Monday, September 03, 2007

Audit criticizes Brazoria County juvie probation department

Drug peddling at the local boot camp, escapes, and a recent suicided by an unmonitored youth have the Brazoria County juvenile probation department looking for answers. The Brazoria County Facts yesterday profiled problems at that department raised in a recent state audit. (I hope the Facts follows up - there's definitely more to tell about the story.) Reported The Facts ("Department working to combat negative light," Sept. 2):
The department, which oversees juvenile detention, juvenile probation and the juvenile justice alternative education program or boot camp, was cited by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission in December for several standards in non-compliance.

The citations included allowing detained juveniles to attend classes with the students in the alternative education program, not having constant visual supervision for all multiple-occupancy housing units, not having medical and psychological evaluations on all inmates prior to admission and not performing room checks at least every 10 minutes on inmates who are deemed to have a moderate suicide risk.

Changes also have been prompted by several incidents this year, including two escapes, two juveniles admitting to using, selling and delivering cocaine at the boot camp, and most recently, a suicide attempt July 1 in which a inmate hung himself with his socks and jumpsuit.

The teen later was taken to the hospital and recovered from his injuries.
The similarities between some of the Brazoria juvenile probation department's woes and what's happening at the Texas Youth Commission struck me as particularly telling, especially problems stemming from high staff turnover and new management taken from the adult prison system:
Chief Probation Officer Diana Coates, who runs the juvenile probation department, and members of the juvenile probation board say the problems largely are due to a change in culture at the department.

Coates formerly worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as an assistant warden at the Clemens Prison Unit and the statewide director for youthful offenders.

The change in culture has been through working with employees to adhere to state standards, whereas they were not followed closely under the previous chief probation officer, Fred Williamson ...

Since Coates has taken charge of the juvenile probation department, more than half of its staff — 65 employees — either have been terminated or quit, according to statistics provided by the county’s human resources department.

Many former employees say the culture at the juvenile probation department is heavy on micromanagement and many former TDCJ guards are being hired by Coates.

“You have the upper echelon disciplining the employees more than the juveniles,” said Chase Gaines, who worked for the juvenile probation department for three years.

With so many former prison employees working at the facility, the attitude has changed at juvenile probation, he said.

“They don’t care enough to know what’s going on,” Gaines said. “This is not prison. This is a juvenile system.”

Coates said she has hired several former prison system employees, but none she previously knew.

“There’s a lot of TDCJ people in Brazoria County,” she said. “By and large they are usually the most qualified because of their experience.”

Brazoria County has six Texas prison units, which employ about 3,000 people.
I'm sure Coates didn't help agency morale much by sandbagging her employees and failing to tell them an audit was coming. They'd passed a previous audit in 2005 when the agency had a week to prepare (which makes me think the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission should switch to unannounced reviews).

The whole article is definitely worth a read, and I'll bet Brazoria County's not the only juvenile probation department experiencing similar problems. Maybe tomorrow I'll see if I can lay my hands on that audit.

1 comment:

Geanie said...

Boot camp has had a long history of problems, like one juvenile died from being overworked several years ago. Of course, the county jails have a history as well. What was a juvenile doing in boot camp who was suicidal? Is there not a better place for someone who is suicidal than jail? Hello! Are they doing videos there like county? You know the saying: Brazoria County, go there for vacation, and leave on probation! Seems to be a trend in Texas jail systems, whatever kind they are. JH