When I talked to Sen. Whitmire last month about TYC, he was supportive of the new Eagle Lake facility because it would be closer to Houston and most units are out in the sticks, but that was before it became known that the state was paying to operate an empty prison. Upon learning that, reported the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward, Whitmire demanded the unit be closed: "This is what I asked for — cancel that contract," he said. "We need to get our money back. It's a good day for taxpayers and the Youth Commission that they corrected this big mistake."
After spending $1.26 million over three months on an empty juvenile prison in Eagle Lake, the Texas Youth Commission said today it is cancelling the controversial contract.
It’s unclear whether the agency will reclaim the money.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he had assurances from the TYC that all the money would be recovered from the prison operator, Youth Services International.
“I was told [by TYC Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend] that they’re going to reimburse the funds,” Mr. Whitmire said. “They know they weren’t delivering a service. If that company would like to be considered again, they’re returning all the money.”
But a TYC press release said only that the vendor has been asked to account for how much they’ve spent so far. The last two checks to the vendor have been canceled. ...
The point of the contract, agency officials said, was to do what state leaders had asked of them – to quickly get kids in facilities closer to their homes. But lawmakers said they never authorized paying generous start-up fees for prisons without any kids in them. And they questioned the value of opening a 119-bed facility when the TYC’s population was already declining.
Leasing the Eagle Lake facility was TYC's first significant step toward its regionalization plan, and canceling it leaves the agency in quite a muddle. This move makes clear that state leaders weren't fully on board with the direction conservator Richard Nedelkoff took the agency, but no clear direction has been given for how they do want TYC to operate now that a new Executive Commissioner's in charge.
I'm not sure how I feel about this development because opening the Eagle Facility only made sense if it was part of a more comprehensive regionalization plan - just adding it to TYC's present capacity wouldn't help anything, but it might if it were part of more sweeping changes that closed or radically downsized some of the larger, rural units and shifted to smaller facilities. However there's no consensus on what sweeping changes would look like (though Sen. Whitmire has some ideas). In the meantime, though, backtracking on Eagle Lake reinforces the impression of a directionless and floundering agency.