Contrary to promises for reform, the Texas Youth Commission has stepped up its policy of isolating unruly offenders in solitary cells for days or weeks at a time, sometimes violating its own rules in doing so, the agency's independent watchdog said.What's known as "administrative segregation" or ad-seg in adult prisons at TYC is referred to euphemistically as the "Behavioral Management Program," or BMP. As I described the process after visiting the TYC unit in Giddings at Thanksgiving:
In a scathing depiction of life inside the troubled agency, TYC's ombudsman Will Harrell said the agency has embraced the use of isolation as a form of punishment, turning two prisons into de facto segregation camps where hard-to-manage youths languish in individual cells up to 23 hours a day.
"They're taking policies from (the adult prison) and applying them to TYC," Harrell said. "It is straight-up isolation for the sake of punishment."
"You can put kids in isolation to separate them from other youth or from staff for safety reasons, but you can't just leave them there," he said. "And don't lessen their programming. You enhance it. You address the issue that's driving the kids to be disruptive."
Harrell identified the two lockups as Unit I and II of the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart, east of Waco. He said the increased reliance on solitary confinement was happening in units throughout the state, often without the required due process hearings and without the required individualized treatment plans and intensive treatment services.
Agency records obtained by the Houston Chronicle indicate that the number of inmates in isolation has been steadily creeping upward since August, from 52 then to 82 now.
Kids "on BMP" are in solitary confinement. They live in what amounts to a dungeon, in small individual cells secured by thick metal doors with a slot at knee level for passing through food trays. It's known as a "Behavior Management Program" because supposedly kids earn their way out of solitary through improved behavior, at first being allowed to spend pockets of time with other kids, then slowly being integrated back into the general population. Six kids at Giddings (out of a total of approximately 450) were on BMP when we visited.Blue Ribbon panel member and national youth corrections expert Barry Krisberg told the Chronicle that best practices dictate against keeping kids in isolation for weeks at a time. "Nothing good happens when you isolate youth. These are youth that are already having trouble communicating," Krisberg told the Chronicle.
I've not gotten a copy of Harrell's report, yet, but I'll post it here when I do. UPDATE: Here's a copy of the memo.