In all, 249 workers quit, retired or were fired from agency in the six weeks following the scandal. Another 135 were hired, making the net loss 114.Conservator Jay Kimbrough tried to downplay staff departures, unconvincingly in my view. The Monitor reported, "Losing some of the 4,700 employees may not be an urgent problem at a time when the agency seems headed toward holding fewer youth, Kimbrough said."
More than three-fourths of those who left were juvenile correctional officers, the frontline workers who are paid the least and are the hardest to recruit and retain. ...
In the six weeks following news of the scandal, 55 of the 249 people who left were either fired or resigned in lieu of termination, records show. Others were listed as having left because of personal reasons, for a job with better pay, medical problems, or other reasons.
But that makes little sense - the biggest reason for reducing the number of inmates was to lower JCO to youth ratios from 24-1 to the recommended 12-1. If TYC loses staff as fast as they reduce the inmate population, it won't help that problem much. In addition, it's still up in the air, apparently, whether employees with past felonies or recent misdemeanors - nearly 500 in all - will be allowed to continue working at the agency.
This exodus risks crippling the agency if it continues at this pace - with staff turnover so high, you can't lose all your institutional memory at a whack and continue to function. Understaffing contributes to increased violence and abuse, and causes the cycle to worsen instead of improve. I was disappointed to see my former boss at the ACLU besmirching TYC staff who left, declaring they probably had "something to hide" - that's a cheap shot:
“I’m quite certain that as soon as it became a big media story, people with something to hide hit the road, and that’s a good thing,” said Will Harrell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas ... “What we want out of this is that the bad apples get out of the barrel,” he said.That's exactly the opposite of how I'd characterize the recent TYC employee exodus. What I've noticed is that those being targeted for dismissal or bullied into resignations, with a few exceptions, have been people who had nothing to do with any identified scandal at all! Meanwhile, some of those who could have prevented the West Texas scandal are still with the agency.
A few people might have left to avoid wrongdoings discovered, but certainly not all 249 who've left since issue the flared up! That's not even true of all 55 who were fired or pressured to resign, some of whom simply had old felonies the agency knew about when they were hired. Instead, from what I've read from TYC employees in dozens of Grits comments, I'd say uncertainty, poor morale, high-handed threats to staff by new management, and media grandstanding by pols have more to do with demoralizing experienced staff and hastening departures.
In other TYC news, the Austin Statesman visited the Marlin orientation unit and along with two articles published a brief but interesting audio slideshow and also a video of their visit. See their coverage:
UPDATE: My old boss, ACLU chief Will Harrell responds to criticisms of his comments about TYC employees. Since I didn't leave the organization on great terms, I wanted to make sure I passed on his full response to readers to avoid appearing unfair or one-sided:
Thanks for the response, Will. I hope you're successful at convincing Kimbrough to change this ignominious policy, since he doesn't appear to be listening to the people who work for him.
Scott, I just want you to know two things. I am working hard to get Kimbrough to reverse his position on firing felons — and obviously now Misdemeanants. I even sent him your blog from today.Also, I don’t think all TYC employees are bad — quite the contrary-- and I am saddened for those who are leaving but who did no harm . I said as much to the reporter but that's not what appeared in print. You know how that goes.