Tennessee lawmakers want the state's juvenile prison system audited after an investigation found kids being held in solitary confinement for indeterminate lengths

  • Fourteen Tennessee lawmakers are calling for an audit of the state's children's prisons.

  • A ProPublica investigation found that children were held in solitary confinement for minor infractions.

  • Tennessee law says solitary confinement should only be used as a last resort.

Lawmakers in Tennessee are calling for an audit of the state's children's prison system after an investigation showed that children are being isolated for minor infractions.

The Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center has been run by its namesake since 1972, and much of his methods remain "old school" today, according to ProPublica.

"What we do is treat everybody like they're in here for murder," he told the outlet. "You don't have a problem if you do that."

Tennessee Department of Corrections policies instituted in 2017 say that incarcerated children can be secluded into a room that is 50 square feet, but seclusion should be used as a last resort, the report says.

"Staff shall never use seclusion 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 policy says.

In a 2018 Tennessee Department of Children's services report from the Bean Center, one child said he was secluded after he forgot to bring his books to class, according to the outlet.

"Staff will put you in seclusion if they don't like you," the boy said.

Several reports from the TDCS, which oversees the Bean Center, reviewed by ProPublica showed that children inside the facility and others in the state had been locked in solitary confinement for sometimes minor infractions, such as laughing during a meal.

TDCS placed a corrective action plan on the Bean Center in 2018 after inspectors found that the facility was using seclusion as punishment, but in 2019 the corrective plan was removed and the facility had its license renewed, even though reports showed the use of seclusion had increased, ProPublica reported.

On November 16, 14 Tennessee Democratic legislators penned a letter calling for the TDCS to run an audit of the children's prison system following the findings, according to the outlet.

"The Department has a constitutional duty to the legislature to enforce state laws and a moral obligation to children to ensure that youth in state-licensed facilities are being treated humanely and in accordance with Department guidelines," state Sen. Heidi Campbell wrote in the letter.

Campbell later said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she is also writing legislation to outlaw corporal punishment for children in Tennessee.

In the letter, the lawmakers called Bean's comments "disturbing," citing his remark that the Bean Center treats every child like they're there "for murder."

The Tennessee Department of Children's Services did not immediately return Insider's request for comment.

The agency told ProPublica it is immediately "taking steps" to address the concerns highlighted inside the Bean Center."

"The matter is being treated with urgency and is a priority to the Department," TDCS said in a statement.

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