This week, we reported
on Hermitage Hall, a Nashville treatment facility for male sex offenders ages 9 to 17. Current and former employees came forward with reports that Hermitage's young residents were being roughed up and put in “chemical straitjackets” via heavy sedation—even forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor or locked in a room for punishment for days, weeks and even months on end.
The Department of Children's Services and Department of Mental Health, both of which have licensed the facility at some point, have stacks of complaints and investigative documents that tell similar tales. We couldn't include all of them in this week's story, but here's a more detailed glimpse into the DCS files, which, as one staffer puts it, makes you wonder: “How do they get away with this stuff all the time?”
More after the jump...
Even in a facility packed with about 100 residents who have been sexually abused or have abused others—often times, both—staffers engaged in inappropriate sexual activity, both with residents and each other, one staffer says. One former Hermitage counselor, who asked to remain anonymous, tells the Scene
that it was not uncommon for female staffers to act inappropriately with male residents. And the DCS files tell a similar story.
In a 1998 grievance, a staffer told DCS that a fellow employee would sit with “his legs spread apart [with] a female staff member standing between them” with a hall full of young sex offenders watching. Several employees and an entire unit of residents witnessed another female staffer “rubbing her breasts” against three residents, according to the grievance.
Also in 1998, a resident reported that staffers strip-searched him after there was a contraband control problem in his unit. “[He] did not wish to be strip-searched, but was held by male staff members and forcefully undressed against his will,” the staffer wrote. Before arriving at Hermitage, the boy had been physically and sexually abused, and, according to the grievance, the strip-search sent the boy into a full-blown post-traumatic-stress disorder episode.
The grievance also details how at times, Hermitage's “low-functioning residents” aren't getting the treatment they deserve. One male staffer referred to one such resident as a “beast” in front of the boy's peers. That same staffer was also known not to allow lower-functioning residents to take part in nightly games with the other kids. Other staffers referred to lower-functioning residents as “stupid,” and one counselor dubbed a boy a “fool” because the child was pretending to read above his grade level.
One current Hermitage staffer says lack of employee education and training in treating kids with mental disabilities are to blame for the disservice she says Hermitage does to its mentally disabled residents. But other employee actions show a complete lack of empathy that no training can teach: In 2005, residents told DCS licensing consultants that staffers told them they were “gonna cut your wings” and “you're lucky I don't kill you.”