in just three short months, it appears that the reform effort has gone awry. Violence and under-staffing continue to plague Youth Commission, and no official treatment program has been implemented to replace the old curriculum. According to media reports, the primary response of new Youth Commission leaders has been to introduce the increased use of pepper spray and send a vague letter of warning to youths and their families as a way to stem institutional violence. The commission's response seemed incredible to me and certainly is not based on evidence of efficacy.Judging from Krisberg's column, if the Blue Ribbon Panel ever releases its final recommendations one suspects they will disapprove of many recent decisions by agency officials. I wish they'd hurry. Somebody needs to speak out who TYC administrators will listen to; right now they seem to be on their own, ill-conceived path.
The decision to increase the use of tear gas and pepper spray is a particularly disturbing sign that Youth Commission officials have been misinformed in their attempts to "fix" the problems in the state's institutions. Though pepper spray has been viewed by some as a solution to violence in correctional facilities, it usually creates more problems than it solves. Staff come to rely on chemical agents in lieu of communicating with youngsters to defuse confrontational situations.
I have seen firsthand the kind of abuses that can result from use of pepper spray. In one case, youth correctional counselors responded to a mentally ill youth who was in the midst of attempting suicide by repeatedly spraying him with pepper spray before they removed the sheet wrapped around his neck. Introducing chemical agents as a primary way to reduce violence in juvenile facilities has never succeeded, and it is an invitation to abuse, staff and youth injuries, and costly litigation.
Good intentions aside, it is high time for Texans to make a decision about the direction in which the Youth Commission will move. Will Texas become a national model for juvenile corrections or continue to be a national disgrace? The Youth Commission must improve its staff-to-youth ratio, pay its staff members a living wage, increase quality training and develop a meaningful rehabilitative and academic program for incarcerated youth. State and agency leaders should embrace proven juvenile justice "best practices" and the recommendations of the best national and local experts. The Youth Commission must reinstitute a "culture of caring" for its most troubled young people. Anything less will lead Youth Commission right back into the "bad old days" that have embarrassed the Lone Star State before a worldwide audience.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Finally: TYC Blue Ribbon Panel Member Speaks
After months of waiting for a report from the "Blue Ribbon Panel" convened to recommend reforms at the Texas Youth Commission, finally we get a hint at their perspective, and it sounds like some of them don't approve of the direction the agency has taken. Panel member Barry Krisberg complained in Tuesday's Statesman ("For Youth's sake, change TYC policy," Aug. 28) that: