To kick off this series, former Texas Youth Commission contracts attorney Howard Hickman, who left the agency this summer, explains the backstory of what should have happened to 150 TYC youth who are presently wrongfully incarcerated, and wonders why administrators charged with reforming the system have allowed this unnecessary SNAFU to happen. Thanks, Howard, for contributing these important points to the discussion over TYC:
One only need know four things: (1) the content of the sentenced offender change was set in stone by the middle of April; (2) TYC has the power to ask a court for early release to parole of sentenced offenders at any time; (3) TYC can ask for the transfer of a sentenced offender to the Institutional Division of TDCJ at any time, and (4) courts have the power to expedite their dockets to schedule hearings on short order.
With this knowledge what should have been done? Beginning in April, the files of the sentenced offenders should have been reviewed to determine which would be affected by the age change to 19 from 21. The courts could then have been advised in writing of the potential problem with each youth that court had adjudicated and given the option of allowing the release to parole of that youth by operation of law or having TYC request a transfer hearing or early release hearing. If the courts requested that TYC request a hearing, then the courts could hold a hearing between the time SB 103 was passed(5/25/07) and the time SB 103 was signed (6/8/07). I might add that the governor could even been asked to delay the signing until the last possible day (6/17/07) if more time was needed for the courts to act.
Why did this legal method not happen? I have no explanation other than the incompetence or inemptitude of TYC's General Counsel. In April I told TYC's Acting General Counsel, Kathryn Knight, that TYC's experienced attorneys needed to meet and discuss the problems presented by SB 103 and its implementation. She told me that that was something that should wait for the new General Counsel. I later told the new General Counsel, Steve Foster, the same thing. He told me he would schedule a meeting. He did not do that until even more TYC attorneys told him the same thing. He subsequently scheduled several meetings, all of which he canceled at the last minute since he was never present in the Central Office at the time that he designated for each meeting. And thus no meeting was ever held.
For the want of sound legal judgment, 150 youth are inappropriately incarcerated. Some legal foresight could have easily prevented TYC's reform administrators from enduring much unneeded bad press and animosity from judges, prosecutors, and legislators. The American Statesman has called for legislative hearings. The first question those hearings should ask is "Why did the TYC reform administrators allow this problem to happen?"