First, in a guest editorial in the Waco Herald Tribune ("Don't treat TYC like prison"), Marlin unit employee Anthony Mikulastik puts his finger on TYC's biggest obstacle to success:
TYC is, and has been, dangerously understaffed for years. The agency is allocated too few staff positions to assure adequate staffing on a day-to-day basis, and staff turnover makes it worse. Work in the agency is so difficult, dangerous, and poorly compensated that the turnover – over 50 percent annually – constantly drains the pool. Staffing is in a downward spiral: Conditions drive away staff, making it harder to keep staff or hire qualified new ones, which makes the conditions even worse, which drives away more staff.Good stuff. Definitely read the whole thing. Meanwhile, two articles in this morning's Houston Chronicle, one by R.G. Ratcliffe and one by Clay Robison, take a step back to look at the bigger picture at the Texas Youth Commission.
We need to be able to attract and keep qualified staff. Not just anyone is cut out for the work at TYC. It takes high levels of emotional and intellectual maturity, patience, and courage.
Ratcliffe's piece ("Allegations at TYC have some on edge") gives voice to TYC employees' fears, expressed many times in the comments on Grits, that the TYC reform bandwagon will turn into a "witch hunt" that punishes good people working in difficult situations. Some staff are "petrified" they might lose their jobs, said a union rep.
Ratcliffe also offered some stats on TYC's recent employee discipline I'd not seen before: "at least a dozen TYC employees who have been fired or allowed to resign in the past two years because they were accused of having sexual relations with youths in the agency's care. And more than 360 corrections officers have been fired since 2000 for unnecessary use of force," he wrote. How many of those dozen "fired or allowed to resign" were never prosecuted, as in Pyote? Quien sabe? Who knows?
Like many problems in the criminal justice system, Ratcliffe traces TYC's current staffing woes to the 2003 budget cuts:
Many of the agency's problems can be attributed to understaffing and poor training.But he also cites a culture of retaliation against employees who speak about about abuses. "A survey by the state auditor of TYC employees found that almost half of those working in corrections facilities felt like they were mistreated by management and feared retaliation if they filed complaints," wrote Ratcliffe.
Corrections officers receive just 80 hours of training before they begin work, and they earn less than $33,000 a year. TYC has the most on-the-job injuries of any state agency. Staff ratios are supposed to be one guard for every 15 youth, but the ratio often is 1-to-24.
After state budget cuts in 2003, staff turnover shot up from 32 percent to 48 percent, and the number of staff on youth-abuse cases grew from 459 in the year before the budget cuts to more than 980 two years later.
Robison's piece ("Perry after power with TYC move") examines the TYC "conservatorship" deal between the Governor and legislative leadership in terms of the recent migration of power in Texas to the executive branch:
Ever so slowly, though, the governor's control over the state bureaucracy — extra power that Gov. Rick Perry obviously covets — is increasing, the latest chapter unfolding as a response to the Texas Youth Commission crisis.I think that's right - the transfer of power to the governor is the most important aspect of this deal. Paul Burka has rightly argued that the struggle between the Lege and the Governor over who will wield power is a major theme of the session, and while higher profile fights like the HPV vaccine have gone the Legislature's way, on TYC the Governor secured a major boost in his own authority.
Under a deal worked out by Perry and legislative leaders, the governor will be empowered to appoint a full-time commissioner to head TYC after the emergency conservatorship has ended. That change will give the governor more direct control over an embattled agency now being overhauled after allegations of staff sex abuse against inmates and an administrative cover-up.
Robison also noted that "Besides universities, one of the biggest agencies still headed by a part-time board is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees the adult prison system. There hasn't been much discussion, at least not yet, of a gubernatorial takeover of that agency, Perry spokesman Robert Black said."
In other TYC news, the SA Express News published an interview with newly appointed conservator Jay Kimbrough that may interest readers.
Finally, a UNLV professor writing a book on Texas youth corrections left an anonymous comment on my site survey. If that prof could please email me at shenson[at]austin.rr.com I'd appreciate it - an acquaintance is in possession of some historical documents from past litigation that he'd like to make available for the project.