Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ombudsman: TYC overusing solitary confinement

A report from TYC Ombudsman Will Harrell claims the agency is overusing solitary confinement to handle unruly behavior, reports Lisa Sandberg at the Houston Chronicle this morning ("Watchdog: TYC isolating youth offenders," Jan. 16):
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.

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.

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:
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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Will! Many of us have been waiting on this to explode into the MSM. It's about time.

This is nothing more than another instance of importing the adult system and forcing it inappropriately onto a youth population.

But since none of the TDCJ imports making the decisions have ANY juvenile experience, unfortunately, it isn't surprising.

The only surprising thing is that they have been able to get away with their short-sighted policies.

Anonymous said...

I'm a psychologist and have written many successful individualized behavior management programs over the years. I have never written one that called for seclusion for 23 hours a day and removal of all programming.

That is simply warehousing. Much closer to the adult prison model than to a juvenile rehabilitative model.

Oh wait, rehabilitation is a dirty word at the "new" TYC.

We know some of the short term consequences of the new regime's actions- increased misbehavior, riots, severe understaffing, chronic lack of training, fiscal mismanagement, etc.

The long term consequences are even more devastating. What's going to happen when youth who could have been rehabilitated and gone on to lead productive lives go out commit unspeakable crimes?

There are many lives affected by each youth in the TYC system.

Unfortunately, the Pope and her cronies will be long gone before that bill comes due.

rage said...

For those of you who want to know what you're up against when advocating reform v. punishment at TYC and hoping voters will be on your side any time soon, take a look at the comments below the Chronicle article.

Anonymous said...

Rage is sure right on this one!

Anonymous said...

Parents are encouraged to avoid physical punishment of children. If you hit a child these days, you can go to prison.

Children are encouraged to resolve their disagreements without physical fights. Youth can go to TYC if they fight.

As a people, we're working hard to become "nice". The government must also work hard to be "nice" and set the right example. What message is the State of Texas sending? It goes something like this:

"You have to be nice but we don't!" There is something terribly wrong here and is isn't the behavior of the citezens!

Anonymous said...

It is good that this issue is being brought up. I believe concerns about youth not meeting the criteria for solitary confinement was brought before by an facility administrator at which time he was sent home by the Superintendent then transferred to another facility. Hopefully someone will see that more people are involved with not following policy besides bronco. It goes up the organization chart farther than him.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of which, is JB still at VFCA? Did he ever get a response to his grievance(s)?

Anonymous said...

O.K. here we go again. People again giving out opinions like having a degree just make you a expert on this subject. With your doctors degree, or your PHD or you B.S. does not make you a authority on this subject,have ever worked in a instituton?I didnt think so.I have a degree in B.S. as well but probably not the same as many of you. Just what are we teaching the youth at this time? How do we get these youth ready to be released back into the public? And what kind of morals are we teaching these youth. We the staff that actually work for TYC hope that we can change just one youths life and that makes it worth comming to work again the next day.Let me tell you something it cannot be for the pay check. To be spit upon, cussed out, assualted or have accusations from the youth against you. All for the grand total of starting pay of around $23,000 a year. Fill free to apply if this hugh amount of money catches your fancy. The youth at this time go to school each day, but you do not have to do any work if you do not want to, I do not know about many of you but here in the free world are kids are expected to attend and do their work in their school classes. On some of the campuses students are allowed to grow full beards, have hair as long as they like, and have their clothing sagging. At this time many staff are afraid to do their jobs because of retalliation from the youth. All it takes is for the youth to file a grievence on a staff and that staff is sent home. What does this do to the staff and their family's wondering if you will have a job. And at this time there is no penality for a youth to pay for filing a false report. In the free it sure does, don't believe me just file one with your local law enforcement and see if they slap your wrist for it. These youth ended up in TYC because they had their day in court and were found guilty of a crime. Many of these youth have been in front of a judge up to 15 times before they were committed to TYC. Many have committed crimes that would make you lose sleep at night if you knew why they were here. If we owe it to nobody else we owe it to the victims of these crimes to hold the youth accountable for these crimes. Many of these youth are very likeable young adults, but I maintain that everyone answers to someone and they answer to you the people of the state of Texas.Say what you may but I will bet that you would not want these youth out playing with your children. We need to make a change in their lives so that when they are released they become an important part of your community.

Anonymous said...

Grits,

There are a number of different security admissions to TYC security besides a BMP. Under what used to be TYC policy, there were requirements for education and other program requirements that were to be put into a treatment plan for the BMP. Throwing youth into a locked security cell 23 hours a day without a due process hearing and without a treatment plan is not a BMP and is outside written policy.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Howard knowing this should the responsibility fall upon those Administrators at the local level that allowed this and the Regional Directors that were in place for oversight?

I also know that Humphrey allowed this to take place but anyone with ethics should have known better and at least raised their concerns. If they did not are they not alos at fault?

Anonymous said...

5:10
Some people sacrifice years of their lives and are in debt up to their ears with student loans in order to get their education to be able to help these youth in the best way they can.

if you are so unhappy then find yourself a better paying job or at least quit bitching about yours.

Anonymous said...

7:13,

The last time I looked, it was generally believed that one is responsible for one's subordinates and that means that one takes corrective action. Unfortunately, there is little indication that will happen in this situation or Harrell would not have had to go public.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight, the Superintendents and Assistants at the local level allowed this to happen and then the Regional Director allowed this to happen. I was under the impression that TYC was suppose to take care of these issues with oversight. This does not rise to the level of the Ray Brookins scandal but it still falls within control measures to ensure issues like this do not happen.
What control measure were in place, did any of the above mentioned positions raise concerns that this was illegal? I believe JB raised concerns and was sent to Vernon. I have serious issues with this, I can also see since Humphrey is gone all the above will say he made me do it. Well that just does not cut it, you should have stood up and voiced your concerns. We need a full investigation into all of this and let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

One year later and TYC is a bigger mess than it was in January of 2007. So much for the swift action of the Texas Legislature and the Governor to correct all the problems at TYC. TYC is so filled with people appointed and promoted for all the wrong reasons it will continue to self destruct. TYC is fast approaching the end of the trail. The cancer has spread all through the agency and there is no hope of recovery.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there's hope. They should start by removing Pope. Doing this will lift the of the employees spirits and can possibly help them refocus on lifting TYC out of this mess.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it is finally being addressed! This has been going on for a while!!! Not only are youth being housed in security for days or weeks, they are not being visited by there caseworkers on a daily basis like they should.

Staff find sending youth to security as a way to get them off the dorm so they won't have to deal with them. These youth are not being giving due process. Youth should be given any intervention possible to help them correct their negative behavior to keep them on the dorm so they can successfully complete the TYC program.

I blame all this on poorly trained staff. Staff are not being properly trained to deal with these youth. Get real, how many have you been through the training? It's a joke, especially with trainers like WTSS has! SB 103 states that staff are required to have 300 hours of training, well staff need capable trainers and supervisors that know how to correctly train staff.

But then again, how can you have all that when you have Superintendents that are more concerned with the cleaniness of a facility instead of dealing with the real issues of staff shortages and poorly trained staff.

Anonymous said...

Let's make sure that it is really happening before we get all worked up. Being from Mart, I have never ever seen this happen. Simmons is very ethical and I believe that this was another rumor rather than fact.

Anonymous said...

Simmons ethical? Maybe, but certainly not the brightest bulb in the box. I have heard him tell CO visitors that he tells the kids to "sleep" and he'll promise to release them. Between his wanting them to sleep, and Dementia's wanting them to learn to brush their teeth, we'll have no problems with lack of recidivism, will we?

Anonymous said...

Is Simmons the same buffoon that did such a poor job at the Hamilton unit that it had to be closed?

Anonymous said...

Once again 7:36 you missed the boat again. Your reply sounds very profesional. Glad that you can find a reason for your being in dept. Hope that is not why you would take a job at TYC. It is suppose to be about the youth right. I have 8 years invested how about yourself.

Anonymous said...

There is no doubt in my mind that the BMPs have been overused. There is also no doubt in my mind that the BMP is not being used as it was designed; that is, it is not being used as a treatment program. It is being used as a TDCJ-styled ad-seg program. The BMP, if used as it was designed, is a good program. It is not being used as designed. Old Salty

spearshaker said...

Salty: not sure we will have phases come sunrise, but my recollection of the original BMP was TREATMENT to get a kid to function at Phase 1 expectations; i.e. follow reasonable rules, don't hit your peers (or staff). A kid who poses no threat to peers (or staff) belongs on the dorm with his group, the place he was supposed to learn to be a social animal (as in not vegetable or mineral) capable of interacting, learning alternative behaviors and maybe even passing on what they have learned. To be effective, BMP's (or any TYC treatment) should not be seen as punitive by the student (and staff); it should be with the expectation of learning, specifically that the child is responsible for his behavior AND the consequences. To be effective, treatment requires accomplishment, not a set number of months for time served.

Anonymous said...

7:38,
Many professional staff in TYC have the ability to make significantly more money working almost anywhere other than TYC...Of course it is about the kids.

Anonymous said...

WANT TO TURN TYC AROUND ? BRING BACK THE FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR BEFORE DWIGHT HARRIS. WHEN WE MADE A DIFFRENCE IN KIDS LIVES. I KNOW I WAS THERE FOR MANY YEARS.STEVE ROBINSON KNEW THAT YOU HAVE TO HAVE CONTROL FIRST !! THEN YOU CAN HAVE ALL THE THERAPEUTIC PROGRAMS THAT WORKED. THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING. LOOK AT THE STATS BEFORE DWIGHT, WORKMANS COMP CLAIMS, ALLEGED MISTREATMENT ISSUES, USES OF FORCE, RECIDIVISM.ON AND ON. I SPOKE OUT TIME AND AGAIN, AND BECAUSE I DID MY FACILITY WAS CLOSED !!! THIS GOES ALL THE WAY TO THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE AND IS A CRYING SHAME.

Anonymous said...

Spearshaker, you have it exactly right. There has been precious little treatment going on with the BMPs over the past 4 years. It got exponentially worse under the TDCJrs. Old Salty