MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) says millions of dollars from a first-of-its-kind real estate plan will aid in building a new John S. Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County.

DCS says they received $107 million in additional funding through the real estate plan, and $19 million of the approved funds will be used to begin the design phase for the new Wilder center along with a new youth center in Nashville.

The new facilities are expected to increase bed capacity by more than 150 across the state.

Reports say the new Wilder hardware-secure facility in Somerville will have 72 beds and the infrastructure to expand to 96 beds for future needs while. The Wilder staff-secure facility will have 24 beds with the ability to expand to 48.

“Today is the culmination of almost a year’s worth of work by Governor Bill Lee, members of the General Assembly and DCS leadership. Together, we are forging a new path and reimagining possibilities for Tennessee’s children in need,” said DCS Commissioner Margie Quin.

DCS says that the real estate expansion project will enhance safety and security for youth and staff at DCS facilities across the state. 

The Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County is where teenage boys between the ages of 14-18 from Shelby County and across the state go when they are found guilty of violent crimes.

The program provides youth with the opportunity to learn vital social and independent living skills that will allow them to be successful upon their return to their community, according to DCS.

In April, WREG investigators uncovered mounting concerns like fights, juveniles refusing to get off the roof, riots, staff locked in cells, and multiple escapes.

Data from the sheriff’s office showed between 2019 and 2022, deputies responded to at least two dozen assault calls at Wilder along with reports of sexual assaults and multiple disturbances.

Wilder Youth Development Center was originally constructed in the 1960s. Quin previously stated that it does not have the extensive security measures that are needed today.

“Additional cameras and monitoring systems will assist in the proper care for the youth in custody,” said Quin in an interview with WREG in July.

The Memphis Shelby County Crime Commission and lawmakers previously stated that they wanted a new facility built while others argued the money would be better spent on stronger community supervision and better intervention programs.