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Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center faces scrutiny over seclusion practices

19 Dec 2023, Jail News, by

Allegations of the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center categorizing lockups as “voluntary” to bypass regulations prompt closer scrutiny.

Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center faces scrutiny over seclusion practices - Inmate Lookup

The state of Tennessee has asserted that the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center in Knoxville has demonstrated “significant and consistent improvement” in response to an earlier investigation that exposed illegal solitary confinement practices.

However, a more thorough examination of the facility’s most recent inspection by the state Department of Children’s Services (DCS) paints a different picture. Instead of involuntarily isolating children, the facility now claims that youths are voluntarily agreeing to undergo solitary confinement.

Even though there were typically only about 30 children residing in the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center, the facility used this “voluntary” seclusion more than 1,000 times in the first three months of 2023. That is three times the number of occasions compared to the same time last year.

Tennessee law rigorously regulates the conditions under which children can be involuntarily isolated in juvenile detention centers. However, a 2021 state law introduced a provision allowing facilities to isolate children upon the child’s request for a cooling-down period. Crucially, for such seclusion to be genuinely voluntary, children must have the liberty to leave whenever they wish.

Zoe Jamail, the policy coordinator of Disability Rights Tennessee, has expressed skepticism, suggesting that the facility may be categorizing these lockups as voluntary to sidestep legal parameters. Disability Rights Tennessee serves as a monitoring agency for juvenile detention facilities in the state.

Reports from juvenile detainees and DCS inspections both imply that the seclusions are not genuinely voluntary.

The DCS inspection in 2021 has revealed an upward trend in the facility’s reliance on voluntary seclusions, coupled with uncertainties about whether the youths fully comprehend their ability to terminate the seclusion at will.

Detained individuals, including Tyler and Francisco, have shared personal experiences of being confined for extended periods, often for reasons such as wanting more sleep or avoiding classes. Despite the facility’s assertion of voluntariness, it appears that individuals have been subjected to prolonged seclusion in a cell block known as the brown pod.

Francisco remembered that Mr. Bean grew frustrated because youths were choosing voluntary lockups when school wasn’t in session. Bean decided that everyone would go to brown for a day, which was extended to the next day if they continued to skip school.

In a September interview, Bean acknowledged implementing this policy, explaining that he would place them in seclusion until the next morning, making them more inclined to attend school.

Despite ProPublica and WPLN’s report exposing excessive seclusion practices at the center compared to other state facilities, requests for comments from Bean and the county board overseeing the center went unanswered.

In response, DCS emphasized the need to establish an appropriate policy requiring facilities to inform youth in voluntary seclusion that they can terminate the seclusion at will. According to the department, the detention ceases to be voluntary once the child is unable to leave it on their own volition. And in the event that it fails, Bean’s dependence on forcibly confining children in isolation has only grown.