Thursday, October 02, 2008

What do you mean "Abolish TYC"? A conversation with John Whitmire

We've seen several bouts of news coverage this year in which Houston Sen. John Whitmire openly proposed "abolishing" the Texas Youth Commission and moving its functions to the counties (possibly along the lines of what's being proposed in California). Today in the Houston Chronicle, columnist Lisa Falkenberg again raises this specter ("Situation still murky at TYC," Oct. 2):
Toward the end of the hearing, new TYC Executive Director Cherie Townsend reported for her first day on the job, telling lawmakers she was ready to work hard on reforms but that she wasn't "a magician or a miracle worker."

At this point, maybe that's about all that could save TYC. Whitmire told me Wednesday he's ready to abolish it, go back to the drawing board and completely remodel the place, maybe merge it with another agency.

After all the scandal, all the reform, all the new blood, it's inexcusable that the agency spends hours in a bureaucratic fight rather than tackling real issues affecting troubled youth.

All the while, as the number of offenders within the agency has dropped by half in the past year to about the size of my high school in Seguin — about 2,200 inmates — its bureaucracy has become bloated and administrators' salaries have increased.

Maybe it's time to face the fact that rehab isn't working for TYC. This may be one agency that can't be reformed.

We've seen such statements often enough now for me to become frustrated with the combination of sweeping, profound and unresolved implications coupled with a complete lack of specific detail about what such a transformation might look like. So I called up Sen. Whitmire at his Houston district office to get some answers straight from the horse's mouth, and we had a good chat.

Bottom line: Given how close we are to session and how improbably the stars would have to align to make his vision happen, even Sen. Whitmire granted that "abolishing" TYC likely couldn't happen next session, although he held out hope, he said, that the Sunset Advisory Commission report might recommend changes in that direction. He said the Sunset bill would be the obvious vehicle for any radical transformations to the agency.

Even so, Whitmire currently has no written proposal, not even a set of bullet points, for what transforming TYC might look like - no draft set of principles, to hand around to garner support. "It's all up here in my head," said the Senate Dean, though he insisted his ideas had been well received among the county officials and juvenile court judges with whom he'd discussed them.

The closest thing to a concrete, written plan, he told me, came a couple of months ago when there were serious, behind the scenes discussions at the highest levels, including the Governor's office, over whether TYC should simply be merged into the Juvenile Probation Commission. These meetings never got beyond the discussion phase, said Whitmire, because state attorneys determined the merger would require legislative action and couldn't simply be done by gubernatorial fiat, even during a conservatorship.

For the record, to assuage fears oft repeated by TYC employee commenters, Whitmire agreed that it would be a "mistake" to merge TYC with TDCJ, and said that possibly putting it under the Juvenile Probation Commission's control was the only serious proposal on the table. Even if TYC didn't exist as an agency, though, he said there would still be a need for state facilities like the one in Giddings to house the most serious, violent offenders.

Otherwise, said the senator, TYC facilities should be located closer to urban centers with better access to services necessary for taking care of the kids and staffing rehabilitation programs. He spoke approvingly of TYC re-opening a new privately-run facility at Eagle Lake in Colorado County near Houston. He also was gratified that the new regionalization plan proposed by TYC was "adopting some of my ideas."

At a minimum, Whitmire would like to see several rural TYC facilities closed - especially Victory Field, Crockett and the smaller West Texas units, with one main West Texas facility left to serve that region. He's particularly unhappy at the overreliance on rural facilities because he thinks it will "never" be possible to provide them adequate health care, mental health or rehabilitation services. There's simply no pool of professionals to draw on and no incentive for quality people to move there, he said, and he thinks UTMB's "telemedicine" system where inmates are examined by video isn't getting the job done.

Most of Whitmire's ideas sound good when he describes them, and his intentions are noble, not nihilistic - he thinks busting up the existing structure and radically changing how juvenile justice operates is the only way to actually shift toward a "Missouri-model" approach, and maybe he's right. But the devil is always in the details, so as previously I'll continue to reserve judgment until seeing what's actually proposed.

I've got a nagging fear the Senator may be a surprised to learn that shifting TYC youth to counties will probably cost more than the current set-up, despite what he portrays as a bloated central office bureaucracy at TYC. That's because of reduced economies of scale and increased reliance on private vendors in a market where there are few available private beds. Plus, as TYC learned with the Coke County debacle, even when you privatize operations, the state still must pay for staffing to provide aggressive oversight or be liable for their failings.

As an aside, though the senator and I didn't discuss it, one thing I'd like to see shifted entirely to counties, no matter what, are TYC's parole functions. Some counties already contract to perform them and it only makes sense to have the same folks supervising youth before and after they get out to maximize continuity and seamlessness of transition from a facility to community supervision.

In all, it sounded like Sen. Whitmire would like to move more radically toward decentralizing the juvenile justice system and shifting the maximum amount of control and responsibility to the counties, but his fallback position, to me, doesn't sound dramatically different from the direction the conservator's "regionalization" plan would take the agency.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

"At a minimum, Whitmire would like to see several rural TYC facilities closed - especially Victory Field, Crockett and the smaller West Texas units, with one main West Texas facility left to serve that region."

Once again, when it comes down to it, they need something out here, we're already here, and it just doesn't make sense to shut it down, no matter how much they hate us.

diogenes said...

Whitmire admits that his plan exists only in his head? We are definately FUBAR now if he really means that. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." I learned that way back when I was in Scouts.

I noticed Whitmire is still talking out of both sides of his mouth: send the youths to units close to their home to be near their families ("regionalization"), but close all the facilities in western Texas except for one. Crockett & Victory Field aren't all that far away from civilization so the unavailablity of services excuse is a crock. If you want services, you gotta pay for them, even in Houston. Heck, if they'd pay competitively, we would have problems with service availability no matter where you put the facility.

diogenes said...

oops, I mean we wouldn't have problems getting services if competitive pay were offered.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I read this interview with a mixture of relief and bewilderment. Thanks for posting it.

BB

Anonymous said...

Grits, did he mean Crockett or Corsicana? I ask, because every time there is a lege meeting Whitmire always brings up Corsicana and how horrible it is. He did it again this past Wednesday. I was surprised to read Crockett and not hear of him bashing Corsicana with you.

I agree with him, TYC has so much still wrong, starting over might be best, who knows.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

He mentioned Corsicana, too, now that you ask, 4:45. Both Crockett and Corsicana were among the facilities he thinks the Lege should consider closing.

For whatever reason that bit didn't make it into my notes and thus the original post, but he definitely mentioned it, repeating the assessment by a consultant last year that Corsicana facilities are inappropriate for the mental health cases they serve.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering my question. I know that if the Lege decides that the budget needs to be cut 10% that Corsicana will be closed. In listening to Needlekoff the last time they met on budget it sounded as it was a done deal. Who knows what will take place when they go to session.

It is just a shame that so many people who work for tyc do not know what their fate is going to be in the coming year.

Anonymous said...

So the bottom line is that Senator Whitmire has no plan and is merely grandstanding for headlines when he says TYC is going to be abolished. Isn't that grand design the reason TYC is so screwed up?

Anonymous said...

Elmer's at it again.

No plan, no ideas and politicratic doublespeak.

Too bad he won't be voted oout of office for all of the incompetence he's demonstrated over the last six years.

whitsfoe said...

I'm with Bill on that one....whew. But he did mention something about a wing of TDCJ.

That's pretty cool that he'd allow the interview with you Grits. Impressive. I wonder if he reads these comments? Heck I wouldn't if I were him with a guy like me running loose! Just kidding. I don't dislike him as much as I did then, so I need a new name.

Actually, Whitmire was somewhat tame yesterday. And I actually liked what he said in your interview. It makes some sense, so I have to give him that much.

Anonymous said...

"After all the scandal, all the reform, all the new blood, it's inexcusable that the agency spends hours in a bureaucratic fight rather than tackling real issues affecting troubled youth.

All the while, as the number of offenders within the agency has dropped by half in the past year to about the size of my high school in Seguin — about 2,200 inmates — its bureaucracy has become bloated and administrators' salaries have increased.

Maybe it's time to face the fact that rehab isn't working for TYC. This may be one agency that can't be reformed."

Having gone through all the "reforms" and having more than two functioning brain cells, I completely understand why TYC is worse off today than when all this started. No one -- NO ONE -- had a plan other than to cover their asses.

Everyone was finger-printed for a criminal background check. Who knows how many thousands of dollars was spent on that and I doubt if TYC learned anything they didn't already know. Wasted money -- whatever they may have learned was not worth the expense.

Everyone who had been arrested and convicted of a crime were terminated. As I recall, most, if not all, were hired because someone in upper management made the decision to overlook the conviction. Some of those terminated had walked the straight and narrow for 10, 20, 30 years. They had done what we want the TYC youth to do -- they changed their lives and became productive citizens and roll models.

When you look at all the changes in practice, how many of those were documented in the GAP? Programs were radically changed or abolished, but they are still in the GAP. What was changed in the GAP? The employer/employee relationship so that upper management could terminate employees quicker.

TYC got plenty of new blood. Each had his or her plan to fix TYC, but which ones stayed around long enough to make a positive difference? Some were so quick to fix TYC that they didn't even bother to see if what they wanted to do was legal (but when you are the Pope, you make your own rules). There were so many changes in direction it could make you dizzy.

All of this new blood led to a lot of confusion and apathy. If you don't like the new policy or procedure, just wait a while. The person who proposed them will leave soon and the next new "reformer" will get rid of it and put his/her own mark on TYC.

I could go on and on, but there is no real point to it. As employees, revisiting the past mistakes and pointing fingers really doesn't do us any good. You can't move forward when you are still arguing about the past.

I am encouraged by some of the new upper management team. They appear to have the background to make sound decisions. Plus, I have not hear about any sweeping, quick-fix changes which I hope means they are studying the problems before recommending changes (something the first reformers didn't do).

I used to worry about Whitmire and all his bluster. He appears to have a problem with his memory; he remembers everyone else's mistakes, but not his own. He needs all of our help to remember just how much damage he has done to this agency and to the loyal employees who have been hurt by his actions. I think the more time passes since the scandal started in West Texas, the better it is for TYC. Just like Joseph McCarthy, one day Whitmire will outed for who he really is and what he has done.

Anonymous said...

Whitmire,

I know you read this blog. Go back to the discussion table with TJPC and the counties. TYC in its current form and management team can't be reformed. You need a true juvenile justice professional like Ms. Spriggs.

Anonymous said...

"Closing current facilities and opening a new one near a more urban location"

Where in the hell does the lege think they will get employees from? Do they really expect inner city people to leave their jobs in industry to come work for the state? Do they really think they will get an all new facility - wrong they wi get current employees to run the new one as well - how about investing in our cyrrent staff offering trainig, management trainee programs and growing what we do have?

Just a thought!!

Anonymous said...

sorry about the mistakes in spelling

Anonymous said...

Yes, where will the "New" urban replacement for TYC get its employees? Look to Beaumont for an example. TYC does not pay competitive salaries to what is available in the private sector in the urban areas. Where do the kids behave better at Al Price or in Crockett and Vernon? How about Mart - it is close to Waco, which is a medium sized city with a major university. How well do the kids behave there? Again, with the pay scale TYC cannot compete with the local economy. What you get is a few very dedicated employees and a whole slew of folks who are basically unemployable.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Try to stay on topic, folks. I just deleted two whining comments that had zero, nothing, Zilch to do with the subject of this post but just included carping on unrelated topics. If that's all you've got to contribute, start your own blog but don't do it here.

Anonymous said...

I'm really hoping that (Dr?) Bill Bush's book comes out soon. I think the problem with any plan to re-create the juvenile justice system will require a clear picture of how we got to where we are in the first place. Most of the administrative people in the agency are extremely transient. If you move the facilities, the administrators will move to those communities and take those jobs. The same people can't fix the problem they created. Also, I notice that the new people tend to adapt to the old people's ways instead of vice-versa. Ms. Pope and her friends did come in and shake things up, but just like an ant pile, you can step on it, but the workers will quickly build it right back the way it was.

Anonymous said...

7:16,

The book is coming out in spring 2009. In the meantime, though, you can check out a report that Grits links to in an earlier post this past week.

BB

Anonymous said...

I disagree with closing Corsiciana, sure there needs to be some changes, but my son was there for 4 years, and he got his HS diploma (not a GED), learned to weld, woodwork, anger managment, control of his medications was set up so his seizures lessened, and if he needed medial attention he was either treated locally or take to UTMB for treatment.

Every weekend for 4 years I drove the 173 miles one way to see my son, then on to Dallas to spend the night with another son then back home to Houston.

My son speaks highly of the staff at Corsciana, and most of that staff will be invited to his wedding in May 09.

I am very thankful for the staff at Corsciana (I only had a run-in with one person), gratefuul for the care and encouragement thty gave him. I sent them an angry child and got a really cool man.

Before Whitmire started chopping heads, he needs to speak with the parents of these kids and ask us what we observed and what changes we feel would be of benefit..opps forgive me...for a minute there I forgot it's all about politics and money and not about the kids.

Anonymous said...

Whitmire shot his political WAD when he hired Demetria and her cronies. He may hold the position but you will see who holds the keys and he will not get much of anything anything in the direction he wants. The Political Pendelum is swing back already. Slowly but surely.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 3:04. You cannot imagine what your comments do to improve the morale of those many, many good TYC employees who work for TYC because they feel a calling to help troubled youth. I am happy for you and your son, that he has been so successful. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

Come on Jack, you can't validate a fellow TYC staffer like that.

Anonymous said...

You know what, 7:26, if you don't have hope that some of these kids can be helped to turn their lives around, you have no business working in TYC. If you work for TYC with that attitude, you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Believe it or not, some parents have actually written to caseworkers, teachers and others and thanked them for helping their child turn around. Those complements are rare, which makes them all the more gratifying. Whether it is recognized by parents or not, it is especially gratifying to know that a kid has made a success of his life. Like the kid we heard about today who is now enrolled in the Honors College at UTA. Good for him. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

AMEN 8:40 - no one ever hears about the phone calls, cards and letters we receive daily from former youth and their parents thanking staff for their support and influence while in our care. That's what has kept me here for the past two years. One phone call or letter can keep me going for quite a while. Its funny you know...no one ever wants to hear about the success stories - (yes, that means you Sen. Whitmire) and there have been thousands. I think their stories would make a great book - how about it Mr. Bush. Maybe a sequel to your current book.

Thanks to the poster at 3:04 for your support and congratulations to your son on his upcoming marriage - may you and yours be blessed:)

Anonymous said...

3:04,

What years did your son spend at Corsicana?

Anonymous said...

Whitmire is right on track with closing Crockett. It will never be effective because there are not any competent managers in place. It is a shame. Crockett was a good school at one time until they ran off Freeman and Nicholson. Hope ya'll can find some jobs once Whitmire closes one of the biggest employers in Houston County. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your assessment, Blu.

Anonymous said...

skqiaezaWe need to bring TW back to Crockett. She knew how to deal with kids. Whitmire would approve - if they don't do what you say, spray 'em and slap 'em. She was well-trained by DF and BN. Too bad DF threw BN under the bus!

Anonymous said...

How did DF throw BN under the bus? You are full of lies just like OIG and the TDCJers that went back 5 years to pull out old stuff that had already been investigated and unconfirmed to get rid of Freeman and Nicholson.

Anonymous said...

Are you not aware of the talk in Austin - to shut Crockett down!?!?! Let me past be the past - I'm sure none of our former admin is half as concerned with TYC as you seem to be with them. We need to come together and stop strengthening their argument to close the campus. That would devastate this area.

Anonymous said...

Crockett is doomed. Whitmire has a hard-on for us. I think we all need to start looking for new jobs or transfer to a school that we know will stay open. Just like Sheffield and San Saba. Whitmire started talking about closing them, and in a few months, they were done. We need to wake up and realize that Crockett will not be around much longer.

Anonymous said...

Once again, nothing productive or relevant from Crockett. We're all so shocked. We all wish you would take your petty name-calling, living in the past, country asses somewhere else.
I never worked at Crockett (say a thank you prayer for that every day) but I knew most of the past administrators that are bashed here regularly....hope they are all living happy, successful, peaceful lives without the bullshit TYC had to offer.
Keep bashing, Crockettites! Maybe they'll close you faster. With the exception of a few posters, Crockett commenters are a disgrace to the agency. Can someone please get back on topic?

Anonymous said...

Someone PLEEEAAASSRR tell me why Victory Field is SO bad it needs to close? I see proffessional treatment staff working hard with these kids. I see people showing up to work to support these kids, I see Basketball Tounenments, Fishing Trips, Cooking projects ALL being done according to the CoNextion plan and best of all, I see staff, teachers, administrators, volunteers, etc, etyc, stepping up to the plate and doing what needs to be done. I see them go above the call of duty, and I'm seeing it every day. est of all, I see that it is working!!

I don't know what CO is seeing that is so bad at Victory Field, but I say they need to take a closer look...They are missing what's important....the successes of our program.

Anonymous said...

Someone PLEEEAAASSRR tell me why Victory Field is SO bad it needs to close? I see proffessional treatment staff working hard with these kids. I see people showing up to work to support these kids, I see Basketball Tounenments, Fishing Trips, Cooking projects ALL being done according to the CoNextion plan and best of all, I see staff, teachers, administrators, volunteers, etc, etyc, stepping up to the plate and doing what needs to be done. I see them go above the call of duty, and I'm seeing it every day. est of all, I see that it is working!!

I don't know what CO is seeing that is so bad at Victory Field, but I say they need to take a closer look...They are missing what's important....the successes of our program.

Anonymous said...

Why is the old guard so completely bitter towards Whitmire? They hate him with a passion. That's all they talk about. It seems to me that they are looking for someone to blame so they can pretend that their buddies were fired for no reason. Before you buy that argument, consider the source. Most of the worst offenders are still in place at TYC and they run the place.

It seems to me that it is not just Whitmire who is wise to this dirty crowd.

Anonymous said...

Hang tight Crockett, I do believe you will not be closed down this biennium. Need to wait til after the lege goes back into session before you get all upset and start seeking employment and stirring the pot for others. If you all leave, you will seal the fate of your facility. Jumping the gun because Whitmire made a statement on what he thinks is the right thing to do is what he wants you to do.

If you have watched or listened to all the committee meetings in the past 6 months, I don't think one of them has ever mentioned Crockett. Scott correct me if I am wrong.

Getting everyone all riled up on this blog about closing Crockett is the worse possible thing you or anyone can do.Gossip can certainly take your livelihood away faster than Whitmire can!

It seems that Corsicana will be the next to close if they cut the budget by 10% so with that said, Crockett your safe for now.

If you all run out and find jobs and quit you will just be helping out Whitmire and Corsicana.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that there are one or two haters on each side of the "DF sure knew how to run things" vs "He was a thug." Don't judge Crockett by these few. Right now it is running one heck of a lot better than many other institutions in TYC, mainly because of a good set of JCOs and a few other dedicated teachers and caseworkers.

Anonymous said...

Keep foolin yourself 1:16. Whitmire is going to close Crockett down within the next nine months. You read it hear first, within nine months, Crockett State School will no longer be in existence. I too hope that the folks at Crockett continue to hang on because if everyone bails out now, its going to be hell for nine months.

Anonymous said...

4:52 I am not fooling myself. I am a firm believer that where I work is going to be shut down. I am also a firm believer that others will follow suit as we downsize TYC before we get a chance to grow in population.
Never seen our government do anything that made any sense, so why would they do something right now?

I am saying if you need a job, can't find one that pays as much as your making at this time. Hang in there for as long as you can for your own personal gain. You might not be on the chopping block for two more years, therefore affording you to keep your job at lest long enough to make some good plans to benefit your future.

Watch your facility, watch the numbers on kids being sent and keep an eye on your population numbers. There are all kinds of tell, tell signs that will keep you on top of things. Listen to the committee meetings as they come out for your self and not some one else's version of what is happening.Educate your self on the facts and not opinions. Most of all have your own back up plan, hopefully one that is better than you have now. Remember any place you may work now, can rif employees, close,and you could be out of a job.

Use common sense and not emotions during this time. I am not asking you to wear blinders, open your eyes and your ears to the facts and not gossip.

You would not cut your arm off because you suspected that you might loose it at some point? Hopefully you would take a chance on it getting better before you made that decision.

If you believe that Crockett will close in 9 months, use this time to make your plans for the departure so it will be a better job than you have now. In the mean time your still employed by the state and receiving insurance and the benefits. Hopefully feeding and caring for your family.

Anonymous said...

Who wants to get a job in the urban inner city. If you hire from the area, you will get gang members who will have affiliations with the youth that are incarcerated.

No one from outside the area will want to work there because it would be more dangerous going to work (if you have to drive there at night) than it is working inside a facility.

Anonymous said...

Despite a constitutional ban on legislative bonus pay, state senators have paid out over $650,000 in temporary pay increases to top aides over the last two years.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, issued temporary pay increases more than 20 times in the past two years. In one instance, he raised a senior aide's monthly salary of $7,400 by $4,000. The bump in pay lasted for two months.

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/gen/ap/TX_Senate_Bonuses.html

Anonymous said...

Now we know where Demetria went...

Anonymous said...

Medical care in California's prisons is so bad it has been ruled unconstitutional.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081007/ap_on_re_us/california_prisons

Anonymous said...

This was right:
"Who wants to get a job in the urban inner city. If you hire from the area, you will get gang members who will have affiliations with the youth that are incarcerated.

No one from outside the area will want to work there because it would be more dangerous going to work .... than it is working inside a facility."

The problem is, the most powerful State Senators and Reps are from the urban districts (i.e. gang land).

What % of staff do you think will be gang members when the facility are re-located "close to the criminals" in the urban areas? Has this crossed anyone's mind?

Anonymous said...

in response to the last comment from that I have seen "closer to home" is used losely. take the new/re-opened fucility in eagle lake. it is primarly for youths from harris county yet it is about an hour west of houston. and as far as emplying gang members, any employees have to pass a pretty good back ground checks. so while it is still possible it would have to be a gang member with a clean record. also note the eagle lake fucility is not run directly by TYC. it is run by YSI (youth services international) but of course still falls under to control TYC. take from that what you will.

Anonymous said...

An hour west of Houston? Heck, that is just a little bit closer than Crockett and Giddings! So much for getting closer to urban areas...

Anonymous said...

Actually, according to the State Mileage Guide, Eagle Lake is 61 miles from Houston, Giddings is 106 miles and Crockett is 115 miles.

Anonymous said...

2 words for Whitmire: 12 steps...

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Anonymous said...

Well I'm happy to say: it's been over a year and Crockett and Corsicana are both still standing.