Whether or not the Legislature agrees to merge the Texas Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission as proposed in the Sunset Advisory Commission staff report (pdf), Sunset staff raise a number of significant concerns that need to get resolved one way or another, regardless of what bureaucratic structure governs the activity.
In particular, Sunset staff says a lack of information sharing in both directions between county probation departments and TYC hinders both offenders' smooth re-entry and the application of appropriate treatment while they're incarcerated. From p. 10 of the report (p. 17 of the pdf):
Critical gaps occur when counties commit youth to TYC and when youth are released from TYC to communities. These gaps can lead to a variety of problems. Starting with commitment, since the great majority of children in TYC have been on probation in the past, the committing court typically has information regarding the youth that TYC could use, including social and educational history; family and community situations; and past interventions and their outcomes.I've long believed that, whether or not the state agencies are merged, state juvenile parole functions should be handed over to county probation departments. (There's already a model for this: In many smaller counties, probation departments already provide contract parole services for TYC.) After all, these local agencies already have long histories with most of TYC's youth before they're ever sent to an institution, so it makes a lot of sense to designate county juvenile probation departments as the agencies who are also responsible for supervising juveniles on parole as well. What's needed is to ensure that the folks supervising youth on the front lines, both POs and the courts, have access to information about what happened with the kid at TYC and vice versa. That's apparently not happening now.
In 2007, Senate Bill 103 increased the requirements on committing courts to provide additional information to TYC, including psychological reports, social histories, progress reports, and assessment documents. According to TYC, some counties provide this information while others do not. Even when provided, the quality of information varies greatly.
Following commitment, TYC does not typically provide courts with information on youth returning home, limiting counties’ ability to deliver appropriate services. TYC notifies the local court about the release of a youth to parole; however, in most cases, the agency’s notifi cation does not include information about the youth’s progress in treatment at TYC, health issues developed while at TYC, or other important information for the youth’s transition back to the community. By statute, TYC makes the notification ten days before releasing a youth to parole.
Because probation departments and committing courts do not receive information about the services youth receive at TYC, they cannot easily hold TYC accountable for treatment of youth. Local judges send youth to TYC with the expectation that the agency will provide necessary treatment. Committing courts do not have easy access to treatment records and do not receive reports on youths’ progress, limiting local jurisdictions’ ability to evaluate the effectiveness of the component of the system that they rely on to deal with their most serious offenders.
Not only is information not routinely shared, in many cases critical information is never systematically gathered in the first place. Ideally, says the Sunset report, youth would be given both needs and risk assessments when they're first put on probation, again when they're sent to TYC, then again at the end of their incarceration stint before they're released on parole. This information gathering should be coordinated and shared among the various government agencies who deal with the youth. Instead, said the Sunset staff:
Most [county] probation departments and TYC do not routinely assess youths’ needs or risk of recidivism, and do not share assessment information. This may lead to inappropriate treatment and placement decisions, as well as ineffective use of financial and other resources. ...That all certainly sounds like a mess, and it's troubling that TYC's inmate assessment and classification hasn't progressed any further than it has. Last I heard, the agency had to start nearly from scratch after the work by a politically connected contractor wasn't up to snuff, and I'm not surprised that they're not "confident" in the product they currently have. It might well be smarter, as Sunset's merger suggestion implies, to ditch the assessment system in which TYC is "not confident" and more thoroughly integrate their work with TJPC's assessment tools and information systems - after all, they're both supervising an overlapping population of kids. The devil, though, obviously, is in the details.
Both TYC and TJPC are developing assessment tools, but the agencies have not consulted with each other and assessment tools are not currently operational. TJPC is developing an assessment instrument for use by probation departments. The agency hopes to begin testing the assessment in spring 2009. The Texas Youth Commission’s current assessment tools are not validated and may not assess risk in line with national best practices. Also, the agency is not confident that its needs assessment can accurately assess the need for specialized treatment programs. TYC is redesigning its intake procedures to use a computerized risk-assessment system, but the agency is implementing this software independently of TJPC and county probation departments. The automated risk and needs assessment tool is expected to be fully functional by March 2009 but will need to be validated on a Texas population.
This is all important stuff to think about, and for the Lege or the agencies act on, whether or not the two entities are formally merged.
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