This story confirms my intuition that "abolishing" youth prisons entirely will be a difficult proposition, and I'm glad to see folks talking about the real costs of treating these kids in community-based settings. I think that's a good idea, but not if it's being done so you can slash the amount of resources spent toward their care and rehabilitation.
Although no hard numbers have been shared, Whitmire told the Chronicle the state could spend about half as much money as the current system by keeping all but the most violent youth in their local communities.
Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, a member of the House Corrections Committee, has an opposite view on the cost. Decentralizing, by its nature, would be more expensive because the agency currently is able to cut down on costs by consolidating specialized services at certain TYC units, he said.
“Asking each county to individually do this, frankly, can’t be the most efficient way to do this,” Dunnam said. “Our goal at TYC is to rehabilitate the youth, not to just house and punish them. To do that requires services specific to that juvenile offender.”
Bobby Campos, director of McLennan County’s juvenile justice center, said abolishing TYC would be a “knee-jerk reaction” to the sexual abuse scandal and cover-up that racked the agency last year. He said TYC’s specialized services are key to treating offenders who often suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues.
“We really need institutions and qualified and professional experts to deal with these kids,” he said. “There are not many services for kids that have mental health issues (at the county level).”
For offenders housed at county juvenile centers, the cost of contracting for such services can be exorbitantly expensive, Campos said. He cited the example of a single offender who cannot be sent to TYC because he has not committed a felony that has cost McLennan County more than $125,000 for various contracted treatment programs. ...
Dunnam said state leaders missed a huge opportunity last year when the public was demanding a series of reforms to the beleaguered agency. Lawmakers will have another chance during the sunset review, but abolishing the agency is not the solution, he said.
“I guess it sounds strong and bold to say we are going to abolish the agency,” Dunnam said. “But we aren’t going to abolish the kids, so the problem is not going to be abolished.”
Sen. Whitmire has cited TYC's $110,000 per child cost as evidence that the agency is wasting money. I already knew that number was somewhat artificially inflated because the agency received 98% of its previous biennium's budget, then cut the number of juvenile inmates nearly in half under the previous executive director. But the McLennan probation director's experience with the costs of community placement shows that the state can likely expect to spend more money, not less, to implement a community based strategy.
I'm fine with that, and even think it's a superior approach from the perspective of reduced recidivism and public safety. But I hope proponents of TYC's "abolition" don't continue to undersell the costs of doing what they propose.