Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ed Owens: Get me out, now! New York Times looks at mounting Youth Commission troubles

Texas Youth Commission conservator Ed Owens has finally produced his first-ever, statutorily required, months-overdue report to the Legislature on the progress of reform.

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.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

If an agency goes under conservatorship is it not the responsibility of the legislators to ask questions even hard questions based upon the condition of the agency they said needed to have this scrutiny?

Maybe this is why we need real leadership. When you have administrators in charge who are whining about mandated oversight based upon legislative action you would think the light would come on for some of our elected officials.

The Texas Youth Commission is in a state of disarray. SB 103 was and is a good piece of legislation but when you have no one leading the ship it is nothing more than a piece of paper.

The Bronte facility did not become this way overnight regardless of what Ms. Pope and others might say. These conditions were reported months earlier and no one took the initiative to look into these issues.

OC pepper spray, the firing of field and CO staff, the 19-20 year debacle, the lack of a training plan, no rehabilitation, the list goes on and on.

For anyone to defend this type of incompetence shows they really want to go fishing with a Bud in their hand. Maybe Ed can go hook up with Whitsfoe in Alaska and catch some king salmon!

Anonymous said...

Thank God that he actually reported himself out like that. He is a f-----g idiot, if ever there was one. And his mistress D'Pope is even lower on the evolutionary chain than he is.

The whole purpose of this was not to fix the problem but to eliminate TYC in the Sunset report, and finally, legally merge the juvenile justice apparatus with the adult injustice system.

It is time to get someone in as conservator who has a brain and the guts to implement SB103. But that would countermand the plan.

Anonymous said...

This whole thing makes me sick! Bring back the people who have the guts to speak out when something is wrong and DO SOMETHING besides try and "bury" what is really going on with TYC. Until this happens, TYC will never get better.

We are trying so hard to make things "look better" that we are missing the whole point of actually MAKING it better! Its like a cancer, you can't get better until its removed. TYC should be well on its way to recovery, but instead, because of poor decisions and bad management, we are worse off then before.

Anonymous said...

It is time to start a draft Judge Muerer camp. Pope has no vision for the agency. Her only interest is to be appointed as commissioner. Judge Muerer will act in the best interest of kids and not the best interest of Pope

TJDO said...

Well, obviously Pope consulted with Owens on the report--she wrote it. He doesn't have the writing skills. I'm sure when we read the report (25 pages is all?) it'll have Madden written all over it.

I imagine Ed's got a hot job lined up with either CCA, GEO, or MGT of America out of Austin and wants out fast.

Anonymous said...

Grits,

I've been out of the loop lately, swamped with work, but am trying to get caught up on events.

The Owens statement displays an astounding ignorance, not only of constitutional government, but also of the political winds. Is it really intelligent to tell the lege that is investigating you to butt out? Has that ever worked?

Perry should be embarrassed for putting someone of this caliber in charge of any agency, let alone TYC.

And the continuing lack of any juvenile justice expertise is becoming more apparent as Director Pope struggles to do damage control while the agency collapses around her. This is an attempt at a mid-20th century fix for a 21st century environment where information can't be so easily bottled up from the public.

Maybe someone on the lege committee will finally have the good sense to give that discarded Blue Ribbon report another look... or even a first look.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Run Ed, run!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Judge Muerer is not the right choice. Nor is anyone. Sunset the TYC.

Anonymous said...

How about 3 TYC's, one for older youth that commit violent crimes with long incarceration time, one for older youth with mental problems that need serious treatment and one for younger kids that is 100% focused upon rehabilitation.

The local cities and counties do a fairly good job with detention, continue that and put some money and teeth into the problem at the State level.

It will take more money, but then it will do more good.

The current system is a mess and would benefit from being rebuilt from the bottom up. A clone of TDCJ is the worst possible outcome of all the TYC problems.

Anonymous said...

10:49, if TYC is sunsetted, the role will probably be filled by TDCJ, which is the problem now with the current leaders.

Anonymous said...

The sunset of TYC is inevitable because of the current lack of leadership from the conservator and executive director.

If TYC is to be "saved" we are the ones who can do it. but we have to make sure the lege feels very unsafe with their current plan.

Anonymous said...

for 10:31

Perry has never been a leader. No one should have ever expected the goodhair to do anything, he is what he always has been a fashionplate looking for higher office.

As far as the mid20th century fix -- you've placed it in a more modern era than you should have. It is a positively medieval fix.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for the employees of the Texas Youth Commission. They are being bullied by a confederacy of dunces from TDCJ. Not only are they dunces, they are arrogant, corrupt dunces. They have no knowledge of juvenile corrections and are not willing to listen to those who do. As a matter of fact the most knowledgable people get fired and the most incompetent get promoted. Unbelievable! Most recently Wanda King was hired as the new Assistant Superintendent at Mart. What a nightmare! She is as dumb as a box of rocks and a shameless bootlicker. Nothing has changed. They continue to hire and promote spineless, unconscionable, dimwits who do what they are told. It makes me sick at my stomach. TYC does need to get back those strong leaders who had the fortitude to identify the problems, repair them and move on. TYC is doomed to fail unless they get some managers with some character and courage who will support their employees and do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

3:38...my point exactly! Bring back these "whistleblowers" and the people who actually stood up to this ass-back-wards government agency and the world would be a better place.

Anonymous said...

Rick Perry is a pit vipor. He is motivated by self interest. He could care less about you mo fo's at the Texas Youth Commission. He is just trying to keep his hair sprayed. Only the veteran staff left at TYC can save it. Come on guys, get together and fight. If I was still there I would be right there with you. All of us who were forced to quit or got fired because we spoke out are still out here supporting you all. Don't let those jack asses get the best of you. Expose them for the corrupt inhumane people they are.

Anonymous said...

2:02,

I know where you're coming from but I was referring specifically to the way these sorts of crises were managed then. It was relatively easy to keep internal agency problems, including abuses of inmates and poor working conditions for staff, out of the public eye.

That is no longer possible. Moreover, the image consciousness of everyone concerned is made embarrassingly obvious.

BB

Anonymous said...

Ed,

Even you can write on a piece of paper "I resign" and mail it to the governor.

Anonymous said...

Congrats to you , Scott, for writing a blog that catches even the attention of the NY Times.

(And "boo" to Whitmire, who once dismissed the importance of blogs like this).

With this blog, you have kept us informed, even more so than the TYC's highly-paid public relations team (i'm thinking $150K between Savoy and Hurley).

Ed, glad to see you go! Don't let the door hit ya on that booty! Maybe D'ope will follow suit.

Anonymous said...

Ok, you say sunset the TYC-where are you going to put these kids? The county detention centers are full. They can't go into adult jails. You don't want them contracted out to people like GEO. No one has any answers to the problem do they?

The new facility that will be built in swap for Marlin and San Saba going back to TDCJ is not even on a site yet. Where and when will land be purchased for it?

The lege supposedly didn't fund all the existing facilities for a full two year, but C.O. has the money to add all these positions.

All these people have good ideas, but we are still sitting out there with all these kids that the judges have put under the care and control of TYC and we TYC employees are responsible for the safety and well being....somebody get off their butts, give us more money for JCO's overtime since we don't have many employees and quit making people worry about whether we will have a job next week, next month or next year.

The kids are still here and it still has to be safe for them and the employees.

Anonymous said...

ED:take rissie pope and the tdcj partole board with you

Anonymous said...

Hell NO. More my tax dollars for baby sitters. You must be out your mind. Money is not the issue. Given the rual location of the facilities you making plenty of money. dont like the wages quit so they can be closed and moved to a metro area.

Mild Bill said...

Ed Owens is a damned good man, I don't care what ANYBODY says. Imagine yourself, being thrown in to the mess that HE was thrown in to. What the hell would YOU do? If you are so freakin' smart, why aren't you trying to get the job? If you are not a part of the solution you are part of the problem. I worked for Mr. Owens, when he was a Warden and found him to be very intelligent and fair. There are SOOOOOO many problems with TYC and everybody expects them to be solved overnight. It took a long time to get there, it will take a long time to solve the issues.I worked for TDC for over 20 years and retired about 3 years ago.If you have never worked in a Correctional setting, you have NO business commenting on it. Officers that have truly molested these young people are and should be treated like child molestors.I have nothing but contempt for them. Ed Owens, in my opinion, has done what he could with what he had to try to improve things and I have the utmost respect for him.

Anonymous said...

OkAY 10:19,,,,,SAME QUESTION...WHERE WILL YOU PUT THE KIDS IF YOU CLOSE THE FACILITIES...Are you taking them home with YOU!!!!!!!!!!!Bet you don't work a dorm and get spit on and cussed. You wouldn't make a day.
I guess you think if everyone quits, the facilities will be moved...where you going to put them???

Anonymous said...

10:33

Owens is incompetent--a functional illiterate one might say.

Anonymous said...

mild bill,

Owens wasn't thrown into any mess. He saw the big paycheck and the "prestige" of becoming the acting ED, and he voluntarily accepted the appointment. Now he has egg on his face, and he deserves it.

As far as other people not trying to get the job: Is it even posted? If so, does anyone who is not a crony (or political appointment) actually stand a shot at getting it? Don't be naive.

As far as not being able to comment on these issues unless someone has personally worked in Corrections: Bullsh*t! There are a host of constituent groups in our state who have a stake in the proper management of our agency: Taxpayers, community interest groups, etc.

Nobody is saying Mr. Owens is a bad man. Or even Pope, for that matter. But whatever admirable character traits they may possess did not seem to carryover into their new roles. A hostile takeover of an entire agency is a job that requires a different skillset than what their prior jobs required. Ain't they just ain't cutting it.

To the dismay of all the rest of us!

Anonymous said...

mild bill, you wrote "Officers that have truly molested these young people are and should be treated like child molestors." I don't want to assasinate Mr. Owens character. I'm sure he is a good man, and he can't be too stupid to accomplish what he has, but he, like you, misdiagnosed the problem. The people accused of the molestation in the scandel were not "officers," but administrators. The solution to the problem that Owens and his team have come up with is more administrators. Perhaps he was "thrown in to the mess," but he is trying to get out after making the mess bigger. He was in over his head from day one. Now he wants to bail without really giving it a decent shot. I'm afraid your friend is going out on low note.

Anonymous said...

Owens, don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya. You have done nothing, but make TYC worse than it has ever been. You were absolutely pitiful as the leader in TYC as the ED and the Conservator, go back to Huntsville and please do us all a favor and stay out of government and/or politics. You can stay home and tell Rissie yes all day, and do a better job than what you have done here.

Anonymous said...

Any chance anyone other than Pope will be appointed as Conservator? Someone who will fire Pope and her TDCJ no-nothing cronies?

Anonymous said...

Well, I can't speak for all of the corruption at TYC, I can however tell you the chain of command of "corruption" as far as halfway houses goes......and it ends in the hands of Karen Chalkley Lashbrook. She has her favorite superintendents, those are the ones that she will cover-up for. Those she doesn't like, she throws under the bus. Case in point: She removed and FIRED a Superintendent for allegedly "abusing" FED-EX, yet she stands by one who exploited a TYC youth by forcing him to go to one of her employees homes and then when the kid gets infected with a rash....she authorizes BLEACH to be used as a "remedy". Can you say DOUBLE STANDARD here?? Something needs to be done with Lashbrook and all her little "pets" will crawl back under their rocks and leave the agency...or be forced out.

Anonymous said...

10:33 p.m. on 10-16-07, you sound like one of those he covered things up for! Are you somewhere in Houston or the surrounding area!

Anonymous said...

GET LASHBROOK OUT! She is the MOST corrupt person in TYC. How is it that she is still around??

Anonymous said...

What we desperately need is for the Governor to appoint an Executive Commissioner who has a proven track record running a large organization. Someone who knows how to recruit, motivate and manage juvenile justice professionals. The EC need not necessarilly by a juvenile justice professional if he/she knows how to manage.

What we have now is a group of people who are completely out of their depth. Essentially, TYC has become a welfare program for the now-defunct TDCJ RED program. Old Salty