Friday, October 05, 2007

TYC will expand use of contract youth prisons after Coke County scandal

I went to a press conference this morning held by Texas Youth Commission Executive Director Dimitria Pope at the TYC headquarters in Austin. Ms. Pope's main purpose for calling the event was to release an "audit" of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, which she decided to close earlier this week. (The text of the report has mercifully been placed online; the pdf version includes photos from the facility.)

I arrived a few minutes after Pope began her public statement. Frequently speaking of herself in the third person, she dismissed her "critics" (Pssst ... I think she may mean us, readers). She said she'd fired everyone associated with the Coke County fiasco, and she has "zero tolerance for abuse of children." (And no, before somebody asks, I didn't get a chance to ask her about McFadden Ranch in light of that statement.)

Then, in an awkward and bizarre moment, when she finished the prepared statement Ms. Pope quickly gathered the papers in front of her, turned heel, and strode rapidly out of the room, leaving spokesman Jim Hurley to answer reporters' questions. The first question: Who did she mean by her critics? The newspapers? The Blue Ribbon Task Force? Who was she talking about? Hurley couldn't say: Just Google TYC and read what's being said, he declared.

Nobody was satisfied with that answer, so I piped up from the peanut gallery to ask, "Why don't you see if she'll come back in here and answer questions so we won't have to guess what she meant?" The gathered reporters murmured with approbation, so Hurley left the room, returning a minute or two later with Pope in tow. I thought that was appropriate - after all, she called the press conference!

So who were the unnamed critics she's unhappy with, reporters wanted to know? To give some indication, Pope said she had canceled her subscription to the Austin American Statesman because reporters weren't checking their facts. Oddly, she went out of her way to say her beef wasn't with Mike Ward, who was in the room and who she said was doing his job, but he's been the primary Statesman reporter assigned to the story for many months.

Her two chief complaints, she said, were people questioning her leadership ability and comments made about the Coke County closure. (I'm guessing from her first stated reason for frustration that she's not a big fan of Grits, either.) Even when pressed, she would give no more detail about whose criticisms she considered unfair.

Pope said she "wouldn't put my own dog" in the Coke County faility. She hasn't talked to either the fired TYC employees or officials from the Geo Group, and doesn't plan to do so. The Geo folks had been calling, she said, but she refuses to take their phone calls! The only person she discussed the decision with before making it was the Governor; the conservator apparently was out of the loop.

Mike Ward from the Statesman pointed out that UTMB had recently said there were "no significant problems" at the Coke facility, and despite the concerns about fire safety, it passed a fire inspection in September. Were none of these people doing their job? "Hell no," Pope fired back, "no one was doing their job."

In response to the Coke County fiasco, it's already been reported this morning that TYC had sent out teams to audit all contract facilities and Sen. John Whitmire wants to hold hearings to assess the Geo Group's contracts with the state of Texas, developments Pope discussed in some detail.

But the biggest news of the press conference, to me, was an announcement in response to a question by yours truly that TYC still plans to expand use of contract care in the wake of the Coke County revelations. A bidders conference has already been held, she said, regarding contracts to house 10-13 year olds and some older boys, and the agency plans to move ahead despite these revelations moving youth into contract facilities, possibly in Kerr County.

Have we learned nothing from the Coke County experience? Will TYC blindly move forward putting MORE kids in private youth prisons when we're not satisfied the ones there now are safe? Is that really putting "youth first," which Pope says is her "battle cry"? Surely this incident should give TYC administrators pause about the wisdom of such actions?

When Sen. Whitmire holds hearings on the Geo Group, I hope they also take testimony about the wisdom of using private prisons for young people in the first place. After this unseemly episode with the Geo Group, I don't see how Texas' leaders can say in good faith that that's a good idea.

MORE: See Doug Swanson's account in the Dallas News, just posted, and an exasperated Austin Statesman editorial. Here's the Statesman's coverage of the press conference, and the Houston Chronicle believed Pope's comments about critics were aimed at House Corrections Chair Jerry Madden. See also Texas Prison Bidness on the Geo closing.

48 comments:

actually outta here said...

As a former auditor at TYC, thanks for putting "audit" in quotes. Did you think to ask whether TYC's internal audit department was at all involved in this "audit"?

actually outta here said...

Never mind...just made it to the end of the "audit" report where it lists the staff involved. Not a one from internal audit. Color me less than surprised.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes, I know an actual audit when I see one. This was a written explanation for a decision, which is a slightly different beast, whatever you title it.

Anonymous said...

Pictures are truly worth a thousand words, or in this case many more.

TJDO said...

That's one of the problems with on-site monitors of private prisons. They eventually crawl into bed with each other.

Anonymous said...

Was the Bronte Facility included in the fiscal 2008 TYC Budget?

The "Audit" report seems to represent justification for a decision that had already been made.

If TYC needs more money, this is a risky way to go after it. Blaming contractors for problems at TYC while planning to enter into more contracts doesn't give me any confidence in the current TYC Management, Governor or Legislature.

This is a mess that needs to be cleaned up! I doubt Ms. Pope has the ability to do the job even if more money is provided!

Anonymous said...

Not sure about everything else Pope said, but it's true that the Statesman's "facts" are often wrong. The DMN is more thorough.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Honestly, if I were conservator with all that vested power, I'd spend whatever it took - raising salaries, hiring more medical staff for UTMB, and fixing the resource-based problems, whether it was in the budget or not - and if I ran out of the money go to the Guv and the joint committee (and the media) and say "this is what it costs, feel lucky it's not a federal court order." That's what the joint committee explicitly told them to do, but it's not how administrators are behaving.

Timidity will not be rewarded in this environment, so in that sense the closure of the Bronte facility was a bold move. Let's just hope it's part of an overarching vision that includes more nuance than just contracting out the agency's problems to another Geo Group-type contractor as soon as the short-term heat dies down.

Anonymous said...

Grits, great work as always getting the scoop.

That report and those photos were stomach-turning and it seems obvious that there was little choice but to shut the place down.

However, the ED's anger at the Statesman is a little baffling. If she isn't upset with Mike Ward, the only other possible target would be the editorial page, which has run several critical editorials of TYC.

Just yesterday there was a pretty tough one by the AAS editorial board portraying TYC pretty critically - maybe she took that one especially personally.

And there were the Op-Ed pieces by members of the Blue Ribbon commission, Barry Krisberg and David Springer.

BB

Anonymous said...

"Frequently speaking of herself in the third person" !!!

OMG, I wish I could have heard that. Yes, I'm a masochist, but that's funny.

Anonymous said...

This story and how Ms Pope presents herself is no news to us. I am just glad she is getting the exposure she desires and the rest of us can just sit back and watch her take care of herself.

She has always referred to herself in the 3rd person. In the limited times I was required to attend a staff meeting. Grandiosity, Narcissism, what the hell is it??
My opinion it is disrespect and annoying.

Some say she was sent to annoy. She does a pretty good job in this category.

I bet this is the type of behavior that the Ledge want to serve as the role model for TYC staff and youth.

You know that saying, it all starts at the top.

Just think about a bunch of delinquents youth running around and talking about themselves in that very pleasant 3rd person position. Accountability, You Bet!!

Grits if you really want the story, It might be interesting to do a survey with line TYC staff at Coke County. From what I heard there is a whole other version of events than what I read in the paper.

Anonymous said...

Two points on the "Audit"
(1) Did you see any of TYC's Maintenance & Operations staff or any education staff on the "audit panel"?

Wasn't that D'Popes arm in the photograph pulling the sheetrock away from the wall?

On the contract for the Kerrville facility, wasn't Kimbrough the county judge for Kerr County? Does that pass the smell test?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if Pope was even remotely competent, the criticism would stop. The decision to go ahead with selling the 10-13 year olds into contract care indicates that the Coke County mess taught her nothing. What makes her think that one for-profit organization is any different than any other? When the main focus is the bottom line, the ones who generally suffer are (and will be) the kids. And if she can't take criticism, maybe she shouldn't be in public service. Also, she may want to get comfortable with the concept of "No one is above the law". Former TDCJ great Ray Brookins thought he was and look where he is now. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And as for Mike Ward, the first thing you learn in TDCJ charm school is never say bad things about a news reporter who is sitting right in front of you. You might just have some facts to back up your position and you might get asked a question or two you can't answer. Wait until he's gone, then tear him apart. People who refer to themselves in the third person generally do that as a means of detaching themselves from any and all responsibility for their actions. "I" didn't do it, "Dimitria Pope" did it. I wonder what Freud would say?

Anonymous said...

penis envy?

Anonymous said...

Gee people it is still all about the money! Money goes to the “Right” contractors and gets kicked back to certain elected and appointed officials. It is not about the kids! GEO didn’t play well with the right people so they get their contract pulled. This we won’t let the contractors mistreat the kids is to validate to contracting out the little boys. The dog and pony show is to build confidence TYC will make the contractors do the right thing. The entire show is crap. The lies go on at TYC. Mart 2 was locked down this morning and is having hell with the youth. Texas Rangers were at Mart today. Doesn’t sound like things are all fine to me. I am sure the CO spin doctors will post a BS reply to try and confuse the issue or maybe even tell a few more lies.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful role model D'Pope makes for TYC staff and youth!! The lege & guv couldn't have picked anyone more qualified than she is! NOT!!

Her conduct at her own press conference saw her exhibit the proffessionalism we should all role model after! NOT!!!!

If Elmer defends her one more time, I think we all need to throw up in mass! Maybe the "stench" will send her packing and shut her of TYC!

REGISTER TO VOTE TYC EMPLOYEES!!!

geo's lawyers said...

"thank you, Jesus, for closing that piece of shit" as soon as they saw the picture of the padlocked exit doors with "Iroquois Theater, Triangle Shirtwaist, and Cocoanut Grove" stamped all over it.

They could still wind up in prison some day, but at least not for mass fire-deaths at Coke County JJC.

Anonymous said...

Maybe just maybe Madden has saw the light and he and his staff will take a hard look at TYC once again. Maybe this time he will get it right.

And can someone please contact Perry's office and advise them that in the future please do not praise or pat someone on the back for their swift decisive action until they see the BIG picture. It ain't over until the TDCJ woman sings.

Anonymous said...

9:08, Are you saying D'Pope is fat?

Anonymous said...

After reading the newspapers and seeing tv, D'Pope used "we" to shift responsibility and "I" when it comes to TYC being attacked. She takes criticism as a personal attack. She needs to dig out some of those TYC psychologists to treat her before her nervous breakdown or she needs to quit.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, Dimitria. No one will miss you.

Anonymous said...

Typical of Da Pope.

All of the experienced and qualified people who were in the agency have been removed. Now she blames everything on them, even though she has had the power to clean up these messes.

Whackyhut was an embarrassment when they were Whackyhut. They lost their Job Corps contracts because of staff having sex with students. They lost their Tarrant County COntract for abuse of inmates.

They change their name to GEO, and hope to cover up their past. It ain't happening.

I wonder which contractor groups she has purchased stock in, and whether or not the Bushes have sold out their interests.

Anonymous said...

9:59....She's in bed with Whitmire, not contractors.

Anonymous said...

Per the Houston paper, "Pope complained during her press conference that she was "damned if I did and damned if I didn't" and asserted that the agency should get the respect it needs as it attempts to carry out the mission of keeping confined youths safe."

Respect is earned it is not an entitlement. When one hires friends and political cronies, fires or drives out TYC professional as scapegoats for the administrator's negligence and incompetance, leaves an agency adrift with little or no guidance or respect for law or written policies, and can't find the abuse at Coke County that is so severe that it requires the immediate closure of a facility until after six months on the job, one can't expect respect but only contempt from the public who are Dimitria's employers. It is time for her to be fired. DIMITRIA, RESIGN AND EARN OUR RESPECT!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I read the Austin American Statesman which quotes Ms. Pope as saying "It's time we get the confidence and respect we deserve." Well, how does it feel Ms. Pope? Maybe you need to take the time and remember how it feels, for that is how most past and present employees from TYC who are hard working and ethical feel!!

Anonymous said...

Ummm... I would say she IS getting the confidence and respect she deserves. Actually, she has received more than she deserves.
She should be careful what she asks for.

Anonymous said...

Makes you feel real secure that TYC has an Executive that has to resort to cussing to bring attention to herself.

Whatever happened to leadership where one was able to convey a message without cursing, blaming, justifying, and having to read from a script?

Top notch and an agency/corporation is only as good as those that lead or attempt to.

Anonymous said...

She does blame and justify quite a bit. She could benefit from identifying her thinking errors. Maybe that is why she got rid of Resocialization! No person or program is going to tell HER she made an error!!
Pretty funny picture if you think about it.

Anonymous said...

D'Pope should resign.

She should have never taken the position. At every turn respected and qualified people have been plamed for the fiasco at Pyote, when all those involved are long gone. Harris, Harrison, Barnard, Brookins and Hernandez were the primaries in that scandal and they are gone.

The rest of the folks had to go because they were the "good ol' white boys", I suppose. Especially since Lydia was the only "white lady" involved.

Makes me wonder if she looeked at the previous leadership before she pirated it?

Anonymous said...

I have a question, having worked in Correctionas for more than 20 years, it was always my understanding that the "warden" or Director is ultimately responsiable for the department below them. How is it then that various staff from central office, QA, and others went out to Cooke County but yet no one reported or even saw what was going on out there. Trust me that facility did not get that way overnight. Well, I for one, have had it. I am outta here. I can no longer work for an Agency whose Director intentionally lies when it works to her advantage. Namely her claim to the Leg. Committee that the Youth Rights Specialist positions were filled. They were filled on Wednesday, but reducing the number of youth Care Investigator. Also, Ms. Pope said that the number of abuse was reduced by 98%. Then why were there over 90 allegations filed in the month of September? I am quitting, but before I go I ask Ms. Pope to please look up the words integrity and honesty in the dictionary. True applying them to your life and job Ms. Pope. There are those of us who believe that our word is more important than a convienant lie. And trust me, when the public has had enough of the lies it won't be those adminstators who are going to take the fall. Sh-- rolls down hill, and they are savy enough to make sure it don't hit their shoes. You all keep up the good fight for these kids. I can't fight anymore.

Anonymous said...

How long can this madness possibly continue? The Texas Randers are at the Mart 2 facility? What's next, federal swat teams? The FBI, CIA??? This is all so crazy. Talk about lack of direction! Does anyone in Austin, like say the Govenor himself, give a s**t what's going on? It reminds me of putting cows out in the pasture. One dumb cow follows another dumb cow, but not one of them knows what they are doing!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mart II...Are those Rangers out there interviwing kids or just showing a presence?

Anonymous said...

3:37
Don't you put them cows down like that! They are smart! They know where they are going, unlike TYC.
They can find the tank if they need to or the fence that is down.
Can even smell a bad storm brewing and get the hell out of the way unlike TYC.
Now this is in humor so don't take it personally.

Anonymous said...

7:33 You forgot to mention that if you give them a little grass, they can kick back and provide a great supply of bovine excrement, although perhaps not as capably or quickly as D'Pope. Oops, forgot, we weren't talking about McFadden. Let me reword that: intelligent leaders have learned that if you get enough of that BS, you can make the grass greener on your side of the fence. Whitmire may not be all that bright, but he knows enough to get out of the way of cow that has been into the bran.

Anonymous said...

So now she is critical of the Austin American Statesman now that the stories are about her leadership. Where were her comments back when TYC was in the paper every day and it was slamming the old regime on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

D'ope is a mediocre, halfway-competent, mid-level manager who accepted a job that was too big for her.

She can't motivate or inspire. She won't communicate with her workforce.

She capriciously takes drastic actions that result in profound and troubling consequences.

She insults the institution as she cavalierly refers to it as "pathetic" and "disgraceful."

She is unpolished, crass, heavy-handed, and frankly, an embarrassment.

It is not a tenable proposition that she stay at TYC for a long while.

Her shortcomings are catching up to her. As of late, the fatigue reads on her face.

She has infused the agency with too much "bad blood." It's time for her to go.

Anonymous said...

8:01, Amen!

Anonymous said...

Pope has been looking for a way to show her heroism. Yes, narcissism clearly defines this lady. Answer a few questions for me, Why was Pope reassigned to the RED group at TDCJ? Is there not some validity in the Whitmire-Pope relationship? I think so!

Anonymous said...

I just looked at the pictures of Coke County, and I have to say, if you add some dog, goat and horse feces, some maggots in the kitchen drains,some mildew stains and some open light sockets.....you have McFadden Ranch. Oh, did I mention the copperhead snakes? ( killed about 7 so far)but they were just there looking for the rats.Yeah...Coke county looks clean to me.

Anonymous said...

I may be asking a dumb question, but what is the "Ledge"? I see it referred to in quite a few posts, but I don't know what they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

10:28, Legislature.

Anonymous said...

Ledge could also mean that edge that TYC is sitting on and about to fall from. Outta here, got RIFFED

Anonymous said...

What positions were riffed?

Anonymous said...

Most positions have been 'riffed'. The former PDA has been given their pink slips, with the exception of one . . .word is folks in education and the former treatment and case management will get theirs next week . . . wonder who is going to be left to write the new 'treatment' program . .

Anonymous said...

Are any of you aware that Dimitria Pope never gave any of the employees at Coke County a chance to defend themselves. She swept in like a tornado and fired everyone. Is this not America? Does every person not have the right to defend themselves and not be persecuted by one person. She is trying to come in and make a name for herself. That facility was understaffed and had asked for help for months, but Mrs. Pope put a hiring freeze on that facility 3 months earlier. There were only 2 Quality Assurance people on staff when there should have been six. Each QA had 97 kids on their case load instead of the average of about 35. The state of Texas Cant possibly blame the QA's for the closure of the Coke County facility, but this is exactly what she is trying to do. Whoever hired this broad should be shot in the head. It was the biggest mistake. She commented on one dorm in particular that housed the most violent offeneders. Why didnt she comment on the other 6 dorms that were in impeccable condition. Those inmates destroyed that dorm right before she arrived. Th e conditions were not deplorable, nor was any childs life in danger of anything. There were reports of bugs in the food...the staff ate the exact same food. Instead of going on a witch hunt for the QA's, she needs to take a better look at the TYC officials including herself. She is just as responsible for the closing of this facility as anybody. The criminal investigation should lie with her.

Anonymous said...

5:09, I agree with you about Pope, but I thought I read she fired 4 or 5 QA's there plus supervisors up the chain of command. How could there only be 2 QA's employed there then?

Anonymous said...

No, I know the facility well... There was a hiring freeze about 3 months ago.... In the Bronte office, there were 2 QA's , 1 supervisor, and 1 clerk... Both QA's had 97 kids each on there case load... An impossible job!!! Let Dimitria pope try to handle that... She didn't care about the kids then or they wouldn't have been so understaffed. All these two guys had time for was data entry and not much more. Fact: one of the QA's was not even trained as a QA, but in Parole.. Another big flub by Dimitria Pope. Shouldn't TYC train their employees to do their jobs correctly...??? Also the QA had their titles changed 4 weeks ago to : Community Program Specialists by Dimitria Pope... Why did she do that? About as convenient as making them "at will" employees so they can't have a voice. Also, that office worked without air conditioning the month of June... Can you imagine Dimitria working with no air.. in 100 degree weather every day.. She doesn't care about the employees. Besides the employees working in unsafe conditions, she turns around and stabs them in the back. She keeps talking about an "incestous relationship between TYC monitors and the GEO group... The only incestous relationship there is is hers with Whitmire. They are definitely in bed together. Dimitria Pope has egg on her face, and the four people in the Bronte facility are the scapegoats. She is trying to intimidate the 4 people that are middle or lower income class because she thinks they can't afford attorneys and it won't come back on her. Why didn't she tell them to their faces? Dimitria Pope and group of henchmen have a stench... When it gets right down to it: The state and TYC are trying to cover their mistakes of breaking contracts with Bronte community and schools by blaming the 4 people in the office. The state doesn't want litigation with GEO group so they blame "at will employees" that can't speak up. Dimitria Pope will answer in another life for her lies and insinuations of wrong doing by some really honorable and wonderful people....

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Dimitria Pope and her own agenda... She doesn't care about the kids or staff but about making a name for herself. The governor of Texas should also be taking a little blame for this closure for giving this woman full "rein" and not making her accountable for all TYC problems.

Anonymous said...

"I feel like my integrity and my judgment has been questioned to no end," Pope said.... I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't."

Now she knows how JCOs feel every day.