Most eagerly watched will be the final agenda item where they discuss the Sunset staff's proposal to merge TYC with the Juvenile Probation Commission. Now that I've had a chance to thoroughly consider the staff report (pdf) and talk to a number of people about the plan, I've reached the conclusion that simply merging the agencies won't solve the myriad problems described by Sunset staff facing Texas youth prisons.
What's more, to the extent a merger is done with an eye toward reducing expenditures, it could actually make matters worse because most of the major problems identified by Sunset staff - inadequate mental health treatment, lack of special ed instruction, oversized facilities, etc. - require more resources, not less, to solve. Cost savings predictions also ignore the need for investment in other areas like public schools and healthcare that affect juvenile justice.
In addition, Sunset staff (who are government efficiency wonks, not juvenile justice experts) failed to advocate a shift to smaller, Missouri-style facilities or a rehabilitation model that conforms to widely acknowledged best practices aimed at reducing recidivism. The gubernatorial Blue Ribbon Panel's detailed suggestion (pdf) in 2007 for reforming TYC along these lines was sadly defenestrated by the adult-prison transplants who were running the agency at the time and was never revived.
Given my druthers, I'd prefer Sunset had revisited those Blue Ribbon Panel suggestions - they're proposing to take the agency in a different direction than the one suggested by most juvie specialists.
The Sunset report also downplayed too much (IMO) the financial impact of downsizing TYC on counties at a time when the Legislative Budget Board says youth inmate populations will be rising. There's a pilot grant program suggested to reimburse counties for costs, but it appears underfunded and speculative whereas if more TYC kids must be handled by counties, those costs will be specific and concrete.
Likely most counties would seek to identify private residential placements to manage these offenders, but the truth is there simply isn't enough private capacity out there right now to pick up the slack if LBB's inmate population projections hold. The Sunset report and the LBB projections, as far as I can tell, cannot be mutually justified - something's got to give.
See related Grits coverage:
- Sunset: TYC treatment programs failing miserably
- Sunset: TYC, county probation, don't gather, share enough information
- Would juvie probation be de-prioritized if merged with TYC?
- Will TYC-TJPC merger improve juvie corrections?
- Pondering the economics of TYC abolition
- Sunset's plan to abolish TYC
- What do you mean "abolish TYC"? A conversation with John Whitmire
- Self-paced learning at TYC the 'least effective' approach
- A closer look at the 'Missouri Model' for juvenile corrections
- TYC commitments to grow drastically despite declining juvie crime