I have to say, if the rumor's true, at this point it's hard to blame Judge Meurer for passing up TYC. Without significant resources and enough clout to reverse many bad decisions and hires from the last nine months, the job would be an endlessly ungratifying headache. (Maybe they'll ask Michael Griffiths next - they really need to find somebody with real-world juvie experience, and give them enough power to fix things.)
The biggest problem facing the TYC administration and any future commissioner is the system-wide understaffing crisis, the gravity of which is highlighted in a story today coming out of the Ron Jackson unit in Brownwood.
Sixteen juvenile correctional officers resigned from the STAR unit at Brownwood, supposedly over disputed overtime. But once the overtime question was resolved, none of the 16 agreed to return to the STAR team, which makes me think their concerns were more substantive than media reports let on. Reported AP:
Their departure last week leaves 10 members on the STAR team at the Ron Jackson Unit in Brownwood. If a disturbance or other emergency occurs, off-duty corrections officers or law enforcement agencies will be called, [TYC spokesman Jim] Hurley said.A couple of questions about this immediately come to mind: First, Hurley is wrong to downplay the Brownwood STAR team losing 60% of its members at a whack. If this begins a trend, it spells trouble. Hurley said the agency just needs to "replenish the ranks," but the whole agency is understaffed, so that's much easier said than done.
Also, outside law enforcement agencies aren't trained to deal with TYC youth, and off-duty correctional officers may not have received necessary training to participate in the STAR team.
In any event, relying on off-duty employees or outside agencies to respond to emergencies lengthens the potential time a crisis must be left swirling at the facility before the STAR team can get there, worsening safety for youth and staff on the ground.
(UPDATE/CORRECTION: Contrary to the AP report, all 16 Brownwood STAR team officers in question have re-applied for their jobs, but have not been reinstated because TYC CO insists they re-submit to testing and PT. See the comments for more detail.)
If TYC cannot reverse understaffing trends, it won't be long - perhaps sometime next year - before the only option left will be to bring in the National Guard or state police to keep staffing levels at statutorily mandated 12-1 ratios. Already caseworkers are serving as guards, necessarily shortchanging their regular duties. The fact that the agency is now cannibalizing unfilled positions to pay for overtime shows the Legislature simply did not budget enough money to increase staffing to mandated levels.
At some point, pay needs to be increased - if a dangerous job guarding criminal youth pays comparable wages to the WalMart, who wouldn't choose to work at WalMart? But more importantly, the agency's employment culture must improve to reverse mounting losses among critical workers. The current management crew can't accomplish that, IMO, so I'm glad to hear Gov. Perry's people are out beating the bushes for better leadership. It'd be a great Christmas gift for TYC employees if they could get a new boss before the holiday along with their belated overtime checks.