Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reader poll results: Counties have few alternatives for repeat, juvenile misdemeanants, but TYC likely not the best place for them

In last week's Grits reader poll, I posed a question derived from research in "Surviving the TYC Meltdown," a Grits for Breakfast publication based on a talk given a couple of weeks ago to the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas: When if ever should kids who commit misdemeanors be committed to the Texas Youth Commission?
Purchase "What Texas Counties Must Know to Survive the TYC Meltdown"
To provide some context, the Texas Legislature in 2007 forbade counties from sending youth with misdemeanor offenses to state youth lockups, providing new money (though not enough, county officials say) to manage those youth locally.

That action raised a hue and cry from local judges, probation departments and detention centers who complained that repeat misdemeanor offenders were often their most difficult cases where they'd exhausted local resources and required state support. Indeed, the data support that claim. According to information supplied by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (published in "Meltdown"), youth sentenced to TYC for misdemeanors came into the system with significant problems:
  • 45% had a prior felony adjudication
  • The average number of adjudications prior to commitment was 3
  • 69% had at least one prior placement
  • 40% needed mental health treatment
  • 44% needed chemical dependency treatment
So these were some high-risk, high-needs kids, whether or not the offense for which they were committed to TYC was felonious. The fact that almost 70% had already been placed once in a custodial setting means most counties have tried to use the resources they have before shipping kids off to Texas youth prisons. (The notable exception is Harris County, which disproportionately sends large numbers of such youth to TYC with less emphasis on diversion, but that tangential observation must wait for another day to explore.)

How did Grits readers feel about the policy decision to exclude misdemeanants from TYC? Of the 120 readers who responded to Grits' survey, these were the responses. Folks believed misdemeanants should be sent to TYC when:
  • They have three or more prior misdemeanor adjudications (50%)
  • They have a prior felony adjudication (53%)
  • They had at least one prior placement in a secure facility (31%)
  • They need chemical dependency treatment unavailable in the home county (22%)
  • They need mental health treatment unavailable in the home county (22%)
  • No, kids with misdemeanors should never be sent to TYC (35%)
So only 35% pf Grits readers agreed with the Legislature that misdemeanants should never be sent to TYC. I was surprised that the lowest percentages came for kids sent to TYC for treatment. I think that's best explained by the Grits commenter who wrote, "TYC is so short-handed the youth are not getting any special treatment, really. My facility has 2 specialized areas and nothing is being done for the kids because there is no one to do it. So, sending kids to TYC for treatment is a travesty to the youth." Regular commenter and TYC veteran Whitsfoe concurred, declaring:
We don't do a very good CD programs given they don't pay our CD treatment providers what they should. Mental Health... not enough beds and quit frankly, they don't pay our psychologists what they really deserve, so TYC is no help here either.
Several TYC field staff expressed the view that misdemeanants were among the most difficult TYC inmates, for example:
My experience supports that of the Probation and that misdemeanor offenders who get to TYC often have a slew of misdemeanor offenses i.e. a long history of troubled behavior.

General Offenders, often misdemeanor offenders, in my experience often displayed worse behavior than Violent Offenders. Violent Offender is just a classification of the type offense a youth was committed for and not indicative of the behavior a youth might display. Many so called Violent Offenders often have short offense histories but committed a offense that warranted incarceration in TYC.

Who is easier to work with...long term habitual offender or a kid who recently fell into a bad crowd or began acting out due to some recent traumatic life event but otherwise has pro-social value systems?
Another reader, though, feared that mixing misdemeanants with more serious offenders tended to increase their criminality and reduce their chances for rehabilitation:
I agree that the misdemeanants tend to be the worst-behaved in TYC. However, mixing in youth whose primary problem is that they are rebellious, and high-strung, with youth who are serious criminals, creates more problems. The more criminal type kids sit back and set the others off. The "wild ones" create a distraction for staff which allows their attention to be drawn away from the more criminal kids. These wild kids are not leaders, they are follows who desparately want to believe they are accepted by their "peers". Those kids who have long strings of misdemeanors do not need to be mixed in with the felons. There should be separate programs for each.

It is obvious that these kids have exhausted the local resources, so I sympathize with those local juvenile justice officials who are pulling their hair out over the recent ban on sending misdemeanants to TYC. The solution, possibly, might be a legislative mandate that allows judges to send youth with strings of misdemeanors to TYC, but which also requires TYC to treat them in separate facilities from the felons. Those units might be the ones that are placed close to the cities of origin.
With all that said, and with respect to the 65% of readers who disagree, I think at the end of the day excluding misdemeanants, at least in the short term, was the right thing to do (though I acknowledge that the Lege created new unfunded mandates, a dilemma which needs to be rectified).

For starters, Harris County judges abuse the privilege, and as the largest county they send far more youth to TYC than anybody else. What's more, if kids aren't getting services at TYC and if there's no rehabilitation plan (which is currently the case), I'm not sure warehousing low-level offenders for a few months would do any good.

If TYC were in better shape, my gut instinct would be to allow counties to send misdemeanants there, at a minimum, when they didn't have adequate mental health or drug treatment resources available locally. But if those resources aren't being supplied at TYC - and I believe that's true because of understaffing and misplaced priorities among TYC management - what's the point of sending them there?

To the extent it's true, as several readers suggested, that many teen misdemeanants committed to the Youth Commission could have been charged with felonies but had charges reduced by lenient prosecutors, those kids will continue to come into TYC, anyway. Also, though I don't think it's the right thing to do, I'd anticipate more juvenile judges ordering longer felony probation terms than previously, so that if the kid commits a misdemeanor later they could still be sent up the river.

Some counties are headed the opposite direction, and I applaud them for it. At the JJAT conference, Travis County juvenile probation chief Estela Medina told me that Austin judges had sent only three youth to TYC since the scandals broke last spring - all of them for serious offenses, and the rest, including all misdemeanants, are being handled in the community because Travis officials don't believe kids will be rehabilitated or treated properly at TYC-run youth prisons.

I think Travis County is headed in the right path, one where ultimately all Texas counties will be forced to follow - using TYC literally only for the worst of the worst, incorrigible murderers, youth who committed sexual assaults, or other violent offenders who commit serious crimes and receive determinate sentences.

TYC handles only about 2% of Texas youth who commit crimes, while local probation departments and detention centers handle the rest. There is very little TYC offers for most offenders that the counties cannot do themselves given additional financial support.

For all those reasons, I broadly agree with the Legislature's decision to exclude misdemeanants from TYC, though I don't think they provided adequate funds for locals to take over the job. However, both TYC and TJPC are under Sunset review next year, so the opportunity for significant structural reform to support these goals may emerge in the coming year and a half.

For better or worse, for the time being SB 103 set in stone the ban on misdemeanor commitments to TYC, and there's a good chance that policy will (and IMO should) continue into the future.

To prepare for what's down the road, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission should closely track and analyze how counties spend new money given to them to handle misdemeanants. Since these are among their most difficult populations, the resources they consume with those funds will tell us what local resources need to be bolstered through legislative action in 2009 to enable counties to handle a greater percentage of more difficult offenders - both misdemeanants and nonviolent felons - in the community where staffing ratios are better, the risk of abuse is less, and youths' chances for success are much higher.

For more on this topic:
Purchase "What Texas Counties Must Know to Survive the TYC Meltdown"

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think Travis county is unique...to think the remainder of the state has or is willing to expend the resources available to Travis County is foolish.

This is Texas. Come on.

Anonymous said...

TYC is still doing Resocialization. We are just calling it the Transitional Treatment Program. TYC should be the last resort for any young person, whether or not they need treatment. It doesn't mean that TYC should not exist, but understand that there has to be a last resort. It needs to be treatment oriented, but it needs to be equipped to handle the state's worst juvenile criminals.

We all know that prevention is where we should spend the money, and reducing TYC population is a good thing. However, I think turning everything over to TDCJ is a mistake that the tax payers will be paying for a long time. The philosophy of juvenile corrections is that there is still a chance of turning these kids around. TDCJ believes the money should all be spent on security.

Pepper spray may be an effective tool for security, but it does nothing to produce a treatment environment. I don't expect success in changing juvenile corrections to get away from the punishment mentality entirely, but we are presently headed in the wrong direction.

Anonymous said...

Grits,

Youth should not be sent to TYC because of local inadequacies in mental health and drug treatment. Using TYC as an alternative to MHMR services is wrong. That is like sending someone to Leavenworth because local help is not available for a cleptomaniac. TYC is not intended to be a mental health facility. There should be and are other alternatives. It is just counties use an easy solution saying the county can not afford it, rather than going out and spending the money on the problem and if necessary cutting spending elsewhere.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 7:38 and with Howard.

IMO, what should happen next year is that TYC should see its entire administration made over with juvenile justice experts put in charge, and a large budget allocation given to the counties varying by need, to provide needed treatment: JDC facility and staff, MHMR, substance abuse treatment, probation, and group home / halfway house if needed.

Who should oversee this fund? Definitely not TYC. If TJPC supervises the counties now it should stay that way.

It seems to me that if the current policy trend leads to a further drop in TYC's inmate population that some of the funds possibly could come directly from TYC's own budget.

I also think it is fair that if more TYC facilities close, staff should be given the opportunity to relocate to a county facility for at least the same pay and benefits, with any needed retraining offered gratis.

It's hard to say whether TYC's current financial woes stem from inadequate budget allocation or from gross mismanagement (i.e., spending money needlessly on uniforms while blowing up overtime).

The overarching trend plainly seems to be that in the absence of statewide leadership (and let's face, there is none from TYC or the lege or the gov), that counties are being forced to take matters into their own hands, with varying results.

Unfortunately, a lot of eggshells are being broken - needlessly - in the making of this omelet. The situation has been starved for some time for a little leadership that takes the needs of the kids, families, and staff into account. Maybe next year.

BB

Anonymous said...

Since the focus is on how bad TYC is right now maybe the Lege should look at who is running TYC. There are alot of good honest people who care about these kids and want to make a difference in their lives.
Tyc also is providing most with three meals a day, bed, bath,education that they were not getting on the streets or in the family home.
The child has to want to change and sometimes you can not change the lifestyle a child has been raised in that is already embedded into their way of life. Gangs, drugs and abuse.
I don't believe that TYC should take all the blame for these reoffenders and unsuccessful stories by itself. But we seem to all have forgotten the backgrounds by which these kids came from and place all the blame on TYC.
The public sees these children as the everyday kid that plays on their block in their home town. These kids were not playing, they were dealing drugs, assualting , robbing, and packing guns and molesting others. I think we have forgotten that also.
News media paints pictures of them as sweet innocence children who made a mistake and sent to TYC where they were abused and not treated. TYC has given these kids more treatment than they ever got in their home towns and in a juvie lock up.
To fix TYC we need leadership not dictatorship. Staff at TYC are crying out like the kids for help to fix it and no one listens. The governor and Lege are allowing the problems to build and explode in this agency, so blame them not TYC.
Where are the positive news articles? News media doesn't sell stories on the good things that are still going on at TYC because the staff there still believe that kids are worth fixing. They don't report how many kids graduated from highschool, ged, or made reading and math gains each month.Instead they say we are failing them in education,treatment and so forth. They don't know what they are talking about. If get someone to learn their times table that is a success and a hell of alot more than they knew when they came to TYC. You get them to read a book that on the streets they never picked up a book to read.
In closing this long reading, TYC has made and still is making a difference in these kids lives and we Do have Success Stories every day. Just wish the public knew it.
We need new leaders and a new direction and that has to start at the top.

Anonymous said...

The TYC change in administration needs to take place immediately. Why wait until next year? The longer these people are there, the more cleanup it will need. Both employees & youth are suffering. I fail to see the logic in this mess.

Anonymous said...

7:38 you are not a team player. "We", "TDCJ" Once I find out who you are you will be dealt with. Hey Howard you are correct TYC has been a dumping ground for counties who do not put the necessary dollars in to deal with their mental health. Then those same counties (Houston) hire a monitor to look after the kids once in TYC. Give me a break.

The locals have failed themselves. Local schools who don not educate. Those who cast away theses kids. Cities and Counties who do not provide opportunities to help at-risk kids and those on the bubble. If they worked in colloboration with the schools they know who they are and can intervene. Park and recrecration programs. How bout a strong church in the community. Look at where the kids in tyc come from and you seen a piss poor community that is a direct reflection on the city and county. Now once they get at TYC....

They dont need to be near home cause the community has failed them. The need a hard understanding from CURRENT PROFESSIONAL ADMINISTRATION that HERE LIES THE LAST CHANCE.

Get it right here or move on to ADULT PRISION. NO REHABILITATION. NO SCHOOL. NO TV....Just count them days and give up that ass daily.

Chew On that.

Anonymous said...

Oh now there's the solution, just lock'em down and let 'em waste away while giving up that ass. That's pretty damn sick buddy. I would only hope your not a TYC employee.

Anonymous said...

3:51 If you're part of the team, I'm glad I'm not a team player. Good luck on finding out who I am, but I'm curious who you are that you would take care of me if you found out. I'm not a team player, because this isn't a game. People's lives are being destroyed. If you're one of the TDCJ people, you're showing your true colors.

Anonymous said...

3:51,

If by the "current professional administration" you mean the leadership who has little to no juvenile justice experience, have a total disregard for the law, and have no understanding as to what the Family Code and the Human Resources Code are all about, you totally lost me on your logic. Fortunately, very few things in life are the "last chance." Otherwise all the youth in TYC would be damed by the "current professional administration's" total incompetance.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Howard, how do you feel about ex-employees being refused due process under the current leadership when they were fired? In other words, former employees that have had years of tenure with TYC and were fired when SB103 was signed by the gov, and now their property rights in their former jobs after years of service are not being acknowledged? I am interested in your input on this issue, if I am not being too intrusive.

Anonymous said...

Since Perry is the one who can solve the problem by appointing a new conservator who will get rid of the TDCJ team failing miserably at leading TYC, maybe what we can do is wage a barrage of e-mails on his office until he understands the total incompetence of the TDCJ team, and why the TYC team doesn't like them.

Anonymous said...

3:51 makes the exact same argument that TYC has made since the 1950s - that isolated remote facilities are better b/c the offenders' families and communities are part of the problem and can't possibly be included in the solution.

Here's the rub: many local communities DO provide parks & rec, "strong churches," and other aids. But they don't provide good social and MHMR services, and often not so good schooling, b/c citizens don't want to pay taxes for them. However, they're glad to pay taxes for "youth prisons" (I just love that this phrase is used without irony in Texas, where it would have been a source of intense embarrassment 30 years ago to even the toughest of the "get tough" TYC administrators).

These ass-backwards priorities in turn lead to the kind of incoherent cynicism expressed by 3:51.

BTW, the idea that lockdown facilities will "scare straight" juvie offenders is debunked by statistics. It is about as much a deterrent as the DP. Remember all the science showing that kids' brains haven't developed much in the areas that govern long-range planning and consequences?

Unfortunately, the so-called adults with power to make decisions seem to be suffering from the same problem.

BB

Anonymous said...

Bill,

While working at working at TYC I always wondered who was socializing who?

Whitsfoe said...

3:51 - anyone who has worked in this agency, or with any juvenile offender program, knows damn good and well you don't want these kids sitting around idle all day with no program. Kids may think they'd like your program because they can escape from the "accountability" stuff. They would love nothing more than to lay around all day, "chilling." They'd eventually get bored, then frustrated, and then they'll start the planning. You can imagine what comes next.

I was really taken back regarding your comments that these kids should be prepared to "give that ass up daily." I think you have some significant issues especially considering that sexual abuse got us in this mess. Your comments are dark and disturbing.

Anonymous said...

while i ponder my future as an ex tyc employee, their choice not mine. my thoughts are that tyc has no focus on leadership or treatment. they got rid of resocialization, (the treatment program), instituted pepper spray, got rid of anyone with treatment or juvenile experience, allow mike ward to refer to jcos as guards, allow employee morale to tank, allow staffing ratios to experience decline, bought uniforms, ignore the blue ribbon panel report, reappoint personnel as the winds blow, hire all their friends for the high paying jobs, and they do this in the name of leadership. sick, diseased, and destined to fail. etc. etc. my concern is about the future of juvenile justice as a whole. was the blue ribbon panel report a sham or some kind of smoke screen?

in a way i am kind of relieved that i am out of there.

how can they provide treatment if they are so understaffed? what professional or kind of person would want to work there? (especially when they have to transfer youth due to understaffing?) is there anyone that is listening to this problem?

I do propose one solution that could start now. first they have to show that they care about youth.

if they basically screw over employees as they have, ignore consstitutional laws as they have, and show favoritism as they have, then, people, they also will treat your son or daughter with the same set of values.

I propose that they show some caringness, kindness, and understanding. (and i don't think they will because these are the qualities that are needed at the top) but if they did, then these types of things would filter down as some core values of the agency.

oh i forgot, i believe that they are also redoing the mission.

one person in a leadership position did state one time, "let's face it, one of the things we are here to do is for punishment!"

if we had the right kind of values at the top, it would filter down.

however, i don't know if we can bail water fast enough to keep this ship from sinking.

three dog night

Anonymous said...

6:47,

I believe before I left TYC I had a list of 13 legal and constitutional problems with what was being done to longstanding TYC employees in the name of Kimbrough and SB 103. Like the sentenced offender problem, that was another issue the new General Counsel chose to ignore or got an attorney to write a questionable legal opinion on.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

6:47 says... Thanks Howard, you give guys like me the will to keep up the fight.

Anonymous said...

TYC used to be a good place to send those kids who had failed in community based programs. That is no longer the case. TYC is becoming more and more a mini-TDCJ. I, like many of my colleagues in TYC chose TYC over TDCJ precisely because inside TYC there was hope that we could save some young lives and turn them away from the sorry end to which they were headed. The key word here is "hope". The current administration is quickly bringing an end to the word, "hope", in TYC. Still, there are those of us who hold on, "hoping" that someone will wake up to what is going on, and what the real cost will be. Maybe we are fools. Old Salty