Monday, September 15, 2008

TYC commitments to grow dramatically despite declining juvie crime

Having analyzed on Saturday the Legislative Budget Board's incarceration projections for the adult prison system, let's take a look at LBB's projections regarding youth crime and incarceration in their five year population estimate (pdf) which is used to set agency budgets.

Regular readers know that in 2007 the Legislature took steps aimed at reducing inmate populations at the Texas Youth Commission, including shifting 19-20 year olds to TDCJ and refusing to take misdemeanants at state youth prisons. The population drop can be seen most dramatically in the number of releases. TYC released 4,375 inmates during fiscal year 2007, up from 3,554 in fy 2006. By comparison, the number of new inmates entering TYC decreased from 3,462 in fy 2006 to 2,994 in fy 2007 and an estimated 2,090 in 2008 (based on the monthly rate for the first seven months). LBB predicts the new level of intakes will hold steady at 2,090 over the next five years.

Those declines mainly represent implementation of a new law disallowing judges from sending misdemeanants to TYC, reduced lengths of stay, and reduced numbers from a handful of counties that essentially quit sending kids to the agency. Indeed, the reduced numbers allowed TYC to meet minimum staffing requirements for the first time in years.

On its face, TYC's reduced inmate population seems like it might be sustainable, particularly given that juvie crime is declining: "Texas juvenile arrest rate decreased between calendar years 2005 and 2006 (1.3 percent) following a decrease between calendar years 2004 and 2005 (8.3 percent)." Not only are arrests down, says LBB, Texas' overall juvie population is growing at a slower rate than in the past.

Even so, TYC's reduced inmate population will be shortlived unless more is done to reform the system. Today TYC operates at 6.5% below maximum capacity, and will slightly exceed max capacity in fy 2009, says LBB. But it's what happens after that which made me sit up and take notice. LBB predicts TYC's inmate population will resume fairly rapid growth in the near term, rising to 13.5% above apacity by 2010 and shooting up to 23.3% above capacity in 2012.

So the situation is this: Juvie crime is declining but total commitments to TYC will increase by about a quarter over the next four years as the agency's inmate population creeps back up toward their previous, higher levels. By contrast, LBB projects the increase in Texas' juvie probation population will be de minimus over the same period, with the number of juvie probationers overall expanding just .03% annually.

These data have significant implications for proposed TYC reforms. For starters, those like Sen. John Whitmire proposing the agency's abolition will be chagrined to see projections indicating a greater dependence on youth prisons going forward, not less of one.

That said, the adult system predicted massive overcrowding just a couple of years ago, and as discussed Saturday. reforms implemented by Sen. Whitmire and his colleagues staved off that increase for the foreseeable future by expanding treatment and diversion programs. They could do the same for TYC, but according to these data, changes implemented in 2007 failed to resolve the agency's crowding problems long term.


Cicero Lost said...

What do they look at to predict prison growth? Does it take into account new legislation, population growth? It would seem past growth would be a poor indicator?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

A whole range of factors, actually. It's quite a multidisciplinary process. It's basically an actuarial model that tracks rates of direct court commitments, probation and parole revocations, release decisions, and other sources of intake and outgo and tally it up.

They also tallied data for the first seven months in the new fiscal year as a best guess as to the effects of any new laws passed (which in TYC's case was significant).

You're right it's difficult to predict, but LBB takes a credible stab at it, IMO, and they update the estimates every six months which helps them adjust relatively quickly when short-term spikes mess with the data.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I'm not sure what to make of this report. Their predictive model is so vaguely presented here that I have no basis on which to evaluate their figures.

I'm especially skeptical of their predictions for recommitments. Isn't this contingent, to some degree, on what type of program TYC offers in the next few years? What if those local jurisdictions regain confidence in TYC and start sending new commitments? Or, conversely, what if more locals lose confidence?

I'm also skeptical b/c of past instances when predictions like this were made, in the 1950s and 1990s, that turned out to be wrong.

In short, I wish they had given us more of the scaffolding to go with the painting...:)

Bill Bush

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bill, what's strange about the vague predictive model is that on the adult side their methodology section was much more detailed and gave more of the underlying data on which the estimate was based. I don't know why the juvie numbers aren't backed up as well.

Anonymous said...

The main reason that the juvenile numbers are not backed up as well as the adult numbers is that the legislature is still playing with what they want TYC to be. Those numbers will be adjusted as we approach Sine Die next year. The LBB is a political body and is acting as such in these projections. As you may remember, the legislature eliminated the non-political entity that gave projections on correctional populations the Session before last.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Howard, if you're correct then we need to ask what _political_ purpose is served by predicting a substantial increase in the juvie offender population.

Given the current impetus, at least publicly, to shift responsibility back to the counties I'm not sure I see it clearly.


Anonymous said...

You have got to marvel at things which don't seem to work out quite the way the brilliant politicians want them to. How is it that the population numbers will grow? I suggest it is because of the reform...

While the inability to commit misdemeneants will result in fewer youth, juvenile courts will feel forced to start being more strict with prosecution, tending not to plea bargain the felony offenses down to misdemeanors. Ultimately youth will have more significant offenses on the record which indicates a greater level of risk for reoffending and will lead to longer lengths of stay/periods of confinement. So TYC will have fewer youth but they will be in population longer leading to
"population growth."

And as has already been blogged, more youth are being transferred to the adult system where they will be at even greater risk for recidivism.

Sounds like great reform to me.

Anonymous said...

9:03, I tend to agree with your points here, and you aren't the first to state them.

Here's a query: did the SB barring judges from sending misdemeanants to TYC come with any increased funds for local juvie programs for first-time and less serious offenders? My guess would be "no."

I recall that Grits blogged about this problem some time ago, and wrote a report about it, and gave a talk about it to local JJ professionals. (It's 2AM and I"m sitting up with an infant so my mind's a little fuzzy).

I think 9:03 presents an entirely plausible analysis for the predictive model in this report.

We dance around and around every time the rubber meets the road. It all boils down to resources, and the political will of the legislature to provide them.

Either fund better programs within TYC, or increase support for local jurisdictions (and add some kind of oversight mechanism for those local programs).

Or, don't be surprised when researchers start predicting a new rise in offenders. The whole frikkin' point of JJ is to prevent youth, especially first-timers and less serious offenders, from embarking on a criminal career.

Merely keeping youth out of TYC's clutches won't accomplish that.


Anonymous said...

BB - yes, local departments received funding to offset the ban on misdemeanants. In our mid-sized county, (250,000) we received $150K for outside placements and another $90K for "innovative community based programs."

The money came from the amounts the legislature saved by decreasing the TYC population by about 35-40%.

Counties can place kids in residential programs for $100 to $120 per day. 'Course you know the cost per day per student at TYC is at least a third higher if not more.

If we want to keep the TYC population between 2000 and 2500, these programs need to be expanded based on the economics. Most all counties I am aware of do not have the vast bureaucracies to pay for.


Anonymous said...

Plato, thanks, and I'd add that at least in theory, a greater investment at the county level should do more than maintain the existing level of TYC population - in the long term, it should bring about some level of decrease.

Which, again, begs the question about the LBB's prediction model.


Anonymous said...


The money juvenile probation departments received is not the result of any savings in the TYC budget. The TYC appropriation increased from last biennium to this biennium, only in DC would that be considered a budgetary savings.


As to population increases listed by the LBB, I believe those are understated numbers. The real bottomline costs are going to be understated but the legislative excuse for the underfunding is going to be that we appropriated based on the estimates we were given. This would pressure the localities to cover more because TYC would not have adequate resources and the localities would face spending more or returning the delinquent youth to the streets.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

You know what, why should the rest of Texas pay for Harris County's mismanagement of juvenile delinquents?

Anonymous said...

excellent question. Why don't the counties pay TYC for rehabilitating their youth?

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