His message: Get me the hell out of here! And legislators, stop asking all those annoying policy questions!
Though the report has not yet been posted online, according to the Austin Statesman ("Texas Youth Commission conservator backs agency leadership but wants out," Oct. 16), Owens said he'd like to be replaced as conservator by the end of the week, though he recommended ending conservatorship because of his high confidence in the agency's leadership. (One wonders how he knows anything about their competence? Owens hasn't even been coming in to work for months.)
On the eve of a Texas House Corrections Committee meeting monitoring the implementation of reform legislation, Owens chose to blame TYC's management woes on legislators instead of agency leadership:
Owens' report also hints that legislative interference is hampering the agency's attempts to turn things around.
"I have observed the blending of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government as it relates to the management of the agency," the report says. "This practice has had a negative impact on the effective implementation of reform initiatives."
Owens said he was referring to the same criticism of the agency and its leadership that led Pope to say she felt that her integrity and judgment were being questioned.
You know what has a negative impact on reform? Bringing in managers from the adult prison system who don't know anything about juvenile justice and don't follow either the law or legally binding agency policies. That's what this conservator did, and it's been the main source of bungling and self-induced misfortune throughout his brief and troubled tenure. (Indeed, Capitol Annex suggests the reason for Owens' departure is that, if the report were honest, his resignation would be demanded!)Meanwhile, Solomon Moore at the New York Times today published an article ("Troubles mount within Texas youth detention facilities," Oct. 16) on TYC's continuing tale of woe, even mentioning Grits in the piece. Moore identified major staffing problems at the root of the agency's troubles that nobody has even tried to fix:
State officials say chronic job vacancy rates and critical employee turnover are at the root of many of the system’s problems. Employee terminations since September 2006 have far outpaced recruitment. The agency has hired 870 juvenile corrections officers since September 2006 to October 2007. In that period 1,241 officers left their positions, or about half the juvenile corrections officers.Even so, TYC officials continue to claim publicly that staffing issues have been resolved and student to JCO ratios are down to 12-1, from 24-1 earlier this year. Even with quite a few students released, from these data it's obvious that's not true.
Noting that TYC Executive Director Dimitria Pope told legislators in August that abuse of kids had been "98%" eliminated, Moore pointed out that at the time she said it, the Geo Coke County facility as a place where:
Juvenile detainees as young as 13 years old slept on filthy mats in dormitories with broken, overflowing toilets and feces smeared on the walls. Denied outside recreation for weeks at a time, they ate bug-infested food, did school work that consisted of little more than crossword puzzles and defecated in bags.Yup - 98% solved. Let's definitely end that conservatorship right now! All done ... move along ... nothing more to see here. (/sarcasm)
Pope blamed the Coke County debacle on "corruption," but many of these problems had been reported, according to her testimony to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Friday. The problem was the complaints didn't make it past the new "regional" bureaucracy Ms. Pope created over the summer, so administrators in the Central Office didn't know what's going on.
In other words, new top-heavy systems created by Owens' and Pope's "reform" of the agency actually hindered processing complaints instead of improving it, at least in Coke County. I'll bet that's not the only place the new regional bureaucracies have reduced accountability; if that's right, Coke may just be the tip of the iceberg, particularly among contracted programs.
Far more than "corruption," though, the real failure at the Geo Group's Coke County unit derived from TYC's broken-down contract management and oversight functions, which were clearly only barely functioning, if at all. I've not heard one word coming from administrators about how those systems will be improved (beyond firing a bunch of employees over it and accusing unnamed others of "corruption"), but without improving oversight mechanisms, the same problems inevitably can and will recur.
Meanwhile, the agency still plans to move MORE kids into private youth prisons, even before the current investigation is completed to find out what went wrong the last time.
That rush to implement a controversial policy mimicking adult prison practices with little reflection and no public input typifies how the new TYC administration has approached most problems. That's certainly what generated most of the "criticism" to which Ed Owens referred. But given how bad things have gotten, not to mention that TYC will undergo "Sunset" review next year, you can bet the close scrutiny that seems to irk TYC administrators won't end anytime soon.
Ed Owens clearly can't stand the heat, so is leaving the kitchen. (Thank heavens! He should never have been appointed.) As long as she stays, Ms. Pope will continue to learn what every Texan learns in childhood: that complaining about the heat won't make things any cooler. Her critics will stop when the agency is run better, and until then things are probably just going to get hotter.
Don't take my word for it. You can read it in the New York Times.