Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bexar County starting to plan for possible post-TYC future

The Bexar County Commissioners Court has begun to come to grips with what it would mean if the state of Texas were to "abolish" the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and shift responsibility for housing youth incarcerated from the county in county-owned facilities, reports Elizabeth Allen of the San Antonio Express News ("Commissioners' Chorus: Juvies's Comin'," April 23):
County Budget Officer David Smith said his staff's initial estimates showed the potential costs are "huge" - construction could be $74 million for a county facility (280 beds) and $111 million for a regional one (420 beds). Running the place could cost $16 million a year or $32 million a year respectively.

To put it in perspective, he reminded them that a penny on the tax rate generates about $8 million.
To be fair, I think his fellow senators have walked Chairman Whitmire back off the ledge a bit, and the discussion at the last public hearing on TYC focused more on "regional" TYC facilities instead of shifting responsibility to the counties wholesale.

That said, county officials in Bexar and elsewhere must recognize that the state has already shifted a great deal of new responsibility and cost their way, whether they're aware of it or not. Much attention was paid during session to a new law requiring counties to handle misdemeanants, but more importantly, another reaction to scandals last year was for the now-former executive director to change rules to dramatically shorten stays for TYC youth.

As a result, TYC's inmate population declined from around 4,500 when the West Texas sex scandal broke to about 2,300 now, estimated to decline below 2,000 or lower by year's end. Hundreds of such kids are already back in their home communities, and IMO not enough attention has been paid to their re-entry or adequately providing services to keep them on the right path and prevent recidivism.

Chairman Whitmire has insisted that whatever is done won't be an unfunded mandate, so it's good for Bexar and other counties to figure out up front what costs would be if they take on more of the serious juvenile justice cases. I hope, though, that local bureaucrats don't trump up ridiculously high numbers just to try to kill the proposal (e.g., I don't think anyone's talking about requiring Bexar to build its own lockup - I think that's a red herring).

Instead, juvenile probation departments should take this opportunity to assess their community treatment needs, P.O. salaries, juvie mental health services and other programming that's already being impacted by depopulating TYC by nearly 50% over the last year. There's a severe shortage of chemical dependency counselors, licensed sex offender treatment, and other services that are needed for both incarcerated youth and local community supervision.

To understand juvenile justice in the big picture, commissioners and others must recognize that counties already handle about 98% of juvenile offenders through the probation department and local detention centers. As such, perhaps this will be a chance to pay for long-needed infrastructure that can both service kids on probation and new kids coming back early from TYC.

No matter what, if counties are to have more responsibility, they need more control. I've thought it silly, especially now that the average length of stay in TYC is so much shorter (sometimes less than nine months), that juvenile probation and parole in most areas remain separate entities (probation controlled by local judges, parole controlled by TYC), even though both perform community supervision functions and deal with the same group of kids.

Some counties contract with TYC where the agency doesn't have its own parole division, and I actually think that's a better solution. That way, the same people would supervise the youth before they go to prison and when they get out. Nobody starts from scratch. The trick is, the state historically has underfunded such positions, and there'd need to be some mechanism to ensure the financial burden doesn't shift to the counties.

Finally, some discussion was given up front to opposition to new corrections infrastructure by NIMBY groups. As I've argued previously, the Legislature needs to do something to break this logjam, which is going to thwart many community corrections goals if they fail to act.

It's good for counties to begin planning ahead, and I commend Bexar for doing so, but there's no need yet for alarmist reactions. Instead, the debate over TYC's future during the next year will be a good chance for counties to evaluate what they need to do to improve local systems, which almost universally is something they need to do anyway.

34 comments:

whitsfoe said...

Look at you Grits, this time last year you admitted knowing very little about our agency. Now you're starting to sound like a vet. Impressive my man, very impressive.

Now, here's the question: are they all gonna believe this?

"Chairman Whitmire has insisted that whatever is done won't be an unfunded mandate????????"

Have they experienced the funding-getting robbed scheme yet? We have. Award TYC with millions and then take it back. I really hope it doesn't happen, but the reality is, it has. Look at our history with this issue.

But I'm still proud of you Henson.;)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"this time last year you admitted knowing very little about our agency"

Well, Whitsfoe, I've churned out about 300 posts and 175,000 words on the topic since then. If I hadn't learned anything by now, I'd have really been wasting my time! :)

Thanks, amigo!

Anonymous said...

I would like to chime in regarding the misdemeanors and staying in TYC 9 months or less.

Unfortunatly the most severe problematic youth in our care is the misdemeanors. This has always been the case and as of today still is. The majority of youth other than these stay 1 year to 2 years. These youth generally are more stable.

I am glad Bexar County and other Counties will be caring for these misdemeanors and hope they can provide the services they need, but honestly believe after a year if not sooner the judges will change their tune and send these same youth to TYC as VIO-B's.

This is based upon the historical behavior of these youth. I hope I am wrong but in all sincerty believe 2000 or better will be the number in TYC for some time. As of today the majority of youth that were pushed out back in January and February are coming back and some for pretty serious crimes (the majority general offenders- misdemeanors).

Anonymous said...

I've advocated for years that TYC needed to abolish parole and that local probation departments need to be responsible. Makes sense at all levels.

Cutting TYC from 4500 to 2400 beds has been too drastic, IMO. This decline has occured during a time when JPD referrals have been increasing as has the state population.

In the end, I'd like to see a system where TYC incarceratesonly the most violent kids and maybe severe emntal health cases. Also sexual predators. Local departments cannot economically develop and pay for these "specialized" kids. We can deal with most of the others.

Plato

Anonymous said...

The youth who have longer stays in TYC really are not any more stable, they just realize they have more to lose. The difference between the average misdemeanant, VOA, and DSO is probably largely a function of who got caught doing what.

I don't think you can get rid of TYC and agree it seems Whitmire is backing off.

Grits there is a shortage of every direct care staff position JCO, Caseworker, Program Administrators/specialists, psychologists. The agency does not pay enough. It is the written philosophy of the state that it will pay "below market value." When you are talking about productive, innovative treatment,with high stakes regarding treatment outcomes it seems you would want to attract the most qualified, not the least.

Hamhead said...

Well Plato, here they come. Talk to your Senator or House Rep. about your concerns because they're coming and the back gate has been now closed.

They (TYC parolees) are not ready. We know it, you know it, but Whitmire et.al see something different, and well, despite your pleas, building highways takes it's "toll" to justice in Texas as far as these few are concerned. They have yet to address the plan for delinquency prevention in Texas. Your vote counts, but unless someone stands tall amongst men, Whitmire runs this state. That’s just the way it is, unless you folks in his area vote him out. IMO, he is dangerous to all our well-being.

Anonymous said...

TYC is a lost cause. Whitmire is the only member of the Lege with the backbone to say it. Don't back off now Whitmire, you have it headed the right direction.

Anonymous said...

Grits, your point about parole and probation functions is an excellent one.

In the pre-TYC days, parole was more or less non-existent. Sometimes local juvenile courts might keep track of more serious cases, or they might take a personal interest in sympathetic cases.

I need to double-check my notes on this, but I'm fairly certain that TYC took on parole early in its existence, like the early 1950s. It divided the state into 4 regions and assigned a single parole officer to each one.

But then the lege began defunding TYC, causing it to scale back an already inadequate program. In the early 60s, TYC revived it, but devoted far less resources to parole than to expanding institutions. My sense is that parole was never much of a priority historically.

I think your idea would work especially well if TYC went to smaller, regional facilities. You would have TYC staffers working much more closely with county and city probation and parole depts, not to mention juvenile courts.

BB

Anonymous said...

There is no treatment in TYC, it has taken almost a year to get something going with Conextions, and it seems to still be in the planning stages. TYC is only warehousing kids. Is the lack of treatment for juveniles a civil rights issue? If not, it should be. It certainly goes against the Family Code and SB103. But then again, TYC has enforced and implemented the portions of SB103 that they want to, and scrapped the rest. How's that for spitting in the face of the Lege.

Anonymous said...

Most Chief JPOs don't want to deal with TYC parolees because they come back worse than when they were committed. The State would have to fund the extra positions for county probation departments to be able to supervise parolees, but I would imagine that there will be some resistance.

jaberwocki said...

Word of warning - small, rural counties are already being hit by serious economic woes - you don't want to know what the materials for seal coating roads and running equipment run this year. For those whose economy is based on agriculture, the chances of an increase in persons not paying their property taxes has seriously increased.

And you think that these commissioners are going to put serious effort into local rehabilitation efforts for juvies? By the time they are done, the lack of oversight at TYC will look mild. The pressure is already increasing on rural law enforcement to "create a felony" so that junior will be TYC eligible.

If Austin won't provide the money for the solution, don't just throw the problem at the rural areas.

Anonymous said...

11:04 - Of course many CJPO's are resistant to taking on the duties of parole. CJPO's are like most people, resistant to change in the model they are accustomed to. Then there's us worldly, big-picture, genius guys and gals who resist "the way we've always done it." IMO, counties take on parole as well as the prevention program now being half ass administered by DPRS.

(Worldly) Plato....lol

Anonymous said...

flush that commode. the turdyc stinks and my tax dollars are wasted at any tyc office or installation.

Anonymous said...

"Where are we at concerning this problem TYC Conservator?", The "Dialogue phase" was his answer and his number two (I do not recall her name), was collecting information and conducting a study of problems.

TYC's solutions to their problems was not well received at the 4-22-08 Finance Committee Hearing in Austin. I believe Bill Bush could have responded to the questions better than those two!He is on the outside looking in from a long distance.

I do believe you TYC employees need to prepare your resumes for TDCJ and UTMB Managed care if you want to continue employment with a state agency.I guess the teachers need to apply to the WSS.

Some committee members told Mr. N that they really believed the answer to their questions should be beyond establishing a "dialogue".

I overheard John Whitmire telling Brad Livingston (ED, TDCJ) words to the effect: " Be thankful we are working on TYC; by the next session it will be your turn again".

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

I dare say that the majority of incarcerated youth, regardless of what their actual "charge" is are in TYC because of a substance related issue. Just as with adult prison populations, the numbers are probably disproportionate.

When these kids are released (especially in my little panhandle town) they are forced to remain within their same peer groups and to my knowledge receive little or no substance abuse education or support.

Let's face it - we have addicted generations raising addicted kids. What do expect to really change in this scenario?

TYC has been a travesty for years. One of the boys in the big sex scandal is right here from my town. I have known others who have been sentenced to TYC, return home and go right back into the same behaviors but now as adults.

We are not addressing the underlying needs of these kids in the first place and then we wonder why they keep "screwing up"!

JJ said...

Grits - These big counties like Bexar County already have secure locked juvenile facilities. There are 32 registered secure juvenile facilities for long term residential placement now. (TJPC website).

There are two types of secure juvenile correctional facilities : Detention and post-adjudication. Detention is pre-adjudication and long term is well ..... post adjudication.

Some kids that end up in TYC have already been in these post adjudication facilities.

JJ said...

Plato -

Many juvenile probation departments already do parole for TYC. We get a whole $9.50 per day but we know the kids are being supervised better because we are here and some TYC parole officer coming out of Austin once a month ain't cuttin it.

The only places where parole isn't contracted out are in the big counties. I just looked at the TYC parole map and TYC only does parole in 29 counties... the rest are contracted out to local county juvenile baords or to Gulfcoast Trades Center.

Anonymous said...

As Bexar Cty plans for possible post-TYC future, they should make sure that they're hearing from their DA. Susan Reed's response to SB 103 is to certify more youth to the adult system. So, Bexar Cty won't have to bear many of the costs for incarcerating these youth according to Ms. Reed's plan -- she'll still be shoving people upstream to inadequate state-run correctional institutions!

Anonymous said...

11:41 hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

Bexar County needs to rethink the size of these proposed facilities. The 280 to 420 bed size creates unique problems which are some of the main reasons TYC had many of its problems. More beds in a facility may be cheaper to build but there is a significsnt loss in the ability to control the facility.

One should also note that Bexar County is projecting an operating cost of over $76,000 per bed, which I would bet does not cover education, which would be provided under current law by the school district in which the facility is located at no cost to the county government.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

All good points, Howard.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Howard's insights are brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Grits, How come no info on a TYC story that made both the DMN and Star-Telegram today?? They finally removed Lisa Cooke from McFadden Ranch!

Anonymous said...

I am slowly beginning to agree with Whitmire. TYC is the only place I have worked where rank and file employees are routinely more adept than the bosses.
The ones in Austin are particularly bad in that they constantly undermine the efforts of the folks in the field. Administrators are so bad that they would have no chance of being hired anywhere else at similar salaries. As a result they hold on to their jobs by hook and crook and are very protective of one another. Firing everyone and starting over again may be the only answer.

Anonymous said...

It is sinful I am sure, to fail to rebuke stupidity when stupidity presents itself. If unrebuked, stupidity mutates and grows wildly in all directions.
This is how it was explained to me. At WTSS in Pyote they needed to cut down on security referrals in order to look good on paper. So they give a prize to the staff of the dorm that has the fewest security referals.
Security referrals have fallen of sharply as a result. Has behavior improved? No, but it sure looks like it has on paper. The mentality is not to send a youth to security if it could result in missing out on a pizza or whatever the prize is.
Please, somebody tell me it aint so and I'll sleep a lot better.

Anonymous said...

10:32 You are correct, you win the big one if your dorm has the lest security refferrals. Kids are not better. Kids are out of control.

Anonymous said...

Fire the schmuck that came up with THAT idea. How stupid. What's their name???

Anonymous said...

While I think the idea of giving a staff a prize for lowest security referrals is a bad one I can understand administrative motivation to do so. I have worked at 4 different units over the years and can say universally that there are many youth that are inappropriately referred to security; or the paper work is so poor (does not show a clear pattern of behavior and intervention) that kids are bounced back and forth over and over again.

Some staff, teachers, and administrators will use security inappropriately.

Admin should provide better training, counseling, and mentoring to improve staff intervention skills and judgment rather than trying to give a "prize." This "idea" may result in students who really need to be in the security unit being kept on the dorm and causing greater problems and unrest.

Anonymous said...

4/24 10:32pm - What prize are staff at WTSS given for low security referrals? Low security referrals is only a part of the criteria for determining "Dorm of the Month" (along with a weekly dorm inspections). Staff's "prize" is getting to hang up the certificate for winning on the dorm. The youth (not the staff) get pizza. The purpose of 225's is to document youth behavior and apply "appropriate " sanctions for major and minor rule violations. It is not, nor has it ever been inteneded to be a tool for lazy, vindictive, inept staff to avoid having to work with the youth to correct behavior, for revenge or for showing that juvenile delinquent "who's boss". That, in my estimation is what is "sinful". Perhaps you should try listening a little bit more attentively when things are being explained so that you will have a better understanding of what is being said. Oh, the things we miss when we are constantly sighing heavily and rolling our eyes in righteous indignation.

Anonymous said...

4/26 10:12 am

you are correct that they should have not posted the negative things without the whole story. This is a privilege that the youth earn and it is a goal that they work towards. They have to have something to work towards, otherwise the kids who are there for a year wont even try till they are close to their time to go home and if people think this is not appropriate, then all the facilities are wrong. This is rewarding positive behavior and most of the kids did not even have any one prior to coming to TYC acknowledge accomplishments that they made. We need to start somewhere. If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to add them.

We know that they are here for committing crimes but we also know that they are kids and we need to help them learn better ways.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but that is too often the problem with TYC. Too many people assume... they listen rumors, half-truths, gossip, etc...

Anonymous said...

West Texas needs leadership, period!

This has been the issue for over 6 to 8 months, this is why we cannot keep staff. Why would anyone want to work for a person or persons who do not care about the little guy (JCO's).

The leadership in Austin know this but have failed to act. Only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

TYC ran pretty darn well before 1995, when we took the hard right turn to "corrections" mentality. All you power-trippers were delighted - now you are decrying your perceived loss of power. All you people who want to stick to the failed ways of TYC need to quit whining and move on. TDCJ is desperate for folks like you. Go, be happy!

Anonymous said...

Reduction in the committments to TYC will drastically impact the County Departments ability and funds to deliver services. The Counties need to starting looking at gearing up with sound contracts with community providers and increasing the salaries / staff of existing resources. The biggest problem faced by the Counties is a high turn over rate for experienced officers. Too maany are leaving for believe it or not better paying jobs with School Districts, go figure....