Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ed Owens faces joint TYC committee

TYC Czar Ed Owens testified this morning to the Joint Committee on TYC Oversight (see the video here), and told legislators he would be releasing an "implementation plan" on Thursday. Here are a few highlights from the hearing:

Owens told Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Whitmire that in the past month kids have been segregated so that youth 12-13 aren't housed in the same dorms as older students. He said they weren't segregated by campus, but they were segregated by dorm. However, he told Whitmire, students weren't segregated by level of offense, so violent and nonviolent offenders are still housed together as before. (The best way to address that, incidentally, is to shift to smaller units of just 2-3 dozen instead of 200-300, to better keep kids with differing classifications segregated. Preferably such new units should be located near urban areas, not out in the boondocks, if you want to hire quality staff.)

Kids in mental health units and special needs kids are still housed together across ages, Owens said, but in those instances are given individual rooms.

Whitmire also grilled Owens on why changes in training and grievance procedures weren't further along, to which Owens could only weakly reply he was "looking at" changes but hadn't yet made any decisions. Some of those answers, he said, would be in Thursday's implementation plan.

"Who's running TYC right now?" asked Whitmire. Owens said "I am." Whitmire asked who he reported to or who provided oversight. Owens said he didn't "report" to anybody, but he was "working with" Mr. Kimbrough, the state auditor's office, and his contact in the Governor's office, Alphonso Royal.

Whitmire went ballistic, and told Owens he was going to give him the best piece of advice he'd get all day - demand a higher level contact in the Governor's office, including the Governor himself. Royal was "at best a mid-level person," said Whitmire, maybe lower, and was one of the people who allegedly knew early on about the scandal and didn't act. He also said he thought Owens needed an active board to oversee and assist in his reforms and give them more legitimacy.

"Let me just tell you," said Whitmire, "because you don't have a board that can be held accountable ... the buck stops with you." Owens said he understood he didn't need to wait on anyone's approval to implement his new plan.

Whitmire was also unhappy that installation of surveillance cameras was waiting on a supplemental appropriations request. Under questioning Owens said he'd informed the Governor's office last week he needed cameras and didn't have the money. Whitmire said "it's nuts to me" because the Governor's office had discretionary criminal justice grant money available for "border security" and other political priorities. He told Owens if he needed money for cameras the Legislature could get it for him immediately, "today" - perhaps with his connections Owens could have done it already through an "interagency agreement" with TDJC, Whitmire said.

Owens agreed that the location of TYC facilities made it difficult to hire more guards, and said the better short term solution to reduce guard-student staff ratios was to reduce the number of students. In the medium term he wants to close some facilities and move them closer to urban areas. (A proposal earlier this year was floated to convert two TYC facilities to adult units.)

Owens said there were 300 youth at the Marlin facility where the superintendent was arrested last week. It's the intake facility for every kid in the state sentenced to a TYC facility - they all go there for "orientation and assessment" before being assigned elsewhere. Kids are separated by age there, said Owens, but not by offense type. Sen. Whitmire called that "totally unacceptable." He thinks reducing cohabitation of nonviolent and violent offenders from intake on is "more important than the cameras," and he could understand why any judge would object to sending kids to TYC.

5 comments:

TJDO said...

It's obvious Owens is not the man for the job. He doesn't appear to have the requisite management skills to get the job started and finished. It's also obvious by his presentation today that he doesn't have a clue. Of course, Whitmire likes to hear himself talk as much or more than Joe Biden does. I do agree with the need for the urgency and Owens can't get it done. It now makes sense why Madden wants to keep Kimbrough in the picture. He has no confidence in Owens.

Now, if the MSM will focus on his alleged conduct in the TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

After watching the hearing, I just wanted to scream. Ed Owens is SO OBVIOUSLY cut from the same cloth as the TYC people he is supposed to be investigating. I definitely second "tjdo" in that OWENS DOES NOT HAVE A CLUE as to how to make things better. How could he? He's never been a factor in making that happen anywhere. If he had been a member of TYC before this all broke, HE would be one of those investigated from his own behavior. The Fox and the Henhouse syndrome continues. What ever it is that lets Rick Perry (and all the others involved in failing to protect the youth & staff) sleep at night- I hope it is never revealed except to prevent others who have a conscious in losing theirs.

Anonymous said...

It's obvious to me a person who knows nothing about TYC that Owens is a joke and the whole thing is being handled like a second grader is in charge.

Perry use your brain here this is not a political game these are kids-our future- get a clue before the good people of Texas get the feds in here.

Anonymous said...

As a previous TYC employee I find the whole violent non-violent offender issue as one of smoke and mirrors and doesn't deal with the real problems at hand. It is just something for phony baloney politicians to "harrumph" about giving the appearance that they are doing something rather than looking for real solutions.

Fact is most young offenders in TYC are VIOLENT offenders... because traditionally to have been sent to TYC at that age then they had to do something fairly serious...

Second, if anyone bothered to research I think that you might find that many general/nonviolent offenders have more incidents of negative behavior because they have a shorter length of stay. It is a mistake to equate a Violent offender as being more dangerous or disruptive. It might surprise people to know the best behaved student I ever worked with in TYC with nary an “incident” report in the agency was a Violent A sex offender. There are predatory youth in all classifications.

I would be for separating the highly disruptive students to allow many of the students who want to work the program and go home to do so. Often just a few students on every dorm make up the majority of referrals.

Third, my experience has been that when you put a group of younger kids together they are actually more disruptive and more likely to strong arm each other, biggest bully on the block wins...

The solution is far more complicated. A beginning would be to ensure all staff know how to develop a positive culture on the dorm supplanting a culture of fear and intimidation. Positive Peer Culture or PPC is the one component that while integral to resocialization's success is overlooked and not taught. My experience is that the majority of staff today attempt to take all of the responsibility for safety and control on the dorm themselves… Teenagers listen to their peers far more often then they will listen to an authority figure. And controlling negative behavior on the dorm is far more effective when you have 18-20 pairs of eyes addressing problems and problem students through group intervention. If students don’t feel safe or heard, then they do not have an environment in which change can be affected.

Wanda said...

The current problem with TYC is firing all the upper level management and implement a youth counselor as a director, one with the credentials for recognizing youth character and who can with a phone call get action. It is deplorable that ANY child whether he is 7 or 19 be treated in this manner by our illustrious management of TYC they should all be horsewhipped. Literally!!!!