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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:Another forwarded internal email declared,
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.
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:
- Harrell: Victory Field "closest thing" to Coke County
- TYC's conservator report now online
- Pope: Staff still using pepper spray either "corrupt" or lack "reading comprehension"
- Open Thread: What should the Legislature know about TYC
- Ed Owens: Get me out now! New York Times covers mounting Youth Commission troubles
- Texas Senate Committee begins long march toward private prison oversight