Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pondering the economics of TYC abolition

Last week's Sunset report (pdf) recommending a merger between the Texas Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission is a detailed 120+ page document, so rather than write one long analysis, I'm going to pull out some highlights into shorter posts which hopefully will be a bit more reader friendly.

The Sunset Commission's most important recommendation: Merging TYC and TJPC and transferring their functions to a new agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, headed by an 11-member board. (See MSM accounts here, here, here, here, and here for initial commentary on the idea.)

However, after reading the financial analysis in more detail, I'm now convinced a merger cannot save the state money, as the Sunset report predicts. There are just too many questionable assumptions that will not bear out upon implementation.

The only absolute, for-sure savings is around $600,000 annually from eliminating five duplicative executive slots. But the rest of the projected annual savings - $27.6 million - is entirely speculative. It's based on the assumption the agency will close three facilities and lay off 587 workers, as well as "reducing TYC central office salaries by 10%."

However, later on we're told that 587 layoffs is a loose guesstimate and that savings could be "up to" that amount, implying they could also be, perhaps substantially less. After all, we're reminded later in the report, it was only in 2007 the Legislature added 516 new staff slots at TYC (p. 64) because the agency was understaffed and otherwise couldn't meet its statutorily required 12-1 staffing ratio.

Since that time, the number of youth in TYC declined to half the number they maxxed out at just a few years ago, so apparently the Sunset Commission believes that means the new staff aren't needed. But nowhere in the detailed footnotes to the section on the merger do we find any reference to the Legislative Budget Board projections that tell us to expect the state's youth prison population to rise again until the agency is 23% above capacity by 2012. If that happens, the idea of slashing 587 employees (two years after adding 516) will begin to look extremely short-sighted.

Also, the Sunset report assumes fewer youth will go to TYC and instead be handled by local probation departments. Without assessing those costs with any specificity, the report insists that "This initial amount could be drawn from TYC's previous budget and could be supplemented with lapsed TYC funds, if available," adding that as a last resort the Department could "request additional startup funding from the Legislature."

That's the part that keeps tripping me up. It seems obvious that private placement handled by dozens of counties will be a more expensive proposition than when those kids are all handled by a single state agency.

That's not a reason not to do the merger, I just think in practice it will cost taxpayers more money, not less, if counties reduce their reliance on TYC and the state must pay to develop local alternatives. The worst possible outcome would be to dump a bunch of the worst-behaved kids in the state on county probation departments who're ill-equipped to handle them and then fail to provide adequate resources. If this merger is going to happen (and who knows at this point if it will), downsizing TYC can't just result in a blatant, unfunded mandate for counties.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen. Could save money, but in the "real world" of local tax funding of Juvenile anything, is not going to happen. The state will now have to pick up most of the tab to provide counties funding for local post-adjudicated placements. The "hug-a-thug"courts can order all kinds of treatment programs,but without funding and human resources to properly support
them,nothing is going to work like the public wants it to. Keep the communities safe. Funding will be the major factor of juvenile justice in the future

Anonymous said...

I am not an economist, but it seems to me that eliminating a majority of the facilities in itself will be harmful. Putting people in numerous professions out of work, ceasing to purchase the products required to maintain a facility, maintaining empty structures until they can be sold, are factors that will be mostly liabilities on the balance sheet for both the State and the Counties that lose the programs.

Add to this the increase in the crime rate from Youth who will realize that the State has taken any kind of long term incarceration off the table. Local counties will soon feel the pain of the costs to build and maintain a Juvenile system. Juvenile laws designed to protect youth are also more expensive to manage. More JP's to Magistrate kids under 17, more attorney representations, more hearing officers, more law enforcement officers and county jailers.

And what is the likelhood that given the diversity within the State, that any meaningfull treatment systems can be developed, that will be any better than what the new TYC is proposing.

While the Texas economy will fare better than most State's, the timing is horrendous. Texas families (read taxpayers), are going to be very financially squeezed. Spending within the Texas economy will slow a great deal. There is not an overwhelming need to create a new agency at this point in time, especially when there is new leadership and a definite plan within the current TYC. If it still stinks by the end of the 81st Legislative Session, then something can be done. By then, we will hopefully know more about the U.S., World, and Texas economic situaions. Now is just the wrong time for a poorly crafted political agenda to go forward.

Anonymous said...

One thing that could save TYC a bunch of money is to stop allowing big spender types like James Smithand various other executive staff carte blanche to travel all over the country for no practical purpose on the agency's tab. Also spending facility money on all the ridiculous travel wasted on our "regional" people could save a bundle as well. Sounds like another case of gross fiscal mismanagement to me.

Anonymous said...

Structure it how you want to, model it after whatever you want, but its the people that make it or break it. If they are not changed, by either their minds or finding people who can follow the vision it all fails. person themselves. Since when does big bureaucracy save money. If the locals handle 95% of the kids and are successful at it, then split the state up into regions and let the local probation people be the board that oversees regional facilities that are run by the state. kids stay in their region, and you only need about 30 people at the state level to operate payable's and receivables. you've covered communication, accountability, and the recommendations of the governors panel. Everyone keeps talking about Missouri, please keep in mind that Missouri is only 25% the size of Texas and 25% the population, smaller is better, no?

Anonymous said...

I think many of us have missed a key point....this is about kids....treatment and rehabilitation to keep them out of the prisons. When we worry about all those other professionals who will be out of work; where were these professionals the last ten years? Where was the treatment? Where was the rehabilitation? Get rid of the window dressing and lets start to help the kids of Texas.

Anonymous said...

What in reality will this accomplish? You will still have youth in current tyc facilities. you will have to have staff to work the facilities. Costs are not going to go down. They will only go up and need to go up in terms of paying enough money to hire appropriately educated and experienced staff.

At the most basic level staff in TYC swear and disrespect youth routinely. It will not matter what the structure of the agency is, or what the treatment program is, as long as there is this uneducated, irresponsible, immature mentality among a majority of TYC staff.

And just to bring up an old issue, UTMB? Mental Health Care? Telepsychiatry is alive and well in TYC and caseloads are incredibly high with very few hours actually dedicated to seeing youth at facilities...

Anonymous said...

You may be educated or whatever, but; but you fail to understand TYC daily activities and culture! Line staff act in a manner established by good training and modeling by administration. If the admin are criminals, the line staff see it, and act the same. Change the admin. and you change the line staff....not demanding, but showing respect, diginity and integrity by example. The lost TYC of eight years ago is a great example.....they are now criminal lead and criminal followers. No amount of money...raises, will correct this valueless fault, which is state wide.

Anonymous said...

As we say in TYC "setting up for failure". In this case both sides are being set up. TYC and the probation departments. After working for 10 years for TYC the outcome is still the same. People don't want these particular kids in their communities in the first place, so when the need is met, then those same people want us to manage what they couldn't. By shifting this back down the the county level the state is just passing the buck to it's local constabularies and tax payers. The cost will go down for the state, but way up for individual counties.

Anonymous said...

Thats somewhat true, however, the vast amounts of money that TYC gets can then be given to counties, to offset youth care. Also folks like WTSS's D>B> can be canned for lying to the public and causing the institution to close. His pay and others similar to him can go to the counties, rather than be wasted in TYC, that they are so good at>. Look at the good side to the combination.

Anonymous said...

lets be clear, institutions are money pits, look at the adult system, adult probationers are given few if any services, and the ledge can't understand why they are over 150,000 in prison, the locals will get their funding cut, no question and this suggestion comes at a time when we are in the deepest recession in 20 years, no sales no sales tax

Anonymous said...

Legalize drugs and you will clean out the prisons.

Anonymous said...

Not only that 2:48, but you can regulate them and tax them and use the money to upgrade the existing prison systems AND talk about a boost in the economy!

Whoa!

dirty harry said...

The idea of reducing the population in TYC will be short lived. Local judges have already figured out how to get more juvenile offenders shipped off to TYC. It's called "Felony Probation Modification."

Anonymous said...

Exactly dirty harry.

We see many, many youth come in with that "charge" at our facility.

Anonymous said...

Heres the thing about offense level that people forget, a kid picks up a misdeameanor, gets put on probation, he's supervised, offered counseling programs and what not, but his home life sucks, abusive druggie parents, no food, verbal physical sexual abuse, mental illness, (insert social malady here), give him the services you want, be as creative as you want, you can't undo 15 years of crap in three months, so the Probation officer tries to help, but its just too much to deal with. Kid starts to violate his probation and so the probation officer tells the judge, because either a) the kid endangers himself ( drugs, being out all night, stops going to school) or b) endangers the public (fighting, selling drugs, etc). Kid goes to county level placement, gets out goes to the same crappy home with the same aforementioed social malady, uses drugs, doesn't use perscribed drugs, skips counseling, etc. So the cycle repeats. Notice something here, thats right, kids can be screwed up from the word go and because probation did thier job, he's just a misdemeanant. Thats the same problem that the adult system has, people cry that too many technical probation violations go to prision. When probation officers supervise thier clients, they see the technical violations before people go out and commit crimes. Most stone cold sober people that hold down jobs do not just up and commit a felony ( there are always exceptions), but usually there is a lifestyle that goes along with certain criminality. Probation officers see elements of a lifestyle that has a direct relationship to cetain criminality, and they do what they're paid to do, prevent additional victims, and self injurious behavior. Saying committing crimes is the only measure of how risky a person is flies in the face of what we pay probation officers to do, if this were true why even have probation rules.

The ledge was told that the days of pleading felonies down to misdeameanors would be over and felony probations would be until the 18th birthdays before they passed SB103. The only misdeameanors that ever were allowed at TYC were for three seperate misdeameanor "convictions" i.e. commit a misd, be found "guilty", be put on probation, commit a misd, be found "guilty", be put on probation, and then commit a misd, be found "guilty", be sent to TYC. Even if the kid committed 12 misdemanor charges at once, under the old law it only counted as one. And finally were talking about 5% of all the kids who commit crimes, compare that to the prisons (probation, prisons and parole are all state run) which is about 25%, and they have never accepted misdemanors.

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