools are located nearby.

They also question if there is a lack of security at the facility.

“How they getting out? They have to get out somewhere unless someone is letting them out,” said neighbor Lethie Fleming.

FOX13 reached out to the Department of Child Services, which oversees the facility, and asked how many guards are inside the facility and if it’s requesting more resources to stop these incidents from happening.

The below statement is from DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols:

“The department takes breaches in security at Wilder extremely seriously and DCS took immediate action following an incident involving four youth who exited their dorm Monday night but never escaped the campus. Two 18-year-olds were transported early Tuesday morning to the Fayette County Jail. The two other youth were transported to a juvenile detention facility. All are facing criminal escape charges for exiting their dorms, but not the campus. DCS is investigating the incident and continues to work closely with both the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.”

The commissioner also reached out directly to District Attorney Mark Davidson, who is considering additional charges.

The Department of Child Services said it has taken immediate steps to make the facility safer for youth, staff and the community:

  • Increasing the security presence by adding private security guards this week to patrol the perimeter of the Wilder campus.
  • Improving the lighting of the entire campus by adding portable flood lights starting Tuesday evening.
  • Engaging the Department of Correction to send a team of security specialists to Wilder to audit and evaluate existing security protocols and internal controls related to key access and perimeter security at the facility.
  • Contracting 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.
  • Working on ways to improve staff pay and policies to recruit and retain dedicated security officers at Wilder.