Four teens accused of homicide and other gun crimes escaped lockup at the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center over the weekend -- and remain on the run, with one added to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted list.
It's not the first time a teenager has run away from a facility operated by Youth Opportunity.
In the span of two weeks -- and about two months before the Nashville escape -- two groups of youths escaped from a residential facility in Bartlett, just outside of Memphis.
The Center for Success and Independence in Bartlett is a residential treatment facility providing mental health and drug and alcohol abuse treatment to youth who have interacted with the Department of Children's Services, a Youth Opportunity representative told The Commercial Appeal at the time of the second escape.
Four youths ran away from the Bartlett facility on Sept. 30. Two were later returned to the facility. In a separate escape, two ran away Oct. 10, but were caught and taken to juvenile court the following day. They were charged with felony assault and evading arrest. There was also an escape earlier in the year, according to a Youth Opportunity representative.
Because of the runaways, the Bartlett center did an assessment and decided to upgrade the fence around its recreation yard.
Indiana-based Youth Opportunity operates 22 facilities across five states that serve young people with problems like behavioral issues, mental health, substance abuse and gang involvement, along with those currently in the juvenile justice system.
Some centers are owned and operated by Youth Opportunity, while others -- such as the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center -- are operated on a contract basis.
Youth Opportunity runs facilities in Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Texas and Arkansas. The seven Tennessee locations are in Memphis and throughout East and Middle Tennessee, including Nashville, Mt. Juliet and Lebanon.
The Roane Youth Academy in Roane County has a history of violent incidents and escapes under the management of both Youth Opportunity, which purchased the facility in 2017, and its previous owner, Nashville-based Omni Visions.
After a spate of escapes in 2018, the Roane County Commission considered suing Youth Opportunity or calling on state regulators to review the company's operations and licensing. The center is housed in an industrial park, and businesses lodged complaints about it with county officials.
Roane County executive Ron Woody said "we've just had way too many calls to 911 and reports of damage down there," according to The Roane County News.
Youth Opportunity, the paper reported, later defended its practices in a letter to the commission.
"A big part of the problem is the Department of Children's Services sending children to the facility that do not fit the residential guidelines that the facility was created for," the letter said.
The Roane commissioners held off on suing the company, but called a meeting after another escape in August, when three youth broke through the walls of a building and bent the perimeter fence.
In the Nashville case, Youth Opportunity officials said its staff made "improper decisions" that led to the escape, starting with the decision to remove the four youths from their cells after the typical 9 p.m. bedtime to clean part of the building. Ultimately, the four maneuvered into the part of the building that houses juvenile court and ran out the front door.
Three staff members were fired and one was suspended for the incident, the company said in a news release.
"Youth Opportunity acknowledges that several members of its security personnel made improper decisions that, when combined, led to an opportunity for the four youth to leave the facility," the statement read.
Police are now investigating the circumstances surrounding the escape from the Nashville facility.
Detention centers: These are facilities for temporary placement of juveniles charged with crimes. The four teens escaped Saturday from the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center in Nashville. These are designed for youth who pose a risk to the community and are secured by locked doors. Exit from buildings is restricted.
Youth development centers: These are the highest-secured youth treatment facilities, and are a prison-like environment for juveniles found guilty of violent and serious crimes and committed to state custody. The state runs the Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, and contracts for 24 beds at a facility in Dandridge.
Level IV facilities: These are sub-acute psychiatric residential treatment facilities for youths with psychiatric conditions who are not a danger to themselves or others. These facilities are secured by a perimeter fence and staff.
Level III facilities: The vast majority of youth in the juvenile justice system -- those not convicted of serious crimes against persons -- are sent to these facilities, where they receive mental health and behavioral treatment. The buildings are secured by staff and have perimeter fencing.