See initial MSM coverage from the Austin Statesman, the Dallas News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and AP. Both juvenile probation chief Vicki Spriggs and new TYC executive commissioner Cherie Townsend opposed the idea, but Sen. Whitmire dismissed the plan's critics, saying, "Anyone who wants to protect the status quo is going to have a very difficult time justifying their position now."
To be fair, I'm not sure there IS a status quo at TYC right now. The place has been in constant flux, yanked first this way then that, for a year and a half with no end in sight. One can see why Vicki Spriggs might be hesitant to get drawn into the maelstrom! Certainly there's no argument to preserve the status quo, but one could could credibly argue to give the brand spanking new executive commissioner a little time to turn the ship around. I don't know that she can, but then I don't know if a merger would work, either.
I'm also not sure I completely buy the financial assessment in the report that the state can save $27.6 million per year by merging the agencies. That's because county probation departments, who will be tasked with managing these youth, will either have to fabricate services from whole cloth, which will include substantial startup costs, or pay for private placement that in many cases simply does not exist. However, the Sunset report declared that:
Combining TYC and TJPC’s functions into a single agency, the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department, should result in significant savings to the State. Most of these savings would realized by reducing administrative staff and closing facilities. Based on likely decisions of the new Department and the Legislature, Sunset staff estimates a minimum annual savings of $594,616 associated with a reduction of five duplicative director-level positions, and up to $27.6 million and a reduction of 587 full-time equivalents (FTEs) associated with a 10 percent reduction in TYC central offi ce staff and the closure of ... the Victory Field, West Texas, and Ron Jackson II institutions.I don't understand why any cost savings from closing TYC units or reducing central office staff wouldn't be entirely eaten up by new costs of sending money to counties to pay for supervising the same kids? Costs don't go away just because TYC fires 587 workers, they just shift downstream to county probation departments. In fact, LBB recently projected the number of kids committed to TYC would increase over the next few years, so it makes little sense to assume that handling the kids through many counties instead of a single state carceral agency will provide much cost savings.
The cost savings statement in the report declares that new probation spending "would not have a direct fiscal impact to the State" (p. 29) but honestly I don't believe that's possible. To say the least, this is an underdeveloped part of the plan. You can already hear the Texas Association of Counties crying, "Unfunded Mandate," and if the state doesn't provide money for the kids county probation departments will have to place, they'll be right.
Though I've certainly got questions about the idea, I'm going to give myself a chance to read the full Sunset report, listen to what others have to say, and mull this over before passing judgment. As always, let me know what y'all think in the comments (and though I know this is scary and difficult, TYC employees, please try to be constructive).