Friday, March 09, 2007

Grits to Pols: Stop the preening, folks, EVERYBODY'S culpable on TYC

Here's the archived video link to yesterday's first hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission. Overall it was an instructive session, though slow at the beginning, and a bit too full of preening, heart-wrenching speeches that seemed a little inappropriate given that legislators on key committees were asleep at the switch just like the clueless TYC board.

I'm sure if everyone's districts weren't ridiculously gerrymandered the public would be more likely to issue no confidence votes against the Legislature, too!

Anyway, to skip the introductory niceties and get to the good stuff, I'd suggest starting at the 1 hour and 11 minute mark where the committee begins to question the Attorney General's representative.

As I mentioned in the comments over at BurkaBlog, I remember sitting in a Senate hearing in 2005 when then-TYC director Dwight Harris mentioned, at the end of a long meeting, that he wanted to provide information about allegations of sexual abuse in West Texas. The Houston Chronicle found the video and described the meeting thusly:

Whitmire presided over a March 15, 2005, meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee at which Harris attempted to update him and other committee members about an investigation "about sexual impropriety between staff and youth" at the Pyote facility.

Whitmire dismissed the comment, saying, "You can brief us at an additional time."

I thought at the time, 'somebody oughtta file an open records request to see what that's about.' But I did not. And the Senate committee did not, nor did their staff. Nor anyone present in the quite-full room. Nor anyone listening on webcast.

For that each of us, in our own way, are culpable. I regret now not just shooting an open records request off. My only reason: I was employed at the time by ACLU of Texas to work on different issues, knew little about the juvie system, and had my hands full with other topics. I'm sure everyone in the room who heard that had their own reason for not acting.

But there was one reason nobody felt it was urgent: We were given the impression that Harris was on top of it. Even if we didn't know the details, HE knew, and it was his job to take care of it. After all, he was speaking up volitionally to inform the senate committee. That was almost two years ago!

I think legislators and the TYC board should have been more aggressive overseeing the agency, and they must be in the future, not just regarding sexual but also physical abuse, and retaliation against students and staff who file complaints. (They need to look at the same problems at TDCJ, while they're at it.) Legislators also need to be held accountable for the causal relationship between understaffing and abuse.

But they aren't culpable like TYC's Dwight Harris, Joy Anderson, or Ray Worsham, or Wade County DA Randy Reynolds. They demonstrably knew the details and apparently looked the other way. Before it's over, those folks are going to have some serious 'splaining to do.

UPDATE: Pegasus News reports that Ray Worsham was suspended this morning. "Apparently Worsham changed documents in the West Texas State School Inquiry." More on Worsham from the Dallas News. Vince analyzes TYC's board minutes for discussions of abuse.

See full Grits coverage of yesterday's hearing:

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good post. It rings true.

I hadn't seen Joy Anderson's name come up in this context. How do you think she might be culpable? Just by virtue of the position she held at TYC, or is there something else I'm not considering?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

On Joy Anderson: She was the person who was emailing notifications to the board and to senators in early 2005, according to TYC boardmembers' testimony yesterday. One of the boardmembers had a log of all her calls and emails and read Anderson's name off as her source of the information they'd received on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Well hot damn. Getting rid of Ray Worsham is a damn good start. T

Anonymous said...

I lived in Monahans, was a JPO (fortunately not part of the TYC system), then taught in Pecos, Mr Reynolds hometown.
It wasn't only sex they ought to investigate at Pyote. Everyone knew that drug abuse was rampant at the Pyote facility. Guards would take it in and stash in the forks of trees or other places on the campus and then sell it to the inmates.
Randy Reynolds is a joke. He got elected because law enforcement thought he'd be tough because he was Michigan DPS once upon a time. It didn't quite work out that way, and although he sorta takes care of Pecos, Monahans might as well be on Mars for all he cares.

Anonymous said...

Too bad you didn't file a request at the time, maybe someone would have done something sooner.
If you listened to the joint committe meeting Thursday -- did anyone notice Turner saying his office asked for information last october and got information from the gov last november? Did I hear wrong? What information did he get months ago? What did he do with it? Send it to the observer or the morning news? Was he not in a hurry to press the agency before the cameras started rolling?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

At the last anonymous, I coudn't agree more - I seriously regret I didn't file an OR request in 2005.

But on Turner's staff, I disagree. By the Ranger's testimony the DA took a renewed interest after Turner's inquiries and pledged to prosecute, meeting with the Ranger to go over case files for the first time in detail immediately thereafter. For a while there was reason to believe the system would work. When it didn't, the press' intervention was required for any legislative strategy he might pursue, and for my part I'm glad they were tipped off.

Anonymous said...

Grits for Breakfast can you answer the following questions;
1) Who was in charge at the Corsicana State School when the following occurred.
a) A girl (ward of the State) becomes pregnant while serving time.
b)A recreation staff driving a State Vehicle gets pulled over and has marijuana in her possession but law enforcement is not called and the school gives her probation.
c) A youth gets severely beaten in his room because the guards opened his door and allowed them.
d)This school has had the highest rate of abuse and neglect of any TYC institution out of all of them.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

On Canton, I don't know. What else can you tell us about the backstory?

Anonymous said...

"Getting rid of Ray Worsham" wasn't the right thing to do idiot. Anyone that ever knew him knows he's a Christian, a devoted father, and a stand up guy. I'm clueless as to why he would delete anything, if he in fact did so on his own accord. He had no vested interest in doing that, which makes me wonder if he was instructed to delete it. The guy is straight as an arrow, and once the yolk breaks, you'll see.

Anonymous said...

This whole situation is disturbing. The Gestapo tactics being used against innocent workers at the commission will have its repercussions. I fully support going after those who “knowingly” did nothing to stop the pedophiles at the Pyote facility, but it’s starting to look like there are going to be innocent victims – collateral damage if you will, and as a result, there will be problems. The TYC is already struggling to maintain its staffing ratios, but in order to maintain the appropriate ratio, many JCO staff are working long hours. When those JCO staff begin to lose faith in their performance, or for that matter, begin to second guess themselves, those delinquent felons will seize the opportunity and take over the facilities. The ingredients for a major disturbance are starting to fall in place. Better gear up DPS and TDC, they’re going to need your help.

Charles Kuffner said...

I don't know if you commented about this on Burkablog or not, but you did on my blog.

Anonymous said...

If I am reading this correctly a girl at the Corsicana State School became pregnant while locked up at this TYC Institution, has anyone called the hot line to check on this, how could a girl become pregnant while locked up? I was also under the impression that if a State Employee transports illegal drugs in a State vehicle that not only should the local law enforcement should have been called but the employee should have been fired. I just hope issues like this are not common at the TYC Institutions and if they are hopefully they will be investigated and dealt with accordingly.

Anonymous said...

How does that happen? How does an emotionally disturbed child become pregnant at a TYC facility? I'm astonished. Was that on Brantley's watch? Dr. Donald Brantley??? Would someone please explain how this could happen within the fence of TYC? I thought shooting squirrels was an extreme measure to control that population: however, this takes cake…… Pot?? Someone was smoking pot?

Anonymous said...

Well, well. Ray Worsham has been suspended. He is not worrying...they will just tuck him away somewhere in TYC where he can't do anymore damage...just like they did Marie Murdoch and Lydia Barnard (previous Deputy Directors for Corrections) and most likely Chip Harrison if they have not done so already.
Are you listening new sheriff in town?
One other point. I saw they arrested the Supt. of a halfway house in San Antonio. They probably have two investigations per year compared to dozens at say Corsicana or Ron Jackson State schools. She couldn’t shred anything relevant to the TYC scandal if she wanted to. The DA in Bexar County will laugh at this one.
Expect TYC to drop criminal charges or whatever imbecile filed them.

Anonymous said...

Actually she could shred something relevant if any of the youth who made allegations were eventually paroled to her area. If they made allegations while on parole about what happened while they were at the institution and no one at the parole office did anything about it...I could see shredding the documentation of that.

However, I have heard that she is not well like by her staff because she is a stickler about the rules. And apparently she was turned in by an employee. It'll be interesting to watch this unfold.

Dionne said...

My name is Dionne and my husband is a pediatrician in Lubbock, Texas. My 10-year-old son (now 11 and STILL not tried or even charged) was falsely accused of a crime and held for 10 days at the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center.

While this is not a TYC facility, it is a state-administered facility nonetheless. While being detained there, my son faced some of the same kinds of abuses suffered by those held at TYC. He was locked in his room for 3 hours at a time for "not shutting a door correctly." On yet another occasion, they turned off his electricity and water, stripped his bed and took all the letters and pictures off of his wall.

My son, who is very small, was hazed repeatedly by the detention officers and was threatened and told not to tell anyone. One guard told my son to go to his room, lean against his wall and get ready for a cavity search; He didn't even know what that was. He was also placed in the middle of their pod by a guard who pulled out electric clippers and told my son they were shaving his head. He wasn't even allowed his weekly phone call home.

When he didn't eat all of his food they threatened to make him wear a dress. These are just a few of the things that we know about. After a little research I found out that in the past 2 years there have been 2 suicides and at least one allegation of rape.

When I complained to the Director, Les Brown, about how my son was treated he had me banned from the building as an attempt to muzzle me. I reported the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center to the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission but it took them almost a year to investigate and file a report. The report agreed that my son's rights were violated, but not all of these violations rose to a "significant level." TJPC also agreed that some of these violations and abuse did rise to a level requiring action however only one individual was disciplined (one detention officer received a three-day suspension), with no other consequences to anyone else.

Ironically, my husband does many of the physicals for kids entering the S.T.A.R. program here so he has heard from other parents about how their kids were mistreated at the juvenile justice center and whose parents, like myself, were "banned" from the premises when they complained. Apparently, the leaders of the Juvenile Justice Centers - charged with helping and supervising our kids - would rather ignore problems at their sites or, sadder still, disregard the victimization our kids might be going through.

I hope the investigation into TYC will lead to other investigations of the institutions that our children are locked in. The Texas House and Senate members serving on the Juvenile Justice & Family Issues and Criminal Justice committees, respectively, can not claim ignorance on these issues because we have sent each of them a packet detailing the abuses that occurred in Lubbock. I sent all of these via certified mail and received all tags back. The only interest I ever received was from my Texas State House member, Carl Isett. Representative Isett does not even serve on these committees but offered his assistance nevertheless.

If you have a way to bring these abuses to a larger audience, my family and I would greatly appreciate it, as would the children of Lubbock.

Thank you,
Dr. and Mrs. McNutt

They all knew this was happening to our kids. Don't buy the hype.