Friday, July 25, 2008

Reform commission urges abolition of California youth prisons, shifting juvie justice to counties

Earlier this year Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire urged "abolishing" the Texas Youth Commission and moving most juvenile justice functions to the counties. His proposal enjoyed a mixed reception, largely because the political will seems lacking to pay for adequately beefing up capacity at the counties.

So I was particularly interested to see that in California, the "Little Hoover" commission this week endorsed exactly that approach - essentially abolishing California's juvie prisons and forcing counties to carry the entire load. California already moved all but 1,500 or so juvenile offenders back to the counties in response to a court decree in 2007. (See the report.) From the commission's letter to the Governor:
In shifting responsibility to the counties for hundreds of California’s youth offenders, the state recognized that its juvenile justice system cannot be reformed without radical change.

Though prompted by cost concerns, the realignment of responsibilities to the counties was the right policy move, one previously recommended by this Commission and others. Many counties have demonstrated that they can provide programs and treatment to youth offenders who need to turn their lives around in settings that allow them to reintegrate more successfully into their communities.

Once realignment is complete, the number of youth offenders in state hands will shrink to fewer than 1,500. The annual cost of providing services to each ward, however, next year will rise to $252,000. This startling figure reflects the overhead expenses of a system built to serve a far larger population, the cost of reforms required under a court-supervised consent decree and the complex needs of these seriously troubled youth. Californians may fairly ask what they are getting for this outlay and whether other strategies can better deliver public safety and youth rehabilitation. The state has made slow, yet undeniable, progress. Still, advocates for youth offenders, frustrated by the pace of reform, have asked a court to place the juvenile justice system in receivership.

Whatever the court’s decision, the state’s costs per ward likely will increase as juvenile programming and treatment services are expanded and its crumbling facilities continue to age. The state’s master plan for renovating or replacing its juvenile facilities, promised to legislators, is long overdue. The delay may mean that the cost of bringing California’s facilities in line with current programming requirements or replacing them is unaffordable, particularly in light of the current budget deficit.

The prospect of ever-higher outlays for an ever-smaller juvenile population in state custody should prompt policy-makers to extend realignment to completion. The Commission recommends that the state begin planning now to ultimately eliminate its juvenile justice operations and create regional rehabilitative facilities for high-risk, high-need offenders to be leased to and run by the counties.
California is using block grants to counties to enforce use of best practices via contract, in much the same way the Texas Legislature made new money available to adult probation departments through grants that must be used for progressive sanctions and diversion tactics. That's worked surprisingly well in Texas, with a few notable exceptions. But in neither state are counties prepared to take on the offenders currently housed in state lockups. According to the Little Hoover report:
County probation departments are in no position to immediately take on the remaining serious, violent and older youth offender population, as they are still adjusting to the abrupt implementation of the 2007 realignment legislation as well as the uncertainty of state funding given California’s estimated $15 billion deficit for 2008-09.12 Counties could, however, take on this responsibility, given time and resources to plan, develop and contract for programs; adequate time to establish regionally based facilities; and, given a dedicated source of money to pay for these programs and facilities.
The commission suggested that, with assistance, counties could be prepared to take over all incarceration duties for juveniles by 2011.

Texas faces a similar problem to California in terms of its skyrocketing cost per youth, though California's costs are so high ($250,000 per year per kid) they sound like a caricature. The last I heard, TYC's cost per youth had risen to around $60-65K per year. By reducing the number of youth but slightly increasing the amount of overhead (because of new oversight), Texas like California has seen its cost per kid soar since TYC entered conservatorship, a fact which Sen. Whitmire and others have cited as a reason to get rid of the agency entirely.

If Texas is serious about heading down this road, we should all be paying attention to California's experiment. They're already shifting juvie justice responsibilities downstream to the counties and where they find trouble, there's a good chance Texas will run into some, too.

See related coverage from AP and the Sacramento Bee, via Sentencing Law & Policy.


Anonymous said...

I for one do not see the counties taking on this responsibility any time soon. California had many more problems than Texas and all one has to do is look at the figures you provided for State institution and I too would want these youth out of the system. But is cost the deciding factor, I would think so in California's case.

Smaller facilities are still the answer but our elected leaders continue to talk a good game but lack any substance.

Anonymous said...

Sorry ... really don't want to run the juvenile justice system like California... they have done alot of things wrong over there and still do. We have already made substantial changes to the system. TYC committments are already way down. Need to allow for a little time and then come back in and evaluate.

Anonymous said...

Not sure about this, Grits, even though as you know I support the move to smaller regional facilities.

My question is about oversight.

Even in CA, once court supervision ends, who is responsible for ensuring the counties live up a set of standards - and who is in charge of re-evaluating those standards regularly as they will change over time?

Let's say a version of this happens in TX, as Sen Whitmire has suggested.

In lieu of TYC or a similar agency, who takes on oversight functions? This is esp key in large states like CA and TX, where you easily wind up with wildly differing quality of programs across counties.

They haven't thought this through enough yet, IMO.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

There are many factors that make the county take over of juvenile incarcerations very problematic. Various types of treatment providers (such as sex offender, juvenile psychiatrists, etc.) do not exist in sufficient numbers even for a centralized system, much less so for multiple county facilities. School districts will not be pleased when they will have to provide educational services to county facilities with nothing more than Foundation School monies. As noted by Bill oversight is a big problem, the current county facilities have very little oversight, not to mention that they do not come close to meeting TYC standards for treatment or educational services. The real bottom line is that California's new system may be cheaper in overall expenditures but the standards of treatment and education will not be on par at the county level with anything but a third world country.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

I think we should just keep our current course and watch how California does it. It's much more realistic to compare California and Texas than Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana and Florida to Texas. If it's not cost prohibitive, then consider it. But my guess is using that approach will require substantial funding, and well, we all know how those guys on the hill feel about funding for juvenile justice.

Bill I think oversight can occur through reallocating resources to regions and having a smaller Centralized function, because you're right, there will be inconsistencies if it's not monitored. And we saw what a lack of monitoring resulted in the Coke County debacle.

Anonymous said...

I believe California has a slight budget problem and I know the youthful offenders out there continue to do as they please.

California has thrown more money at their juvenile justice problems (and adult system also) than Texas; that is not the solution!

We need to establish community supervision and treatment programs with some teeth. We have people in Texas that can do just that; all it takes is more funding and less "meddling" from the Lege. Sooooo, How do we make that happen Scott, Bill, Howard, Plato, Old Salty, and the rest of you contributors?

Wouldn't it be great if this problem had the funding of the TTC (Trans Texas Highway system)?

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Keep your existing facilities and drop the youth populations to ensure proper staffing ratio's.

Buy or build smaller 40 bed facilities outside of Houston, Dallas, Austin, etc, for intensive treatment for youth with a specialized need their last 3 to 6 months prior to moving onto parole.

Open more trade centers for those youth that need a trade and know they are not going to a four year college.

Stop bringing staff from other states into leadership positions who talk a good game but little substance.

Prior to 1995 TYC did not have staffing issues, do your research and you will find that the "Get Bigger and Meaner" approach was derived by our elected officials. The same ones sitting around today scratching their Butts.

Anonymous said...

Prior to the "get tough of juvenile crime" push in the mid-90's, TYC did not have staffing problems. The facilities were smaller, turn-over was low, and there was a waiting list for jobs at most facilities.

There was a problem, however, with recidivism. Resocialization was meant to address that problem. Resocialization was over-all a good concept, but the correctional therapy component was far too complicated. It was dependent on "Core groups" which required highly-skilled group leaders. The training component for these group leaders was the real weak link. Bear in mind that most Master's Degree programs in Psych or Counseling have only minimal training, if any, in group therapy skills.

Any way, I agree that shrinking existing facilities, and building smaller pre-release facilities near the major urban centers makes good sense.

We have already begun to see an increase in the number of youth being sent as determinate sentence offenders, so those kids can be sent back to the court for transfer to TDCJ-ID if they don't want to take advantage of what TYC has to offer. If this becomes the norm, it could ameliorate a lot of the need for highly "correctional" programs within TYC.

I agree with those who say we need more vocational training programs for these youth. Youth who have left TYC with strong vocational skills have a much lower recidivism rate than those who did not have such training.

There is a problem, however; the lege does not want to spend much money on delinquent youth. That, in fact, is the main problem.
Old Salty

Anonymous said...

FYI. Texas has 8 counties with a population of over 500,000 and 88 counties with a population of under 10,000. California has 15 counties with a population of over 500,000 and only 3 counties with a population of under 10,000.

Anonymous said...


You have made VERY good suggestions. I don't know who you are, but TYC would do well to listen to what you've said.

Anonymous said...

Old Salty, you talk a pretty good game. Too bad that you're work productivity is so poor, and all you have really ever done is talk. Put some action behind them words, and you may make a fairly decent state employee someday. Oh wait, you're already talking about retiring. Guess its too late. Maybe you could mentor some of us young people at Crockett that actually do the work to be able to talk the talk before you go?

Anonymous said...

Old Salty, help me remember...Why did you get knocked down from a PA to a caseworker?

Anonymous said...

Please grow up Tracey

Anonymous said...

Retired, with respect, I always grimace at admonitions against "throwing money at the problem" when underfunding has been such a consistent historical feature of juvenile justice.

This much overused expression puts forth the impression that adequate funding is a thoughtless exercise.

I know this is not your intended meaning, just wanted to make that point.



Anonymous said...

Well, I agree in abolishing TYC because reform doesn't seem to come. My concern is, as a worker of TYC, the kids really do not get any portion of that money without stress and strain. I know for fact that there are some kids in TYC that the courts ordered to pay child support and yet the kids can't even get toothpaste or soap. Then to purchase the things off of commissary is the equivalence of going to the dollar store and the clerk charges you 10.00 per item and the item is only .5 oz and mixed with water. Every unit operates different, for savings that could be done...noone is willing to implement. The attorneys for TYC are all but overpaid idiots and the kids are still suffering. Get rid of TYC. However, my other concern is that the counties have issues as well. Some counties are notorious for operating with ill-will...such as Harris County, Collin County and I am to the position that race as alot to play into it. So, if there is to be reform, then by common sense let the legislature police the counties and put into play some real safe guards for the youth. Adults get bonds...let the kids have bonds. And for judges that the people want to question...let there be some drop box so the Texas Rangers can police them ahead of time before 20-30 years of faulty incarceration happens and the people are paying the debt for that. TYC is a waste or time and money and there is no change. I work there, I know.

Anonymous said...

7/26/2008 11:18:00 AM

You are joking right? Simply because someone is a DSO does not mean that the court did the right thing. As a media person I followed and covered one story of a DSO in TYC and his punishment does not fit nor meet the story of his incarceration. Then this same county, one that has many currently revealed issues, along with TYC continued to delay this youth inorder to inflict some punishment that is unfounded. I would not entrust a county, nor judge, to rightful place these kids in TYC let alone sentence them correctly as DSO's. Its a ploy for money and politics. Then you very stupidily say...send them to TDCJ?! TYC has revealed issues of holding these kids way past their minimums, false statements and means to keep them incarcerated so do you honestly think these yahoos in the county and TYC can function any better. Whitmire needs to push hard and strong to close TYC.

Anonymous said...

I for one agree that it is time to close TYC. After 18 months of so call "fixes" TYC is in worse shape today than in the past. The biggest accomplishment completed during the reform period is the salary increases that have taken place in CO.

The conservator missed the opportunity to make meaningful changes following "Pope's Debacle." TYC continues to struggle with high employee turnover and a very low morale. The kids are not receiving the treatment that they so desparetely need and nothing is being done. Whitmire for once in my life I agree with you, take this agency to its final resting place. There's no need to continue wasting money on this sinking ship.

Anonymous said...

I have always enjoyed listening (reading) what you folks have to say about closing.

This mentality comes from one who never tried nor was ever willing to to fight the good fight.

It has always been easy for these "Types" to turn and run away. I am sure when your supervisor walks up to you your pants suddenly becomes wet based upon your utter fear of confrontation.

I am sure your no longer employed nor have ever been employed with TYC. And if you have your losing mentality is not needed.

Anonymous said...

To 7:03 and 7:10:

7:03 says "So, if there is to be reform, then by common sense let the legislature police the counties and put into play some real safe guards"

Look what the ledge has done so far with their hands in the pie. My gosh, since SB103 went into effect, it has sufficiently tied the hands of JCO's and caseworkers. The kids know they can disrupt any activity EVERY HOUR on the HOUR and still go home on their minimum. Now THE KIDS are running the show, they know it, and managements hands are tied. There is nothing they can do. I see it every day. This is what happens when the Ledge gets involved. Ivory tower. How sad.

Anonymous said...

We continue to hear it from the same few people (probably terminated ex-employees). Close TYC. Now that's funny.

Who in the hell do you people think will deal with these unruly kids? If the counties will do such a wonderful job, then why in the hell didn't they when those kids were there? They couldn't handle them then nor now. Do you really think the counties are going to trust the ledge to appropriately fund them in this endeavor? Are you that stupid? Hell, the ledge never funded TYC, what makes you think the counties will fare better? I can tell you right now that the counties want no part of this shit. They're frustrated over the misdemeanors because they don't know what to do with them. And to think, they'd have to deal with every TYC commitment? We'll probably hear from them if this ever had enough steam to make it a reality.

Anonymous said...

I have a different take on the whole issue. I am wondering whether it pays for the state to have a large juvenile justice program at all, whether at the state or county level. The costs of running such programs for large numbers of youngster is extremely high, and the outcomes not very hopeful. From the plethora of information published during the past year by the newspapers and researchers, it appears that states with large, centralized, correctional-style juvenile programs have similar outcome rates--at least 50% recidivism and perhaps even approaching 100%, when you take into consideration failure rates in education,relapse to severe substance abuse, and morbiidity and mortality from street violence along with criminal recidivism. In many ways it is a situation like the public education system. Historically, the schools have done a wonderful job in educating immigrants, poor children, and others. However, now they also have an increasing failure rate as they try to work with increasing number of disadvantaged minority students. Everything they try seems to fail from "No Child Left Behind" to sports, movies, or whatever. The problem is that unlike past generations many of the children schools have the job of educating today are so unruly and so uninterested in whatever schools have to offer that it is in many ways like trying to train a tiger or other animals best left in the wild to live in your home. This is the same problem with many of the kids in the juvenile justice system--their anti-social life styles are basically set by what they've been taught in the past and their lack of literacy and other skills needed for success in a conventional society. Among this group are some who are remediable in juvenile court, educaitonal and mental health programs. I suggest we make greater efforts to identify those who can be helped, and not attempt to provide expensive programs for the others who who it has been shown time and again cannot be helped. What I am proposing is lowering the age for leaving school for students chronic discipline and poor motivation for learning problems, and lower the age for entrance into the adult correctional system for juvenile offenders who would not clearly benefit from rehabilitative programs. As things now stand, incorrigle and uneducable students clog the public school and incorrigible offenders clog the juvenile justice sytem, costing taxpayers enoromously, without having capacity to benefit, and ultimately ending up in the adult system anyhow. As many public school and juvenile justice programs now stand, the ones most likely to benefit are the staff who collect salaries and benefits for years-and-years without being able to affect change in their charges. Stop this horrendous waste of public money!

Anonymous said...

Point well taken Bill. Funding will never be sufficient due to the "nature of the beast".

I would like to see the lege earmark the funds,Require the agency to report back how the funds were spent (in a timely manner), and to take swift action when the funds were not expended as appropriated. Control the funding and you ( in theory) control the agency.

Being responsible for a multi-million dollar state budget for years, I know how the system works, and it certainly isn't efficient! Remember every two years (or less in some cases), agency priorities change due to the political process.

Could the county due a better job with proper funding? In some cases, "Yes". Look at your county probation department (CSCD); how are they doing? If TYC is given to the counties they may be funded in the same manner.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

9:31, Well said and you told the truth that most of us do not want to hear,especially about education and rehab.
9:31 said,
The problem is that unlike past generations many of the children schools have the job of educating today are so unruly and so uninterested in whatever schools have to offer that it is in many ways like trying to train a tiger or other animals best left in the wild to live in your home. This is the same problem with many of the kids in the juvenile justice system--their anti-social life styles are basically set by what they've been taught in the past and their lack of literacy and other skills needed for success in a conventional society

Anonymous said...

I just want to escape TYC. I think placing this agency in conservatorship was probably the worst thing to happen to this agency. That dumbass Senator Whitmire didn't seem to have a problem when his "Pope" was the head, now he wants to abolish that agency. Politics are like taxes: they suck but are real.

The real problem Texas must face is centered in Harris County, and his name is John Whitmire. So why don't you Houstonians do us a favor and rid yourselves of this idiot?

I mean, Harris County sends more people to TYC and to death row than any other county in Texas. Doesn't it seem a bit ironic that John Whitmire wants all these bad ass kids walking amongst his constituents? Go Figure.

Anonymous said...

To 8:20,
I think it is fair to say that TYC no longer has a chance to recover from all the recent problems and mismanagement that has taken place. So why not try something new and stop wasting money on this broken system.

Obviously, you are still stuck in that useless agency. Well, you only have yourself to blame. Please spare me the "smoke screens" when you talk about who is going to care for the kids. It is not like you care. Your only concern is that you are too sorry to get a meaningful job and yet you still want to continue getting pay for doing nothing.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that after over a year I read the same ignorant crap about lowering the age of responsibility and suggesting these kids can't be helped. Unbelievable.

It makes me crazy. You want to send a 15 or 16 year old to prison on a 5 and 10 year sentence? They get out when they are 21 to 26 years old! Then what? That sounds like a brilliant plan to me 9:31.

I am sorry but no one ever really tried to HELP these kids before they came to TYC, they were just thrown into a system and monitored. To actually help these kids you would have to get out into the community and help the entire family and shoot, Texas just does not have that kind of mentality. Lets just continue to hover near the worst of states on issues like incarceration, mental health, education, poverty, only feels to comfortable, people don't like change.

I have said it before and will say it again, research clearly shows that long term/intensive treatment programs are effective in working with "youth who can't be helped."
TYC has their own program which demonstrates that. Programs in other states have also demonstrate success (reducing recidivism for violent offenses) with the most difficult and violent youth offenders.

AND the costs of not trying to help these kids outweighs the cost of a commitment to TYC.

Back to post...I think California had a whole different situation going on than here in Texas. I do think Texas needs to focus on intervention/programming with youth on the probation side of things, this in and of itself would reduce the number of youth sent to TYC. I think having smaller regional facilities, with some larger ones for management purposes would be an improvement. The demographics of Texas are much different than California, i would find the complete shifting to the counties to likely be unrealistic. California is only doing what they are doing because of money. Programming will not be better, it will only be worse.

Anonymous said...

"grammer" errors?

Anonymous said...

Unlike most of the posters, I don't need others to speak for me and I don't need to hide behind the anonymous label. I've never been accused of hiding my opinions or suggestions - ha. I was surprised, having left the site for a number of months, to read my name again (or still). Too many posters have made this a place for gossip and useless complaints. Wish you could put all of that negative energy into finding solutions.

I do not have a negative opinion of Old Salty and agree with the posters who suggested his knowledge and experience could have prevented some of the toruble TYC is in, if someone had listened.

To all the hardworking staff, hang in there. The right people and policies can make TYC an effective program. Don't listen to all the negativity - some people just can't move on and never want to see good things for other people.

T. Wagner

Anonymous said...

Ms. Wagner

Hard for me to take you seriously as any real source for change in TYC since you represent what has been wrong with TYC. For example, that was you caught on video tape slapping, choking, and threatening a youth on video tape in fall of 2002. Seems to me you and your former bosses got off pretty light. I was and amazed that you have made it this long in the agency.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that Central Office HR, Legal, and the Alleged Mistreatment Executive Review Committee approved all the disciplinary actions that any alleged perpetrators received in the Agency at that time. If in fact this case was investigated and confirmed, then Central Office should be in the ones you are pointing the finger towards. How can you pin the blame on her "former bosses". If in fact Ms. Wagner did do this, I can assure you that there are alot more heinous things that happened during that time period and since where the Executive Administration turned their heads and did nothing and many of them are still in positions of power in TYC. You sound like a bitter ex-employee that Ms. Wagner had to hold accountable to do your job, and now you are taking a cheap shot because you can't do anything else. Get over yourself.

Anonymous said...

Actually I'm neither bitter nor former employee...just a person who finds it hard to believe that she is still working with youth. Guess I don't consider her the "right people" to be an instrument for change or to run and "effective program." Maybe throttling a youth with her hands was some new form of aversive therapy she learned in her graduate program. I have been amazed at TYC's inconsistency in discipline over the years.

Anonymous said...

Also, just because she may have not engage in the same level of egregious behavior doesn't mean she get a pass on her behavior. Trust me, I am well aware that her behavior paled in comparison to some of her fellow employees. Fact is she was a licensed professional...and she of all people should have known better. Perhaps, they didn't teach ethics in her program.