Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunset: TYC, county probation, don't gather, share enough information

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series analyzing highlights from the Texas Youth Commission/Juvenile Probation Comission "Sunset" staff report released earlier this month.

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.

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.
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.

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. ...

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.
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.

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.

Related Grits coverage:

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Grits,

Thanks for this valuable series. It's really pretty amazing to see the same concerns as at various times in the past about information sharing between local and state agencies.

This seems in part to be a problem of enforcing statutory mandates, as much as devising them.

BB

Anonymous said...

After reading every word of the report, I note that most all of the problems and finger pointing are focused on TYC while TJPC and counties get somehwhat slapped around for primarily administrative stuff.

The Lege needs to concentrate on what is presently their responsibility (TYC) and leave TJPC and counties pretty much alone. The TJPC/county problems noted could be taken care of in a week or so or at least two or three meetings. We ain't broke and don't need fixin', especially by Sunset Commission staff and group of legislators who allowed TYC to be and continue to be effed up in the first place.

dirty harry said...

I don't know what the susnset committee has to complain about regarding TYC and information-sharing. TYC has educational and special ed liasons that assist county probation. These liasons also assist the probationers with GED and re-entering school. TYC case managers generate a report for the benefit of county probation for each youth that gives a host of information regarding the youth. TYC often connects the youth with community or state agencies they may need upon leaving TYC. TYC holds SSC upon discharge of youth before they return to county probation to make sure eveything is in order.

If the suset committee thinks TYC falls short on cummunicating, then maybe the sunset committee needs to clean their ears, and recommend more resources for TYC.

Anonymous said...

I have worked for TYC for 10 years and County Juvenile Probation for 8years. The report is accurate. There is very little communication between TYC and TJPC and vice versa. But hey, I think both sides preferred it be that way. As far as County Probation, there is zero communication between TYC and County Probation Departments. As for TJPC, there is some communication between them and County Probation, but you can't ever get a straight answer as TJPC talks out both sides of their mouth. Huh, kinda reminds me of when I used to call TYC Central Office and try to get an answer. I hear much hasn't changed. Best of luck to the field staff under TJPC and TYC, ya'll are the true heroes for having to work day in and day out with the youth and still put up with all the political BS from your so-called leaders and executives.

Anonymous said...

As more investigators look at local county programs you will see smaller, but just as corrupt, versions of the same problems uncovered at TYC. When was the last time TJPC made an unannounced visit to a county program. Just ask TJPC for records of their rubber stamped approval of all affirmative findings of wrong doing in local facilities by local juvenile board investigations when the boards conduct these bogus investigations of themselves. What group of judges is ever going to find themselves wrong? Watch out juvenile boards I understand you as judges can be held PERSONALLY liable for your actions and can't hide behind your judicial immunity any longer.

Anonymous said...

i've heard that the TJPC is looking at developing a new program that was referenced in the report, its referred to as JCMS, i believe its Juvenile Correctional Management System. The price tag for the biggest three counties 14,000,000, TJPC's cost to be a part was 4,000, 000. These are just estimates. I didn't see that in the fiscal impact. It was also in TJPC's budget request and was denied by the Ledge..........

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, qualified contractors will handle to joining of the two agencies.

Anonymous said...

The question is WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE KIDS ON THE WESTERN HALF OF THE STATE????

If you close the two remaining facilities on that side....where will these kids go?

No one seems to have a straight answer to that question!

Anonymous said...

The question is WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE KIDS ON THE WESTERN HALF OF THE STATE????

If you close the two remaining facilities on that side....where will these kids go?

No one seems to have a straight answer to that question!

Anonymous said...

Haven't you heard?

El Paso is a country unto itself, It includes El Paso and Hudspeth Counties.

Anonymous said...

"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."

TYC still releases Deferred Sex Offenders from the general programs with out sex offender treatment or registration. The Judges get a letter that says he finished a treatment program and TYC will not register them. This treatment under the transitional program may be little more than the youth admitting to the original charge and that he had sex. Often these deferred youth are sent to TYC after failing a probation Sex Offender Program with the Judges expectation that he receive a real inpatient SO program.

It doesn't help to complain as long as the folks in central office belive their own press releases.

Anonymous said...

I agree that probation departments are better equipped to handle parole. The current parole system is a joke. However, the decision to revoke needs to be left to local judges not TYC.

Anonymous said...

Kids cannot receive treatment if the treatment programs are not funded. Blaming TYC is pointing the finger in the wrong direction. The legislature put huge qualification requirements for sex offender treatment providers, but did not provide any money to fund the salaries of people with these types of certification. Any judge who sends a kid to TYC expecting that that same youth will automatically get sex offender treatment, is either not paying attention, or is intentionally passing the buck.

Anonymous said...

In FY '08, Texas counties committed 1582 kids to TYC. That number does not include recommitments, revocations, or reclassifications. The 1582 in '08 is down from 2327 in '07, 2738 in '06, 2614 in '05, and 2526 in '04. (TYC Website) Appears to me county probation has been doing its job in their communities for the past 5 years so why mess with TJPC and the counties?

The problem is TYC's past management beginning with Mr. Harris on February 4, 2004, and the stooges/pretenders that followed him (other than Ms. Townsend).

Anonymous said...

11:12, the commitments are way down due to not sending the misdemeanors to TYC.

Anonymous said...

6:35 check your numbers
in cy 2006, there were 2912 commitments, and only 937 were misd, that's still 500 more than 1500, when the problems started judges quit sending kids to TYC, and of those 937, some probably had a felony in their past

Anonymous said...

The Texas Juvenile Probation Commission is not a Probation Department. It is more of a funding conduit and an external auditing agency than any kine of service provider, which is what TYC is. The individual Probation Departments that receive services from TJPC do provide services, and it is the judges connected to those departments on the county level, that send youth to TYC.

With that distinction clearly in place, there is a model in Texas corrections that possibly can be copied in a modified form to help create a powerfull and effective link between county probation departments, TJPC and TYC.

That model is found in the treatment initiatives developed in the mid 1990's by TDCJ's Substance Abuse Felony Treatment Programs (Therapeutic Communities), and local probation departments.

Essentially, offenders were sentenced by a local court for a drug offense. They sometimes were given "shock" probation, as a motivator to accept "treatment". If the offender agreed to treatment, he was placed on a "deferred adjudication" status and sent to the SAFP (Substance Abuse Felony Treatment Program) for a minimum of nine months. While in the SAFP, the offender was considered an inmate of TDCJ and had to abide by the prison rules. They were also bound by the elements of the order for deferred adjudication from the court that ordered them into treatment. If the offender successfully completed treatment, they went back before the court for consideration of a new modification to their original sentence. If they failed in the treatment program, they went back to court and had the boom lowered (i.e., the full sentence was imposed).

While the offender was in treatment, a specialized probation officer was assigned to work with the treatment staff of the SAFP and with the offender. The offender knew, that the court knew how they were or were not progressing. Occassionally, if an offender acted up, he or she would be bench warranted back to see the judge for some "attitude adjustment". Most of the time, that did the trick. If the offender continued to thumb his or her nose at treatment, then they would have their probation revoked.

This same model would work for a marriage between TYC and local probation departments. If TJPC acted as the "common link" agency between local probation departments and TYC, there could be not only a coordinated rehabilitation effort, but a new and powerful tool that is currently lacking in TYC. That tool is direct and ongoing access to a probation officer from the county that sent the offender to TYC, and to the committing judge when needed for a "little talk" about the consequences of not getting with the program. Of course, TYC will have to have a program to "get with", but they are working at that pretty seriously these days.

This dynamic relationship between the agency which incarcerates the offender and the agency referring the offender for rehabilitative services has been extremely successfull for adult probationers in Texas. The recidivism rates for participants in these very tough SAFP programs, is very very low, compared to the rates for those who don't go through the programs. The new TYC Connections program has a few of the same programatic elements as do the Therapeutic Communities within the SAFP (such as a focus on cognitive thinking skills and high accountability with direct consequences).

Since this model of incarceration/rehabilitation is already familiar to adult probation departments, DA's, Judges and TJPC, and the Legislature, it would be fairly easy to assimilate into Juvenile Corrections.

The legislature is already open to this kind of arrangement because the model has been working in adult corrections for the last 12 years. Cutting recidivism means lower costs to the State by containing prison expansion.

Judges,Probation Officers and Program Directors (read Superintendents) love the program because they are working in a unified fashion to reduce recidivism. All of the players retain there respective turfs.

I'm not saying it is a perfect model, but it is a proven one.

Anonymous said...

remember TYC facilities are scattered to the four corners of the state, SAFP's are relatively close to the courts in which they serve. That is the exact model that locals use when they place children in thier own secure and non secure facilties, which is why so few actually go to TYC

Anonymous said...

If you look back to the time prior to George W. Bush's cutting of the programs, at maximum numbers, the SAFP's actually were distributed much like the TYC facilities are now throughout the State. I agree, for the regionalization concept that is being desired now, the number of facilities would have to increase both in the larger urban locations as well as the north and western parts of Texas. For example, the SAFP in the Panhandle of Texas served offenders from Houston to El Paso, to Amarillo, and Plainview, so some of the probation officers would travel from down south and out west to visit the facility for a few days at a time. Same thing with the southern most SAFP's - they had offenders from Amarillo, El Paso, etc. Regionalization was not the primary consideration for those particular programs at that time, available treatment beds were as was the perception of the judges about which particular SAFP programs worked best. With todays high price of fuel, etc. that regionalization might have become a larger consideration, had the programs not been shut down.

Smaller, regionalized programs might work even better today. A major issue will be start-up costs. It is also preferable to have a few programs that are totally secure, where leaving is not an option. At this point however, everything is on the table as far as working models goes.

The important thing now is to start generating alternative models that all the "customers" can buy into. This is just one of several possabilities. It's chief merit is that it has already proven itself as an effective coalition of different agencies providing a unified service. There are certainly lots of other possabilities. Since we don't know how much time there will be for any of the proposed changes to happen, we need to start generating constructive ideas now. I personally think that any proposed, workable models should be developed around their rehabilitative effectiveness first and their ability to be regionalized second. IMOP, regionalization should be a preferance but not the engine of the train.

Anonymous said...

TYC institutions staff did not even share information with TYC parole staff. The institutions fought to get youth released, mostly, while parole fought to get them returned to institutions. They made a game of it, with youth caught in the middle. Raped by The State fairly well explains how TYC did this and ruined youth's lives who were caught in the middle. How can TYC and probation work, after this type history?

Anonymous said...

8:58 - BULL! Go peddle your book elsewhere. You do not know what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

Apparantly , others know some of TYC's history in this area. Not far off.

Anonymous said...

Man why don't you advertise your book on this blogs ad's section, or are you just too cheap to poney up funds? It's really getting old reading your non-sence post, and now you've dragged parole in it.

Anonymous said...

Harris caused some bad effects on TYC as the Dep. also, long before he became ED. Many of his cronies are still in the shadows and unless Cherie gets rid of them, the chaos will continue. I just hope she is not part of the old team.

Anonymous said...

Who asked anything about Harris? Some of you people are mutants. You cannot stay on topic - you have to go off on your tangents to get your shots in at folks you don't like. Go troll somewhere else! This blog is about whether or not TYC and county probation depts share enough information.

Anonymous said...

I've sent a few kids to TYC in my days as a juvenile probation officer. All school records, immunization, birth certificate, social security card, juvenile justice referral history with copies of all offense reports, all court docuemnts, court social history (PSI) and a 15 page common application for placement.

Not sure what else TYC would need. Now, I can't tell you that all departments provide thorough information.

Ofcourse, if a kid is directly committed to TYC then the local juvenile probation folks won't know that much about the kid anyway.

On the backside, I don't see why TYC would need to send anything regarding the treatment of the kid. The Court washed its hands of the kid when they sent him/her to TYC. That is TYCs business and responsibility. We have always received notices of movement from TYC on where the kid is at or is going. Now, that has been nice but do I need more info. No.

I disagree with sunset here.

Anonymous said...

I've had several JPOs contact me and ask me why my caseworkers were sending them so much information about the kids we were sending back into their communities.

Anonymous said...

11:58 is our stray dog...

Anonymous said...

Once a kid goes to TYC, he/she does not go back under the probation department. Yet, TYC sends notice to the CPO whenever there is an abuse/neglect investigation, and whenever the youth is returned to the CPO's county. Seems to me, TYC is sending more info to the CPOs than is necessary.

On the other side of the coin, some probation departments are very conscientious about filling out the Common Application when they send youths to TYC; but many of them send very little info.