However, siting corrections units in remote, rural areas created many practical problems: It's difficult to find staffing, even more difficult to find medical specialists or mental health providers, and for juvenile corrections there's little access to specialized programming that might help kids succeed.
Equally frustrating, because the only reason the state put prison units in tiny rural towns was to prop up their economy with political pork, locals inevitably came to see those agencies as mere jobs program instead of fulfilling a state function. That dynamic may be seen in this Odessa American story ("Possible Pyote Closing," Dec. 16) about the possible closure of TYC's West Texas State School:
Less than a year after the last battle, David Cutbirth is ready to fight again to keep the West Texas State School in Pyote.
With a drop in the oil and gas markets, the Monahans mayor said there's an even greater need for the Texas Youth Commission facility and the 153 jobs it provides.
"About the time we need jobs, they shut it down," Cutbirth said. "That's the damn state for you."
Cutbirth was upset over a recommendation in a report by the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, a state agency created to eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency in government. The group called for the TYC facility, located 15 miles west of Monahans in Ward County, to be closed, citing a difficulty to keep the juvenile prison staffed.
Due to a lack of workers, the Pyote school is budgeted for 96 youth, even though it has 240 beds, the Sunset commission said in its report. It currently has 92 students. Closing it would save the state $9 million.
Cutbirth clearly could care less about TYC's juvenile justice functions, and he certainly doesn't care that the local DA isn't interesting in prosecuting sex crimes at the unit. His only concern is that "we need jobs."
However that's not remotely TYC's responsibility to worry about - it's got enough troubles managing its own business. Anyway, a far bigger blow to the West Texas economy are layoffs in the oil industry; by comparison, TYC is small potatoes.
The biggest irony is that Cutbirth actually lost this fight in 2007 and apparently didn't realize it. The Legislature only budgeted the Pyote facility through fiscal year 2008, and the unit is currently being operated on leftover savings because of understaffing at other TYC units. (The same is true for the Victory Field unit in Vernon.)
While the Sunset staff projected budget savings from those closures, in fact that was an erroneous analysis - closing those facilities won't reduce TYC's budget from the current amount, but keeping them open would cost the state more. Bottom line: The Pyote and Victory Field units are already living on borrowed time.
Prisons are not jobs programs - that's true for both TDCJ and TYC. If the state wants to invest in jobs programs, prisons have a relatively small economic multiplier effect (see this report from the Sentencing Project) while other investments - in education, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure, for example - will give much more job-producing bang for the buck.
To the extent TYC should be salvaged, it's because it fulfills an important state function, not soley to put money in the locals' pockets. Where that's the goal, there are many more beneficial ways to go about it.