Monday, December 29, 2008

In troubled financial times, children are the last sure-bet investment

In its message to the 81st Texas Legislature (pdf) the Children's Defense Fund smartly suggests that, in an era when few investments are reliable, investing in troubled youth to disrupt the "cradle to prison pipeline" gives a higher long-term rate of return than most other types of public spending:
From the day tens of thousands of children are born, multiple risk factors converge to suck children into the prison pipeline instead of towards educational advancement and career success. These include: pervasive poverty, inadequate health and mental health care, gaps in early childhood development, disparate educational opportunities, chronic abuse and neglect, rampant substance abuse and overburdened and ineffective juvenile justice systems.

The cost implications of such an epidemic are serious. An ounce of prevention is far more cost-effective than crisis care when children get sick or into trouble, drop out of school or suffer family breakdown.
  • The average cost of a mentoring program is $1,000 a year.
  • The annual per child cost of a high quality after-school program is $2,700.
  • The cost of providing a year of employment training for unemployed youths is $3,448.
  • The average annual per child cost of Head Start is $7,326.
  • The cost for a year of public education in Texas is $7,246 per pupil.
  • The cost of incarcerating a child in the Texas Youth Commission is $67,890 a year.
Children do not come in pieces, and our solutions to dismantling the pipeline must be comprehensive. More investment in the early years of an at-risk child’s life could provide all taxpayers enormous savings.
A Houston Chronicle editorial featuring CDF's message to the Legislature said investments in youth are a "sure thing" compared to the risky market, while pouring money into prisons, at this point, is like sinking your retirement savings into Wall Street's financial bubble after its already burst.

Once youths enter the pipeline, the cost to taxpayers shoots higher than most individual incomes.

It costs $67,890, according to the Children's Defense Fund, to incarcerate one child in the Texas Youth Commission. For one year. Now consider that a black male born in 2001 has a one in three chance of ending up in the correctional system. A Hispanic boy born that year has a one in six chance, and an Anglo boy a one in 17 chance.

Public costs for these pipeline travelers extend far beyond one year, of course. Even out of prison, they are more likely to earn less, more likely to rely on benefits, use costly emergency room care and need public housing.

The Chron singled out for particular praise CDF's suggestion to shift Texas youth prisons toward smaller, rehab oriented facilities modeled after those in Missouri, arguing that the investment would more than pay off in increased tax revenue and reduced crime down the line:

One of the most exciting [evidence based approaches] is the Missouri Juvenile Justice model. Rejecting the conventional, punitive juvenile justice approach, the state of Missouri offers youngsters counseling, family and community support, and education.

As a result, only one out of 10 released young people return to the prison system. The recidivism rate in the Texas pipeline is 50 percent.

Unfortunately, the Sunset Advisory Commission failed to endorse shifting Texas youth prisons toward a "Missouri model" approach in its staff report, but if money is available, there's still a decent chance the 81st Texas Legislature may decide to go that route. It's certainly still under discussion though legislators are fearful of the cost. By CDF's logic, perhaps they should be fearful of the costs if they fail to invest.

CDF also singles out spending on youth mental health services as an important preventive that reduces criminality, as well as literacy programs and Head Start initiatives, along with the much more ambitious and nebulous goal of "ending child poverty." FWIW, that last item sounds a bit too pie-in-the-sky for my tastes. After all, even Christ acknowledged that the poor will "always be with us," while the rest of CDF's suggestions come off as much more concrete and suitable for implementation.

Definitely check out CDF's "Message to the 81st Texas Legislature," IMO they're hitting most of the important high points regarding how the Lege should be approaching juvenile justice.


Anonymous said...

The problem in Texas is that there is no model. Juvenile justice in Texas swings from one extreme to the other. There was a moment of great stability between 1995 and 1998/99. TYC was impressive in those days. We were not punitive based, it was very treatment based with common sense application. You cannot have treatment without control. We believed in establishing safe environments where trust could be developed. Youth are going to act out when they feel threatened. Most of them come to us from chaotic environments where the people that were supposed to love and protect them abused and exploited them. The structure and compassion we gave was what they needed. We simply had higher standards for them and they responded. Even the lowest functioning kids did well. Believe it or not the other boys cheered them on and helped them learn their skills. It was remarkable to witness a hard gang banger from Houston tutoring a borderline intellectual functioning misdeamenent from Waco, TX. I can't tell you how of my kids would cry with joy in my group because for the first they were learning to read. They always asked my why they were allowed to pass each year without knowing how to read. They would also ask me why they continued to get a little slap on the wrist over and over before finally being sent to TYC. I attended their graduation ceremonies when I could because they often had no other family. We weren't perfect but it was good. Resocialization, by the way is a good program. I just wish they would stick with something and let it have some time. Before pourimg money into the community programs they should be Checked for substance.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 12:42. I remember those days, too. It was about 1998 that TYC underwent a population expansion, with resulting infusion of new unexperienced staff and crowded dorms. I was not a caseworker, but I remember many experienced caseworkers and direct care staff remarking that the youth we were receiving from the counties were much more assaultive and generally harder to handle. Assaults on staff members, for instance, were very rare. Is it possible that at that precise time the counties were beginning to "dump" more mentally ill and substance-addicted youth into a larger TYC system? If that comment is unfair, then I apologize.

Then came the 2003 budget crunch, and orders to do more with less, or else. Simultaneously, we got a new youth rights-oriented Executive Director who was trying to please a legislative bully. When a DA in Ward County neglected his duty in 2005, it was the last ingredient for a perfect storm that TYC may never truly recover from.

Bill Bush, if your new book does not cover TYC from 1995 to present, it will have missed a very important part of the story.

Anonymous said...

Well said, you two. O/S

Anonymous said...

I have been very impressed with Ms. Best and her passion to save the children. In a previous blog it was brought up that the cost to send 1 juvenile to TYC for a year would pay for a master's level therapist who could treat hundreds of juveniles in a preventative setting and keep them out of the juvenile justice system alltogether. In preventative mode many youth can be diverted from TYC and even from the probation system. TYC has massive issues. TJPC has issues. The best thing to happen would be for the Sunset Commission to uphold the staff recommendations and abolish both agencies, create the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, study and implement the Missouri system to the extent that it could work in Texas and move on. Senator Whitmire has recommended this in the past and I am sure he will push for it now and we praise his desire to improve the care of juveniles in the state. Create the smaller settings BUT put money into the front end services at the probation level so more can be done to prevent the youth from progressing into the system even further. The probation departments are doing a GREAT job serving the youth at the local level and should be left to continue their good work. TJPC seems to try to hinder the local departments from doing what they do best, try to help troubled kids.
Go Sunset Go.

Anonymous said...

There are many initiatives to keep juveniles out of "the system". Mental health is a big issue. Alot of juvenile probation departments do not have adequate access to mental health providers so as rhe previous post stated if the money was placed with the juvenile probation departments to provide therapist to service troubled youth then TYC population would dwindle. I too agree that major reforms should happen with TYC and TJPC. The amoun t of regulations being placed on the juvenile probation departments keep cost of doing business high and that is money that could be used to service youth in need. Sunset has a difficult job ahead of them but I know they will do the right thing. I believe there are departments out there willing to spell out the issues with TJPC. Everyone already knows the TYC issues.

Anonymous said...

Are we really sure what the TYC issues are?

Seems that the real issues of TYC, not the political donkey shows, are just now being addressed.

Really. The legislature had the Blue Ribbon recommendations prior to SB103 and did not adopt them.

You can't model Missouri by keeping large institutions.

You can't model yourself after Missouri and then lower the age of majority.

You can't model after Missouri and shorten lengths of stay.

People just don't get it. Texas does not really care about these youth. None of these legislators really care about these youth. It has all just been a bunch of show. Their reactions, and knee jerk politics, are designed more to ensure they retain power than actually implementing well thought out legislation for TYC.

I bet this Sunset issue with TYC goes out much more like a lamb than a lion.

Anonymous said...

you sure can't model it after Missouri without allotting the appropriate funding.

Anonymous said...

Whats the deal with WTSS closing?
I keep hearing this but still see youth and staff at this facility?
Did John W. finally get his way and eliminate this facility?

Anonymous said...

I went down the list of programs and their costs, which was supposed to highlight the costs for a TYC student per year. I received the benefit of one of those, and one only: a free public education. I've never been on the wrong side of the law. But then, I had the benefit of an intact family with two parents.

Is it possible that most TYC youth already have had the benefit of programs like all of those? Presumably, judges don't give up and shuffle kids off to TYC without using every tool at their disposal. Kids end up in TYC not because they are mentally ill, but because they are mentally ill AND commit crimes. Without removing the children from their bad family and neighborhood situations, they will commit crimes no matter how many counselors work with them.

A very large majority of TYC youth come from terrible family situations. I hate to be so pessimistic so early in a new year, but more money for programs won't help much.

Anonymous said...

You are wrong. Intensive services and programs are shown to reduce reoffending among the most problematic youth. In fact effective treatment programs even reduce lengths of stay in prison as compared to the TYC/large institution model.

Juvenile justice rehabilitation can and does work. The cost of not trying is too high.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely the attack on TYC has been nothing but smoke and mirrors. It is a sad but true fact that most people do not give TYC a thought. I can just about guarantee that Rick Perry, Whitmire and their ilk do not care about the children in TYC. There have been some caring and compassionate politicians that really did show some interest but Perry and co. never had until the scadal arose. Perry knew about WTSS and blew it off basically. To save face they launch a Hitler like assault on TYC. Easy to do because Dwight Harris and his guys made perfect victims. They had no thoughts of their own, and no spines. They were just a bunch of yes men that were not going to stand up and defend the agency like anyone with any avocados would have. They were more that willing to turn on their own. Stupid, stupid cowards. They could never see that they had een groomed to be stool pigeons all along. Spineles yes men/women flourish at TYC because they go along and don't question. You got poison management, you got a poison agency. Perry and Whitmire thank we are all stupid. TYC went down hill when wit fell into the hands of spineless, unprincipled management. Vomit! I've never seen that many chickens in my life. No one would take a stand. They thought it was better to be quiet! Nothing could be worse. Angry mentally ill men with little man complex are dangerous. They are angry from being kicked around so they take it out on the employees. Usually, the nicest and the best. The ones that really care, and voice their concerns. Cowards can't handle it, they are threatened by competence. Voice an opinion that might actually help and you are dead meat. Right now in Mart there is Deborah Harris or Ms. Boss Lady, whatever it is she likes to call herself. She is ignorant and power mad. All day long she gets off on thereatening people for the slightest infractions. Wow, smart, take demoralized people and demoralize them more. What nerve, she can't write sentences and she want to kill everybody else. Everything is so bad right now. I can tell you this much, TYC is troubled but not like people want to believe. Ther are lots of problems, but major themes are overcorrecting with asinine rules and putting idiots in important positions. Add that that to insincere political maneuvering and you have a big mess. I suggest that everyone volunteer at a TYC facility for at 2 weeks preferably more. You will learn alot, I promise. If you'vr never been a part of it you can never really understand what it's like. I can tell you this much, no government agency can save those kids. It is unrealisitic to expect it. All it can do is offer a hand. TYC cannot take the place of what the kids didn't get from home. Only in a minimal way. My goal was to try in a short amount of time to teach the kids on my dorm how to think for themselves, to have a little hope and courage and to learn to have a little empathy for others. Treatment is not going to save the world. Man I can't tell you how many kids I had that could talk the talk better than a therapist. You guys have no idea how many people have already tried to help before a youth is ever sentenced to TYC. It takes all of us to help these kids and even with the very best treatment in the end it is still their decision which road they will take. Right now they feel really powerful because they know what is going on. They love it when the adults ar arguing with and turning on each other. They call it divide and conquer and that is exactly what is going on. We are doing them a diservice with all of this instability, squabbling and undermining of each other going on. They are really no different that your kids at home when they play mommy against daddy.

Anonymous said...

I agree that turmoil in a facility does the kids an injustice. When too many stupid rules are placed on the staff where they cannot even discipline a kids behavior then the kids rule the facility. The proposed TJPC standards on facilities does just that. We can see what happened when the state over regulated staff discipline of kids at TYC. The kids now run the facilities and the staff are afraid to discipline them. But this digresses. This blog is about the CDF and their iniative. I encourage everyone to look at their website, specifically the Cradle To Prison Pipeline piece. If that information does not inspire youth workers across they state to take a look at what they are really tasked to do then we are in trouble. The Sunset Commission has a unique opportunity on January 14 to initiate changes to the way juvenile justice is handled in the state. If appropriate measures are put into place to assure services at the county level are maintained or increased then the system will work. I have to disagree with a previous post. I DO believe the senators and representatives have the welfare of youth in the state of Texas in mind when proposing sweeping changes. 90% of the juveniles we deal with at the county level simply need discipline instilled in their lives and if we were to be able to provide MORE mental health services on the front end along with family counseling then these kids might make it. $68,000.00 per year to house a kid at TYC would pay for a master's level therapist who could service 100's of kids a year. 1 1/2

Anonymous said...

Funny! The master's level psychologist at TYC only make $36,000 per year. You get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

While associate psychologists and psychologists are extremely underpaid, that does not mean they are inadequate. Also, how many are there anyway? They don't play a major role in grand scheme of TYC things.