Sunday, October 21, 2007

Youth Commission Roundup

I wanted to point Grits readers to several disparate items related to the Texas Youth Commission:

Joint Legislative Hearing Monday Week
After legislative committees met to discuss TYC in each of the last two weeks, staffers get another week to prepare before yet another hearing, this time by the joint House-Senate committee on TYC Operations and Management, which meets on Monday week at 10 a.m.. Acting TYC executive commissioner Dimitria Pope had to cancel a scheduled speaking engagement in Lubbock at the statewide conference of the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas in order to attend the hearing. Guess who they invited to fill her speaking slot?! (Hint: Initials are GFB.)

Mart Understaffing Means Reduced Orientation Time
The Waco Herald Tribune, one of the better mid-sized papers in the state, had a good article this week by David Doerr (10/18) analyzing changes at TYC's Mart unit, especially focusing on how understaffing has caused TYC management to cut youth orientation periods in half to reduce the number of kids at Mart:

Officials also are trimming down the assessment process at the Mart facility from what used to be about a two-month stay to 30 days. The faster TYC staff can evaluate offenders and send them off to institutions throughout the state, the sooner the youths can adjust to their new surroundings, start treatment programs and earn education credits, Cazabon Braly said.

Sarada Pokuri, a TYC psychologist who evaluates inmates as they come into the unit, said the agency is creating an electronic system to speed up the assessment process. Hiring an additional 12 needed psychologists also will help accelerate processing, she said.

But the agency’s greatest personnel need is juvenile corrections officers.

Lawmakers approved additional funding to reduce the ratio of officers to juveniles throughout the state from more than 20 to 1 in some cases to 12 to 1. More than 145 juvenile corrections officers are needed at the Mart units to meet that standard.

Currently, officers have to work overtime to meet the standard at the orientation unit. At the second Mart unit, which operates as a long-term stay facility, the ratio is closer to 16 to 1, Superintendent Curtis Simmons said.

TYC has hired far fewer JCOs than its lost since the new management came on board, despite Executive director Dimitria Pope's contention that all facilities routinely meet legislative mandated 12-1 staffing ratios. That's obviously not true at Mart, and almost certainly not for most TYC facilities.

How TYC Changes Affect Local Juvie Justice
Another Waco Tribune Herald story by Cindy Culp (10/18), who's written several good articles localizing the TYC story in the Waco area, focuses on the effects of TYC's scandals and reform legislation on the local juvenile justice system. In particular, a local judge is using new reforms as an excuse to make probation lengths longer:

McLennan County’s juvenile judge, Alan Mayfield of the 74th State District Court, said he plans to deal with the new rule by leaving youths on felony probation for longer terms. In the past, a youth who committed a first felony offense would usually be placed on probation for a couple of years. If he stayed out of trouble during that time, he was in the clear.

Now, however, teens who commit a felony likely will be left on probation until they are 18 years old, Mayfield said. That way, if they get out of control later, he will be able to yank their probation and send them to TYC even if those future crimes are just misdemeanors.

While that might seem contrary to the spirit of the reform, Mayfield said he sees few other options. Some misdemeanors are serious offenses, he said, such as carrying a gun or possessing drugs.

Children can stay at the county’s juvenile detention center only for short periods, and placements at private facilities such as boot camps are expensive. The county doesn’t have enough money to put large numbers of youths in such facilities, he said.

That makes little sense to me - if a kid who the judge did not think deserved to go to TYC stays out of trouble and completes a two-year probation stint, the system has done about as well as it can expect to do.

Further extensions may give judges more punitive options in the case of lesser offenses (e.g., all misdemeanor drug crimes are marijuana possession, only), but won't improve public safety and for the most part needlessly increases the chance a kid is sent to TYC. Counties should develop their own community-based options for misdemeanants - the old method of shipping your problems off to somebody else won't work anymore.

I similarly fail to see the wisdom in sending misdemeanants to private boot camps, which have a record as spotty or worse than TYC itself as far as abusing kids in their charge. Under SB 103 local officials are still legally accountable for how kids are treated, even when they're out of sight and mind, so I don't see much wisdom in handing them off to the boot camp folks, who are mainly out to make a buck. (See this recent report from the GAO on boot camp shortcomings.)

Culp also describes how changes in prosecution authority may relieve McLennan County investigators and prosecutors who weren't really equipped to handle such cases. Good reporting from along the Brazos on this topic.

Cleaning Up Victory Field
After the Ombudsman suggested to the Legislature and the media that the Victory Field unit in Vernon be closed, staff and youth at that agency apparently immediately began a rapid-fire cleanup effort. I was forwarded an email from a VCFA employee the next day that read,
Staff:
Great job cleaning yesterday. We should be ready for the team that will be on campus today and tomorrow. If they talk to us, we should be very positive about all of VFCA.
Another forwarded internal email declared,
The kids are so sleepy today that they can not keep their heads up. They were up until after 12:am cleaning on the dorms. If they would keep this place clean on a daily basis instead of just when “company” is coming once every 6 months!
Yup, that would be nice, wouldn't it?

See recent, related Grits posts:

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Check your dates. Hearing is 29th not 22nd.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, fixed it. I had it wrong on my personal calendar, was the source of the error. That actually means I won't be in town for it. Thank heavens they archive the videos online now.

Anonymous said...

I watched most of the hearing and had the times of certain issues being discussed. When I went to the archive video for retrieval the times had moved. Is it edited before posting?

Anonymous said...

Scott, the problem with the shorter stay at Mart I has nothing to do with the youth but rather pushing the youth out with little or no regards for their assessment. This too is a TDCJ idea that places assessment and needs of the youth secondary to the bottom line (we need bed space for new commits so push them out).

We have already seen what occurs when you do a shoddy job of assessment and a youth that needs specialized treatment does not receive it based upon lack of assessment. I sure am glad this new administration is placing the youth first.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone at Victory Field actually incriminated themselves in an e-mail. Sleep deprivation, I believe, is considered abuse and a violation of their rights. Sounds like they used it as punishment. Did the person who sent the e-mail, tell you who authored it? They fired two administrators for not answering a phone. Surely, someone should be fired for this.

Anonymous said...

sounds if a teacher at Vitory Field incriminated themselves, letting students sleep in class and being over friendly with them as to what goes on on the dorm and what they were doing at midnight!

Anonymous said...

FYI - We hear daPope will be visiting Evins this week? Any truth to this. Evins had all available staff cleaning this weekend with the youths. Extra, staff, PS's, Education, and Maintenance, including the maintenance supervisor. How funny?

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me that the kids run VFC not the employees. In another post it was mentioned that staff do their laundry. Something is wrong with this picture!

Anonymous said...

OMG, can you fill her shoes at the conference?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I think I'll manage OK. ;)

Anonymous said...

Question: How do you assess a youth, determine his/her 'specialized'treatment needs and move them out from the Orientation Unit when a treatment program hasn't been developed? CoNextions apparently is a rip off of some other program. . . has anyone checked copyrights? Run, Forest, Run

Anonymous said...

I believe they're planning on completing the Assessment at the placement after Mart. They're working with the Conextions company and wil be paying royalties or whatever the term is to do so.

Anonymous said...

Grits,
Congrats on the speaking engagement:) Do we get a video of that as well? Irony is so ironic.

BTW, in regards to all the cleaning activity - if TYC is basing its assessments of facilities solely on their physical cleanliness they are committing a serious error.

I can't tell you how many times this comes thru in the historical documents, how many times legislators, reporters, or other observers would lead off their descriptions of TYC facilities with a glowing discussion of how neat and clean they were - even after surprise inspections.

Many of these same facilities turned out to harbor some of the most systematic and terrible abuses. Cleanliness is not next to godliness, and I hope Will Harrell and Dimitria Pope aren't basing their evaluations only on that.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

I agree, God has more important things to get next to than cleanliness.

Ms. Pope cannot afford to rely on appearances, neither can the legislature.

Hopefully the next meeting will result in more truth regarding conditions at TYC including staffing rations and rehabilitation programs.

Anonymous said...

You’re absolutely right Bill. If I saw a facility just sparklingly clean, I'd wonder what evidence just got swept away.

Anonymous said...

The next hearing will be just another dog and pony show. d'Pope has mastered the technique to a tee. She will appear before Elmer and for some reason, she displays a lot of confidence when he is present. All the more reason to blitz our reps and senior members of the lege when the truth escapes her. She really needs our help!

Anonymous said...

Steve Robinson used to check the tops of the door facings when he unexpectedly did a facility tour (being 6'7" lets you see things like that!) and Dwight Harris followed suit. Most campuses do not have cleaning staff...the youth and the TYC staff do all the cleaning. Teachers have to paint the walls in the hallways and classrooms on some campuses.

The cleaning doesn't get done when there are too few JCOs to supervise.

Does this sound like a well-run program to you? Not enough staff, unclean facilities, staff being used out of job classification, etc?

By the way, ConNEXTions is name that TYC is giving its next treatment program. It is a mixture of research-based approaches and components. TYC has copyrighted the name (to what purpose I don't know). They will have to pay for use of some of the components.

Most of the problem with how the assessment unit is being operated is that the planning of how to do it was an unorganized process, led by those who didn't know much about placement decisions and assessment, led by the ignoble FAN. The other stumbling block was bringing in those kids from Coke County and drawing staff away from the assessment unit. also can't seem to hire psychologists as well as JCOs...

Anonymous said...

The Knee Jerk Reactions as of late from the current throne shows that the stress of doing right (their way) is about to topple the ship again. I see the legislators having to pass a lawsuit protection act for these folks.
Eds leaving so unexpectantly is a sign of more to come.

Anonymous said...

When Pope gets up there and testifies before Elmer et.al, I always wonder: which head of Elmer is paying the most attention? The little head or the big head?

Anonymous said...

FYI-Sylvia Machado, former Ayres House Superintendent, is going to court tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Grits,

I just copyrighted the word CoNeXIoNS. Does that mean that I have an effective juvenile justice rehabilitation program? Of course not, a copyrighted word is not a program. What is important is the copyrighted program itself. If this new program is an adaption of Resocialization, then we have an idea of its success rate, which was unacceptable during the legislative session. If this is an adaption of some New Jersey program, what is its track record with juveniles? I trust that it not like the one that some legisator pushed that was only used in the Oklahoma County Juvenile Detention Center.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Yo Grits! Did you happen to see Will Harrell's interview in the Odessa American today? Sure paints a different picture than the stories coming out of Central Office lately.

Anonymous said...

Proposition 4 (SJR 65)

SJR 65 would authorize the Legislature to permit the Texas Public Finance Authority to issue up to $1 billion in general obligation bonds, the proceeds of which would be dedicated to maintenance, construction, repairs, and equipment purchases, as authorized by the Legislature for the following state agencies the Texas Building and Procurement Commission; the Parks and Wildlife Department; the Department of the Adjutant General; the Department of State Health Services; the Department of Aging and Disability Services; the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; the Texas Youth Commission; the Texas Historical Commission; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; the Texas School for the Deaf; and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The proposed amendment will appear on the ballot as follows: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for maintenance, improvement, repair, and construction projects and for the purchase of needed equipment.”

Anonymous said...

Provide $27.9 million for facility construction for the Texas Youth Commission

Next to the bottom of the list

Anonymous said...

I don't know a soul at Victory field but it seems to me those people can't get a break. I do extra house-cleaning before special visitors come to my home, and every TYC facility does the same. After what Harrell said about Victory Field, is it surprising they made an extra push to be sure it looked as good as possible? First it's reported to be filthy. Then, they clean it up and suddenly they must not have much of a program and are trying to clear away "evidence." They can't win. Also, one staff member mentions sleepy kids and suddenly they are abusing students. Everyone needs to take a deep breath.

Anonymous said...

You don't know a soul at VFCA? Come on, you used be a supt there! Still defending your proteges, aren't you???

Anonymous said...

I believe the money is for the construction of a new TYC facility. It's in the conservator's report. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Places for investigators to look:

How are RIFs at CO being handled? By Policy, I think not.


How are Phase assessments being done at Mart? By Policy, I think not.

How are youth being placed on BMPs?
By Policy, I think not.

TYC is now corrupt. By policy, I think not.

By persons in charge. I think so.

Anonymous said...

there is no thinking about it. that is fact.

Anonymous said...

Grits, here's an interesting thing. I just spent the better part of an hour on the TYC web page, and there is literally NO mention whatsoever of the Blue Ribbon report.

There are entire sections where one would think it would appear for the public, like "Reforming TYC" or "Research & Data" or "Treatment Programs." Nothing. Nada. It never happened. Erased from history.

It's also interesting to contrast the quality of that report with the latest Conservator report. One is clear and factual, the other unreadable and filled with the kind of bureaucratic abstraction that makes one's eyes glaze over.

Have fun tomorrow.
BB

Anonymous said...

Ray Brookins used to keep the students up late cleaning routinely. When he ran the facility it was spic and span. He had students up to 3 a.m. one night before CO people came. Except for emergencies, there is no need to have students up after lights out. It's a violation of their rights and is abuse, but most of all it is how Brookins attempted to rationalize having students in his office late at night.

Anonymous said...

Hey, but the facility was clean?

Anonymous said...

What happens if Brookins and Hernandez are acquitted? Do the folks in power in Austin get a mulligan?

Anonymous said...

Bill, the Blue Ribbon report is published on the web by UT (one of the participants) and not by TYC. If Dr. Springer hadn't put it up, then it would be lost in the ether.

Anonymous said...

Right on 7:42, that's exactly my point. I have a copy downloaded from UT, but it isn't even mentioned on TYC's site. It's as if the report never existed.

Consider that TYC not only commissioned the report, but referenced it repeatedly over the late spring and summer.

The completeness of the report's erasure from TYC's official history appears to be a political decision rather than an accidental oversight. By removing the report from the discussion, its proposals also become "illegitimate," out of bounds.

Such a blatantly ideological rejection of expert advice is hardly unprecedented in TYC's history, but it is grating to watch decisions be made as if the last 60 years never happened.

BB

Anonymous said...

7:42 -
Springer? Are we talking Jerry here???

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what happen to Sylvia Machado in court today?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone looked at the TYC job postings? There are a lot of high paying administrative and regional positions. I wonder what the justification is for these positions when what the agency really needs right now are JCO staff. Did the JCOs and CMs get raises in pay? That might help with recruitment. The best thing I saw was a posting for a psychologist I/II at Crockett. The job description states that the applicant must be able to provide "consultation and training in conducting groups based upon the Resocialization program model." Doesn't look like HR is anymore competent today than ever.

Anonymous said...

5:33,

She will be publicly flogged at high noon on a date to be determined.

Is this the one that supposedley destroyed records or used postage?

Anonymous said...

Jay, Silent Bob, oops, I mean Ed, and DaPope took out all the real leaders.

Anonymous said...

Disregard last comments, I meant to put it on the most recent posts.

Anonymous said...

5:33 & 9:01-no idea as to what happened to her in court. Will try to get more information.
Yes, she is the one that was charged with tampering/shredding government documents.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard about the interim charge from House Corrections to consider consolidation of TYC and the Juvenile Probation Commission? >

Anonymous said...

to 7:54 - hadn't heard about it lately, but they tried this a couple of years ago and Juvenile Probation fought it like crazy. Our local Head of Juvenile Probation wrote a letter to the 'powers that be' protesting the move and actually convinced our County Judge and Commissioners Court to sign off on it with her. Her biggest arguement then was that TYC was incapable to running both. If it's back on the table again, things being the way they are right now, I imagine Juvenile Probation with fight again, even more vigorously than before. I can't say I'd blame them a bit... TYC is definately incapable running itself right now, much less anything else.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Ms. Pope was the head of the Adult Probation Commission when it consolidated with TDCJ, which was a death blow for community corrections in the state. I can only imagine with her at the helm of TYC what will happen during the next session.

Anonymous said...

8:59/ We are actually having deal with her reign of terror. I don't know what it will take to wake up the lege & guv?

Please write your rep and your senator!! We need all the help we can get and muster!

Dr. Papschmear said...

Grits: Any idea as to why the joint committee meeting was really canceled? I have it had to do with not having enough members for a quorum and/or a sparse agenda. Could it be that they (the committe, and especially one of the joint chairs) wanted to wait for the situation to cool down a bit to take some heat off her holiness (Dementia I)?