Texas is reeling from the allegations of brutality, neglect and sexual abuse that have rocked its juvenile justice system. Heads have rolled and reforms signed into law this summer by Gov. Rick Perry have eased the crisis, for the moment. The only real way to remedy the situation is to raze Texas’s deeply flawed system and build a new one from the ground up.
The juvenile justice system’s Blue Ribbon Task Force has laid out a sensible and far-sighted plan for doing that. Unfortunately, it has gotten far too little support.
The panel rightly calls on Texas to replace its far-flung and understaffed archipelago of youth prisons with small, local facilities that would concentrate on rehabilitation and education. The proposed system would in many ways emulate Missouri’s juvenile justice system, which is the national model for how to deal successfully with troubled children.
The panel blames some of Texas’s high juvenile detention rate on poorly run schools. In far too many communities, children with learning, achievement or behavior problems that should be handled at school are probably being suspended or expelled, which makes them more likely to commit crimes. About 40 percent of the children sent off to detention centers appear to have learning disabilities that the schools have either failed to recognize or treat. A disproportionately high number of those are black and Hispanic.
These detention centers also have little capacity for addressing these children’s problems. The tiny communities where the prisons and detention centers are located — sometimes more than a day’s drive away from the children’s families — must surely have trouble attracting teachers, psychologists and well-trained corrections workers. Not surprisingly, about half of these young people end up back inside after being released. ...
The reorganization project will require a lot of political will. The toughest opposition will likely come from legislators who talk a good game about reform but want to keep open detention centers in their districts to preserve local jobs.
I think "razing" TYC, or at least dramatically overhauling it, is exactly what's needed, especially after the crew brought over from the adult prison system to run the agency mostly worsened TYC's already significant troubles. If the agency is to continue to exist (and I can envision arguments why it shouldn't), it needs management committed to rehabilitating juveniles and it needs to follow the advice of the experts the Governor commissioned to create a blueprint for reform. On that score, the Times editorial hits the proverbial nail on the head.It's amazing that even from half a continent away it's obvious what TYC needs to do, but those here in Austin and the Legislature can't figure it out. It's not as though they haven't been told. And told. And told.
When is Governor Perry going to put an end to this foolishness and appoint new management at TYC, one that will run the agency in a way that won't continue to disgrace the state? The clock's ticking, Governor, the world is watching, and this crew isn't getting the job done.
See the Blue Ribbon Panel report (pdf) referenced in the Times editorial. Via JuvieNation.