Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Understaffing at Texas youth lockups caused skyrocketing abuse rates

Rates of abuse of kids housed at Texas Youth Commission correctional facilities increased more than 3-1/2 times from 2002 through 2005, according to information provided by TYC for the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee's interim report (pdf, p. 17). Here are the startling figures of confirmed abuse reports:

Year Rate of abuse per 100 kids
2002 0.8
2003 1.2
2004 2.4
2005 2.9

According to the report, "TYC adheres to the Family Code definitions of abuse, neglect and exploitation as abuses the Commission is mandated to investigate. (The above data excludes allegations of sexual abuse, neglect and narcotics investigations, according to a footnote.)

I pay closer attention to these matters than most people, and those figures left me agog. Why in the world is this happening now? The committee report identified three "contributing factors."

First, just like in the adult prison system, only worse, TYC faces an understaffing crisis. According to the committee report (p. 19), "Average staff to student ratios in TYC facilities are one staff member to 24 offenders, this is a far cry from the goal ratio of one to 15 offenders. This can become a vicious circle, staff turnover is 90% in the first six months due to the demanding nature of the job. Personal risk, unpaid overtime, and psychological stress are all major factors for staff loss ... that might all be alleviated by more staffing."

Second, thanks to funding cuts in the 78th 2003 Texas legislative session that were never restored, "the training period for staff prior to facility placement is only 2 weeks." Minimum requirements for juvenile corrections officers are that they must be 18 years old with a GED or better - this for jobs supervising offenders up to 21 years of age!

Finally, architecture and grouping of students may contribute. Housing kids of all ages together in large, barracks-style buildings gives older kids a chance to prey on the younger ones, says the report, and contributes to greater violence.

According to the report, "Of the many TYC Units the Marlin Unit is the most abusive." The unit in Marlin is the first stop for every incarcerated juvie offender for "orientation and assessment." It also happens to be one of the two units Chairman Whitmire has said he'd like to turn into an adult facility. I wonder if Marlin's record of abuse is part of the reason why?

With abuse rates skyrocketing and just one in ten new guards hired making it past six months on the job, it sounds like the Texas Youth Commission faces a real crisis, doesn't it? It's amazing to me, but as stark as the situation sounds I don't think it's even on most Texas legislators' radar screens.


Anonymous said...

I'm trying to understand you. Are you saying that the increase in abuse is primarily offender against offender (kid against kid) or is it Officers being abusive towards the kids? I do agree that this is a terrible issue; one that needs to be addressed. I am a High School teacher, and through my 15 years of teaching I have witnessed first hand how violent adolescent minds in adult bodies can be. I can see where this would be a bad situation.
I hope the Texas leg. will sit up and take notice. After all, these kids are tomorrow's adults...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I looked again at the definition in the report to make sure, and from what I can tell the abuse statistics are only for guards on kids. On p. 18 of the report it says,

"TYC data ... indicates that abuse often takes the form of choking or violent restraint, some cases are unprovoked (no rules are broken by the youth) and many injuries have occurred after the youth are handcuffed.

"Most often the abuser is a JCO, Juvenile Correctional Officer, and punishments for abuse range from counseling to termination."

I think the reason the barracks-style facilities were mentioned is that guards told the committee that makes it more likely a JCO will have to intervene in a violent tussle. There are no stats in the report, unfortunately, for kid on kid or kid on guard attacks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. It would be interesting to see the stats on kid on kid violence or kid on officer violence. I heard that there has been a bill purposed that addresses students attacking teachers? Do you know anything about that? By the way, I love your website.

800 pound gorilla said...

It's not that corrections attracts a disproportionate share of abusive guards. It's just that peer pressure keeps guards mum about those abuses. The less abusive graduates don't snitch; they just leave in disgust. As I say repeatedly in my book: peer pressure in the adult world is way more than what kids encounter in schools and their social venues. And that peer pressure includes the code of silence.

Anonymous said...

Texas prison officers are about 46th-48th out of 50 in national pay for thier jobs. I know that TYC pays alot less than TDCJ to its officers there. Who wants to go get assaulted, spit on and cussed at everyday for $10.00 an hour. Walmart pays $12.00...


Anonymous said...

I was in TCY from age 15-20. i was sexually abused very often by staff. I have been out less then 3 years and have been trying to put my past behind me. When us youth try to report these acts they are hardly ever investigated. From the year of 2001 the acts became more often and to allot of other girls at our facilities. I was in Ron Jackson State School for several years. I reported a act and they ignored me. 1-2 years later they caught the same guy raping another female. If they would have investigated my report this would have never happened. I often look for sights like this to spread my story. And finally i have found my brake with the Dallas Morning News please read it as of 02/18 other stories will be posted as follow regarding the female state schools.