Right off the bat, in TYC's exceptional items (pdf) the agency proposes reducing staff size by 172 positions compared to the current budget, most of which can likely be accomplished through attrition. TYC also proposed pay raises for JCOs in its LAR, but not of sufficient magnitude to match what's been proposed in the adult system which currently has identical pay scales.
I was also glad to see the agency intends to continue requesting more funds for mental health services. According to the base budget request (pdf), after receiving a more than 200% increase in mental health services in 2009, from $1,143,556 to $3,513,862, TYC has requested another 20% bump to $4,536,707.
Indeed, IMO it would behoove the state to expand mental health spending across the board much earlier in the process. According to the Juvenile Probation Commission's LAR (p. 6 of the pdf), "According to TJPC data, approximately 26.5% of youth under supervision (19,567 youth) have a diagnosable mental health disorder These juveniles recidivate at a rate almost 50% higher than juveniles that are not mentally ill."
Juvenile probation budgets for mental health services are much smaller, though probation serves perhaps 97+% of juvenile offenders, not TYC. TJPC asked for a modest "increase of $6.5 million (over two years) to conduct mental health assessments, provide mental health services to youth referred to juvenile probation departments or placed in secure facilities." I'm glad to see it, but for my money even that figure should be increased - TYC's mental health services need and deserve the funding boost they've requested, but a truly coherent public policy would invest more heavily in juvie probation departments on the front end to keep kids out of a youth prisons in the first place. The same could be said for so-called alternative disciplinary systems in schools.
The biggest decision over the Youth Commission's next biennial budget will inevitably be what the Lege decides to do with the conservator's "regionalization plan." See the various options laid out here. The conservator and TYC administration favor Option 2, described as follows:
Construct 8 non-secure 24-bed Community Transitional Centers at $1.7 million per site:Inevitably this strategy will mean downsizing or shutting down some existing TYC facilities, but the use of smaller halfway house style units and the shift to smaller settings closer to the students families in and of itself is a good idea.
Acquire and renovate a secure 48-bed facility in Kerr County at an estimated cost of $6 million.
- Houston area (3 sites)
- Dallas area (1 site)
- Amarillo area (1 site)
- San Antonio area (1 site)
- Austin area (1 site)
- Tyler area(1 site)
Acquire and renovate a 48-bed facility in Terry County at an estimated cost of $4-6 million.
In addition to that proposed new capacity, TYC just approved a 2-year contract with a Florida based company, Youth Services International (YSI), for just over $17 million to lease 132 beds in Colorado County at an old TYC unit at Eagle Lake 65 miles from Houston. The recently re-opened unit was shut down after its own bout with sex abuse scandals several years ago after Colorado County DA "Ken Sparks got a 2005 conviction against a female worker for improper sexual conduct with an inmate at a contract boot camp in Eagle Lake. He said the woman, who performed oral sex on the youth, received a sentence of three years of deferred adjudication, meaning she served no prison time," the Houston Chronicle reported last year. The same company that received the contract to run Eagle Lake, YSI, operated the boot camp at the time.
The regionalization plan has already become a source of contentious debate. In order to implement anything besides option one, TYC would need permission from the Legislature to go outside the scope of its bond authority, which authorized only construction of one 150 bed unit in Harris County, not several new, smaller units. Of the four options proposed, I agree with the conservator number two makes the most sense. But because so much funding is involved, the choice is a political decision, not one the conservator can make on the way out the door and expect it to stick.
Those interested in these agency budgets should look through their LARs for yourself and let us know in the comments if you find any interesting tidbits.