Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TYC deprioritized abuse allegations while media frenzy raged

The Texas Youth Commission Ombudsman's first ever report to the state's political leadership (pdf) of “particularly serious or flagrant” problems at the agency alleged that TYC had closed files on hundreds of allegations of staff-on-youth abuse without proper investigation. I've finally had a chance to look through the relevant documents, so here's my take what we've learned from this new report, at least in broad strokes:

The story begins in June 2007, when Governor Perry's "fixer" Jay Kimbrough left the TYC conservator's post for a cushier job at Texas A&M, and former TDCJ #2 man Ed Owens took over in his stead. At the time, I marveled that Governor Perry "appointed a man to run the agency for whom the state [in 2006] paid to settle allegations in a civil suit that he (and others) ignored sexual harassment complaints from subordinates at his old employer, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice."

By the time Owens ascended from interim executive director to conservator in June 2007, TYC and other agencies had established widely publicized hotlines to gather complaints of abuse, past and present, some of which turned out to be credible and spawned a flurry of mostly negative media attention about the agency throughout much of the year. Confounding the problem was a great deal of confusion and overstatement of aggregate data caused by uncoordinated systems that double-counted cases and made it difficult to track them internally.

It was at just this moment in July 2007, we learn in the Ombudsman's memo, that the Youth Rights Division was reorganized and "the number of Youth Care Investigators dropped from 21 to 8; a 62% decrease." Indeed, "two facilities did not have a Youth Care Investigator assigned at all."

So to summarize: The Governor brought in Ed Owens from TDCJ - a man for whom the state had previously paid a civil settlement over allegations he covered up sexual misconduct by a subordinate - who proceeded to slash the number of abuse investigators by 2/3 at a time when the volume of complaints was higher than ever. Though the Ombudsman's timeline is careful not to name names of individual decisionmakers, that sequence of events was the most astonishing revelation to me in the entire document.

However, the memo also raised additional, significant legal concerns. In an addendum to the original report, Assistant Ombudsman Kim Bennink wrote in an addendum (pdf) that "TYC is not in compliance at this time with the Evins [settlement] agreement" with the US Department of Justice because of the agency's inability/failure to document and track incidents of misconduct.

Bennink also raised "serious concerns about the agency's compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PERA given the apparent status of the AMI system." In PREA, Congress asserted under the Act's findings that "The Supreme Court ruled that the deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of sexual assault violates prisoners rights unde rthe Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eigth Amendment." I'm not sure whether slashing the number of investigators at a time when complaints were pouring in constitutes "deliberate indifference," but it's sure headed in that direction.

The good news is that many of these problems can and will be fixed going forward, though every delay risks the statute of limitations running out regarding some of the older cases. More than 500 cases will be revisited now by the Office of Inspector General, so ultimately the OIO report has identified - and the agency has agreed to implement - a way for TYC to work itself out of the dilemma created by lapsed investigations.

From a global perspective, I tend to agree with House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden who told me last week that while he thought the Ombudsman's findings were significant, the situation now seemed to be under control. He considered this not nearly as critical as the special education shortcomings identified in a comprehensive OIO analysis released this summer, and on the whole I'd have to agree.

The decision to slash the number of investigators while the number of complaints was booming was made by specific agency leaders who are now gone. There's not much left to do in that regard but pick up the pieces - one more unhappy task awaiting the new Executive Director.

Here are the full, related materials from the OIO:

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the real-world consequences of these findings will be to spur civil lawsuits against TYC by inmates and their families.

Wouldn't surprise me if Owens personally were named in some of those lawsuits either, given his obvious culpability.

Another steaming gift left over from the reign of the TDCJ transplants.

BB

Anonymous said...

And big Ed has gone on to bigger and better things as an executive for a private prison firm that does business with the State of Texas. Of course, he has nothing to do with Texas contracts (at least officially.)

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Madden needs to answer the question as to why after 19 months TYC seems to be in worse shape than when the "Reform" began. The new Conservator needs to answer why after ten months on the job AMI reports are in this condition and why is TYC not in compliance with the federal court order that they signed. If I were the federal judge, I would sure haul in the conservator to explain the ombudsman's report.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

You should add a paragraph to indicate Ed Owens was never an active conservator as he was hardly ever there. Not to say he's not to blame. But all of these decisions were really made by, none other than, Demiteria Pope. And I sure as hell hope someones points that out tomorrow to, well, you know who sitting as a co-chair on the Joint Committee on the Management of the Texas Youth Commission. Eh-hem...

Erika said...

Are any of these officials going to be convicted and charged with any type of felony or misdemeanor charge in the near future?? I believe that there were so many wrongful indictments handed down and some of the best staff lost their jobs and pensions behind all of this b.s. that these investigators made up. 99% of these investigations turned up nothing and was dismissed in a court of law. However, that does nothing for the staff that lost their job and pension in the mean time. We definately needs some answers and FAST!!

Anonymous said...

Not to get off topic, but we lost another Superintendent today, and I wish someone could please explain why she left. I have my opinions but have not confirmed these as of yet.

Anonymous said...

And so Bill, what are your thoughts of Whitmire wanting to start a "wing" inside TDCJ to house these juvenile offenders?

Do you think he's just blowing hot air or do you think he really wants to do that? Does anyone know for sure what his grand idea is?

Charlie Tuna

Anonymous said...

We heard about that 6:12 p.m. That really didn't go over to well, and I would bet more will follow if it doesn't change.

My bet is that she's sick and tired of being abused by James Smith. That man is a throw back to the Dwight Harris days. You can't tell him a thing as he won't listen, and he's driving the agency back in the wrong direction. I really don't think Superintendents should be cursed at and threatened with their jobs all the time. We lost our female juvenile offender Superintendent today, and well that's not good news at all.

Anonymous said...

6:12 and 6:24:
We have lost a loyal and dedicated person that has demonstrated professionalism throughout her career in TYC even prior to being a Superintendent. I wish her the best. She will be missed. She definitely was here for the kids and made a difference in many lives.

Anonymous said...

Charlie,

If that's true, it's an awful idea. And not the first Texas pol to suggest it, either.

BB

Anonymous said...

Since you're saying female Supt., was it Theresa Stroud?

Anonymous said...

Which superintendent quit?

Anonymous said...

Back to the original post. Actually, the cut was to 7 YCIs and 3 institutions were left without- West Texas, Victory Field and Al Price. (Actually, because one YCI quit in disgust, there were only 6 covering the whole state for several months.) Those institutions had to be covered by the remaining YCIs. One YCI had to cover Brownwood, Victory Field and, temporarilly, Gainesville.

Additionally, the person appointed to supervise all the YCIs made the decision that the YCIs should investigate even those cases that were already assigned to Law Enforcement.

Anonymous said...

Stroud quit today, something to do with being cursed at being treated fairly.

I'm sure we will have a Maryland transplant soon or Georgia, was this not the intent from the start. Maybe our new ED can look into this and form her own opinion as to why a 12 year veteran would just up an quit.

Anonymous said...

Right, 7:52, and I think I know why. In our area, the local law enforcement resisted sharing information from his investigations with TYC. The most he would do was a one- or two-sentence memo. So, the YCIs were instructed to conduct investigations as if they were the only ones on the case. If so many allegations were never investigated, this is the sort of non-coordination that probably contributed to it.

I was administrative support at that time, and often I had to provide the same evidence (video, photographs, medical reports, statements, incident reports, personal data on the youth and staff, etc., etc.) to four different entities. It was a waste of time and money.

Punk the Gorilla named James said...

Man that's bullshit and I'm pissed if that's true. Why Teressa? Was she forced out? That's completely f'ing outrageous. Man, that's just not right. Someone needs to call her back in and find out what the heck happened because there is NO ONE in this state or this COUNTRY that could address those females like she could. Get real James the 600 pound gorilla. Outsiders that think you can strike that balance. You're not. It's starting to become personal now.

Outrageous is only a word but it doesn't quit encompass what I really think about this development. Folks this is absolute bullshit if you really want to know the truth. And because of some James Smith? Does this dude think he founded something here?

Oh man... You all can replace him but you can't replace her. Is it their intent to destroy TYC? Keep it up... you'll get there.

Good luck Teressa. But those of us hanging back wished you'd re-think it all. Bronco Billy may have messed with you, but don't let a James da' Gorilla take that stage. He has a zoo keeper in Georgia calling his name... "Come here Bullshit, you can do it. Just come here. Get the F'out of Texas."

Anonymous said...

Teresa is smart, but I can't figure ouy what took her so long to get out. People, read the writing on the wall, no matter how dedicated and committed you are to helping the youth in TYC, you will not make a difference as long as the jack-ass politicians keep their thumb on the Agency. Run for the hills. Run for your life...

Anonymous said...

If Cherie Townsted doesn't make an immediate impact with 180 days, this agency will fold.

And those of you who have an interest in juvenile justice in Texas, call your friends in district 15 and raise hell because this is classic vintage Whitmire tactics.

District 15 doesn't cover the state, and thus neither does ELMER FUDD.

He may have run his way with Demitirus Pope, and kept it quiet, but we all heard his bullshit.

I'm waiting on my Senator - Senator Og... to stand up to the bullshit.

Anonymous said...

I don't know who made her believe she had to leave the agency or why she left the agency but it had nothing to do with the gloom and doom forecasters of the impending implosion.

She enjoyed working with the youth and had a great relationship with us on campus, then over the past few months you could tell by her demeanor that something changed all of this. This is also when all these new directives regarding use of force came about.

Anonymous said...

Charlie and Bill,
Whitmire has always wanted to do away with TYC. Go back into the archives about 12 years. He was complaining back then that TYC was too expensive compared to TDCJ. Those outrageous 96 bed open-bay dorms were his brainchild. TDCJ had 'em, and were able to guard all those inmates with one guard per pod, so why couldn't TYC? Of course, he totally ignored the fact that TDCJ used those "dorms" as privilege dorms for trustees, not as warehouses for teenagers.

Whitmire's now famous comment from last session; "If they don't do what you tell 'em, spray 'em!" tells alot about his mindset. Progressive guy, this Whitmire!

Anonymous said...

History has repeated itself and will continue to do until someone will take a stand and do what is right. Hopefully Cherie can be that person but . . . Ms. Stroud leaving is just one more example of good people, who did their job and did it well leaving to do something else. She was not forced out unless you call constant harrassment, constant threats about her keeping her job, and being treated like an animal as being forced out. No person should have had to take all the daily crap she put up with. What is ironic is that it was not from her staff or the youth but from the people who were suppose to be supporting and leading her. It is truly sad that the agency is continuing to lose the people who can actually do their job and perhaps get things back on track. Not much left for those still with the agency maybe prayer!

Anonymous said...

So, Ms. Stroud didn't know about Lynda Smith all these years?

Anonymous said...

How very sad! The corruption in Texas has no end. Thank Heavens Jerry Madden is in there and still swinging.

Anonymous said...

5:03,

Who's Lynda Smith & what is there for Theresa to know about her?

Anonymous said...

What 5:03 is saying is:
If you were part of the old system you are not welcome in the new...

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to see Ms Stroud leave. She was always a courageous, upbeat person with a very high degree of integrity. I have heard from people who were in daily contact with her, that over the past month, her demeanor had changed significantly. Add her to the list of casualties that includes Don Brantley, Pat Logerterman, et al. Best to you, Theresa!

Anonymous said...

When Theresa Westmoreland Stroud was at the Al Price unit before leaving for Brownwood, there was obviously a reason why she left. Theresa and Mr. Jerome Parsee (later arrested for lying to authorities) were the acting administrators for Al Price until we got a new asst. superintendent and superintendent in place. She lied back then to on investigations she had NO clue about and was ready to terminate staff--for what??? That was all a big joke when it was received by Austin and later dismissed. Many hard working staff almost lost their jobs and pensions behind her and Parsee's b.s while at the Al Price Unit. So Adios and Good Riddens to ya!!! Hit the road JACK!

Anonymous said...

8:57 - you must have been one of those many staff at Al Price who are only working there because you can't get a job anywhere else. Too bad, there are some very good folks working there, but far too many of you have no worthy work ethic. Many of you have no business being around kids.

Anonymous said...

Since when do you lose your pension when you are fired?

Anonymous said...

"Bronco Billy may have messed with you, but don't let a James da' Gorilla take that stage. He has a zoo keeper in Georgia calling his name... "Come here Bullshit, you can do it. Just come here. Get the F'out of Texas."

9:15pm-I can understand not liking somebody but referring to the man as James da' Gorilla sounds a lot on the racial side. I can understand standing up for a superintendent but by saying that "its starting to become personal now" you sound like you're becoming Postal. Why would her quitting be personal to you? Sounds fishy to me that she'd quit a couple of days before the new ED arrives. The only people who run when the police arrive to help are the GUILTY ones. Why would she run knowing help will be there within a couple of days. Because someone cursed at her? Cursing in a correctional facility? I am shocked!

If you were in fact replacing the "monkey" slur with your "gorilla" slur, then by all means "punk da gorilla named James" by saying it to him not us.

Otherwise, I do believe this string is about deprioritized abuse allegations.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the timing of her departure had anything to do with the arrival of the new E.D. That accusation might fly if she were leaving without future employment but that is not the case. Her departure will be a huge loss for the agency and her girls will miss her.

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