Anthony Mikulastik is a former TYC employee who was fired for a 35 year old burglary conviction. He worked for TYC more than 11 years, 2 as a correctional officer and 9 as a case worker III. Before coming to TYC, he was a Chaplain for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and the Temple Police Department for about 10 years. See Anthony's prior Grits guest column, and also recent columns by Dr. Bill Bush and former TYC assistant general counsel Howard Hickman.
The Texas Youth Commission uses a system that amounts to unofficial Building Tenders. If one of the youth violates a rule then the entire dorm or class room is held responsible. “Peer Pressure” is supposed to correct negative behavior of a wayward TYC youth. Such peer pressure was usually administered when TYC staff were intentionally distracted by a couple of youth and the Unofficial Building Tenders took care of business.
When I worked at the agency, it always was problematic for me to discipline the entire group of TYC youth for the negative behavior of one or two youth even thought it was TYC Policy. I felt it was extremely counterproductive and did more harm than good. An entire dorm could be put on restriction due to a limited number of bad actors. I saw the policy giving power to the disruptive youth to inflict suffering on the other youth who were trying to follow the TYC program.
Peer pressure may work in some settings but not the way it was implemented at Texas youth prisons. TYC did not have a group of well adjusted youth who possess the best social skills. One of the major problems faced by TYC currently and in the past is the mix of youth in TYC. There are young children with mental problems, there are children who have been abused sexually, there are children who have been raised by good families, there are children who have been raised by criminals, there are children who have been raised by addicts, there are children who have raised themselves, and there are children who are crack babies housed in TYC.
Some of these populations can coexist but not all of these populations can be treated in the same location and program. It will never work regardless how much money is poured into the problem.
Treatment modalities for each type of youth in TYC must be part of the long range plan for TYC if the current mix of youth continues to be sent there. Housing the many different types of youth in TYC is counterproductive and a disservice to the youth sent to TYC for proper treatment and rehabilitation. The current lack of any real program or long range plan is a travesty.
The Governor appointed people who appear not to be up to the job to get TYC on track and we have seen no positive results to date. Ed Owens doesn’t see an end to conservatorship for TYC and says that is up to the Governor. Owens, Ms. Pope, and Jay Kimbrough were appointed to get the job done and tell the Governor when things were right at TYC. Now it seems they don’t know what the job is, nor when it might be completed. At least Kimbrough had enough political savvy to know when it was time to leave town.
TYC desperately needs someone in charge who has modern management skills. They need to have a solid background in juvenile treatment and rehabilitation. TYC needs more funding from the Texas Legislature to do the needed job correctly. Doing things on the cheap got TYC where it is today! To accomplish the lofty goals the politicians pontificated about during the past session, money needs to be appropriated at a level that will properly capitalize the project, or else failure is doomed to follow.
The track record of contract care speaks for itself. Contract care has never been a good answer to problems Texas Government should step up and handle itself. How could anyone think an at profit company paying minimum wages and no benefits could attract better staff that would be capable of doing a better job?
I see the solution to the current TYC problem as being much easier that it may appear. You need only start with a good foundation. If you build on shifting sand you can only expect a collapse. The right foundation is good solid people with the right skills running and working at TYC. Get rid of the politically appointed administration and replace them with professionals in the proper fields. You don’t hire a truck driver to fly an airplane unless you want it to crash!
- Anthony Mikulastik