Meanwhile, the Austin Chronicle has a new story out on TYC declaring there is "Little evidence of reform at state schools." The Chronicle's Richard Whittaker reports that:
While Senate Bill 103, the TYC reform bill, was crafted to protect youth inmates, it was also supposed to create a safer working environment for staff. But the changes only provided the tools for reform. Five months later, TYC is massively understaffed, with almost a third of all posts empty. "We're trying to get as many qualified people as possible into training," said TYC's director of public affairs, Jim Hurley. "We're down in numbers considerably from where we want to be, and I can't give you a hard and fast deadline. It's going to take time."
The Legislature ordered TYC to hire an additional 516 juvenile correctional officers, one for every 12 inmates, plus teaching and administrative staff. However, the money to hire them did not become available until Sept. 1, meaning TYC hadn't even hired its four new recruiting officers until Nov. 1. As of Oct. 23, TYC had 3,984 employees but 2,024 unfilled positions, including 382 of those new juvenile correctional officers. Even when those positions are filled, there may not be enough staff. The American Correctional Association, a prison accreditation body, sets no standards for juvenile inmate-officer ratios but works facility by facility and has yet to assess the reformed centers.
The shortfall means facilities are working staff longer and harder. "You have frustrated staff, tired staff. They dread coming out there," said Love. Some, afraid of being fired if they complained, would call in sick. "You have people out there for whom this is their sole income, so they don't make waves. The call-ins are their only way of striking back." According to Love, this means some shifts at Crockett struggle on five or six corrections officers, less than half the number recommended. The new hires may not solve the problem, since they are just replacing staff who are on medical leave or quit. "It's a revolving door," Love said.
TYC employees are supposed to work a 40-hour week, with eight-hour shifts and five days on, two days off. But with staff levels so low, Love said, it's not uncommon for officers to work five 12-hour shifts and only get one day off. Staff pulled a combined 116,890 hours of overtime in February, a figure that shrank to 30,487 for September, but there's a catch. They weren't being paid for all of it. In September alone, TYC paid out $735,933 in overtime, equal to 55% of the normal annual sum.
TYC spokesman Hurley said the cash wasn't the issue, just further reform of the system. "This wasn't about budget," he said, "but the fact that they didn't have any institutional controls in place to ensure that all the overtime being worked was necessary. Since we couldn't ensure that, we suspended paying overtime, but this is almost surely a temporary measure." He said that hours worked were still being tracked, but for Love, that's not enough. "That's my money they're earning interest on," he said.