- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Dec. 29

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on state’s worst teen offenders:

It is good to see that the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services is waging a two-pronged effort to curb violence at its troubled youth detention centers, which house some of the state’s most incorrigible teen criminal offenders.

While two of the three centers - Woodland Hills in Nashville and Mountain View in East Tennessee - have had issues, Woodland Hills made national headlines Sept. 1 when more than 30 teenagers escaped. All eventually were recaptured.

The escape was the first of three major issues at the facility that month, which also included a riot and another escape by 13 teens.

DCS has increased security at Woodland Hills and is adjusting its behavior-modification program with the aim of preventing future rioting and escapes.

We hope it works. Although the centers house some of the state’s worst teen criminal offenders, every effort should be made to ensure their safety and the safety of staff. And there must be effective programs in place to give the teens a chance to rehabilitate their lives. This is particularly important since almost all of them will be released back into society when they reach age 19.

The Woodland Hills center has reinforced with concrete the bottom of a fence that surrounds the facility and reinforced aluminum panels under dormitory windows that the teens kicked out during the first escape. The panels and windows also have been covered with mesh steel.

The facility’s behavioral-modification program is being tweaked to be more incentive-based and less of a punitive blueprint. That could convince the most hardened offenders to be more responsible in their interactions with fellow inmates and staff.

The situation should be helped by DCS’s decision to send several of the escapees to a facility in Texas to receive treatment because of their continued unruliness. DCS, however, has arranged for each of the transferred teens to be visited by a family member, along with case workers from Woodland Hills.

Experts in juvenile criminal justice say that making sure teen offenders maintain contact with family members is an important component of rehabilitation efforts.

Independent investigations of problems at the centers pointed to lax procedures brought about by understaffing and long hours, exacerbated by the inability to attract employees because of low pay.

During a recent visit with The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board, Gov. Bill Haslam was asked about the centers and whether they would be impacted by his request that state department heads find 7 percent reductions in their proposed budgets. The governor said it is likely the centers may be spared budget cuts, and that DCS is working on ways to boost the number and professionalism of staff at the centers.

It would be a prudent investment in the effort to rehabilitate these young men.




Dec. 29

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Tennessee, on preserving Oak Ridge legacy:

With a Senate vote on Dec. 12, Congress approved the establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The passage of the act represents the successful culmination of a campaign waged for longer than a decade.

Oak Ridge - along with Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington - will be one of three sites that make up the park.

The park presents an opportunity for Oak Ridge and the surrounding areas to benefit in a new way from the weapons and research efforts begun 72 years ago. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park will be the 10th National Park Service unit in East Tennessee.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who co-sponsored the legislation, said the national park will “preserve and protect one of the most historic events in American history.”

The historic importance of the Manhattan Project is not questioned. During World War II, the United States launched a top-secret effort to build an atomic bomb. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, who headed the project, selected a rural area west of Knoxville for uranium enrichment operations.

Oak Ridge - the “Secret City” - appeared seemingly from nowhere to become a city of 75,000 at its peak. Four plants, each focused on a different nuclear process and given code names (K-25, X-10, Y-12 and S-50), sprang up at the site known as the Clinton Engineer Works. At Hanford, workers produced plutonium. Los Alamos was the home of research, design and assembly for the weapons.

Uranium enriched at Y-12 was used in the first atomic bomb, which destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. Days later, after a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese surrendered.

The U.S. Department of Energy will work with the National Park Service to develop the far-flung park. In developing the concept, DOE designated three Oak Ridge sites as “signature facilities” - the former K-25 gaseous diffusion plant, the Graphite Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Beta-3 caultrons at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The American Museum of Science and Energy has been proposed as a hub for the Oak Ridge portion of the park.

The new park will expand the already considerable presence of the National Park Service in the region. Other Park Service units in East Tennessee are the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Obed Wild and Scenic River and the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Also, there are three national trails in East Tennessee - the Appalachian Trail, the Overmountain Victory and Trail of Tears national historic trails.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park will preserve Oak Ridge’s World War II and Cold War legacies, attract a number of tourists to the city and increase awareness of an important chapter of American history.




Dec. 30

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on fiscal note process:

When the state Legislature enacts a new law, there’s nearly always a price tag attached.

The size of the price tag and who’s going to pay the bill can be a major part of the debate over passage. It’s not hard to see that getting the price right can become a political hot potato.

It’s in the interests of those who sponsor a bill to declare as low a price as possible, and the opposite is true for opponents: They’d like to see a high price tag.

The procedure for establishing such a price tag, called a “fiscal note” in government-speak, is a review by a fiscal review committee of members from both houses of the legislature.

That committee at times has been accused of political favoritism. Now a bill is being prepared for the upcoming legislative session to review how the fiscal review committee reaches its decisions.

The proposal would require the committee’s director or a staff member to present information about how they determine the dollar amount of a fiscal note and to describe their review process.

That seems reasonable, as long as that doesn’t burden the committee with useless paper work. The goal is the classic one of government by the people: open agreements, openly arrived at.



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