Today, Chairman John Whitmire called me to inform me that consolidation of TYC and TJPC will not happen this session. He is working hard to reform the juvenile system to provide counties the option of keeping more kids local instead of sending them to TYC and providing substantial additional funding to counties that do so.If accurate, it's pretty important concession from Sen. Whitmire - to take merging the Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission off the table. I called the Chairman's committee staff to confirm or refute the rumor, but they were unaware of the conversation.
In a previous item, I'd posted plans suggested by county juvenile probation departments which were passed along by Sen. Whitmire's office about how proposed, new diversion funding might work, but I was inadvertently sent the Travis County plan instead of the one from Dallas, as they'd intended. I apologize for the error.
In any event, little by little, it's becoming possible to piece together what Texas' juvenile justice system might look like, at least in broad outline, if TYC were radically downsized. Now that we've got a copy of the Dallas plan, let's look at a some of its key components. For starters, it includes several assumptions:
- Participation is voluntary
- TYC still exists for serious, persistent offenders
- TYC commitment targets are negotiated with the county
- County is reimbursed by the State at Intensive ($222) Level of Care per diem for difference between commitment target and average commitment total
- County pays State per diem for each youth committed over the target
That's one of the reasons some juvie probation directors have told me they're hesitant to sign off on accepting these new responsibilities - at the higher rate, they say, they're pretty sure they can make the idea work. At a lower figure, quien sabe? Maybe not. Remember, they've already tried managing these same kids with the resources they've got.
At the per-diem rate suggested in the Dallas document, costs would still range higher than $81,000 per youth per year - a savings over the status quo, to be sure, but still much more than TYC's per-youth cost before the 2007 sex-scandal meltdown.
I like the idea of the county losing funds if they send more youth to TYC than their commitment target. That mechanism would give some teeth to the new reforms and is a particularly clever way to ensure compliance.
On the other hand, the voluntary component and negotiated commitment targets add an element of uncertainty to just how much TYC's population might really be reduced. If many counties choose not to participate or judges send more kids to TYC - decisions which lie entirely outside the Legislature's control - TYC could easily be back during the interim looking for emergency appropriations.
That said, a couple of juvie probation directors I spoke to were supportive of the idea. Les Brown, chief of the Lubbock juvenile probation department (speaking only for himself, he emphasized), said:
I do support moving more responsibility to the counties if funding from the Lege comes with it. No doubt counties can place kids in specialized programs (secure/nonsecure) at less cost than TYC. If they're spending $99K per year per student, we can do it much cheaper, hell, maybe 50-75% cheaper than TYC. Rural counties need a good chunk of the money, IMO, because they are the departments who use TYC as a "free placement" while the kid may not need specialized care and programs. As the good Senator says, TYC needs to exist for the worst of the worst and the kid who has been unsuccessful in local programs and several placements. The public needs to be protected from these type kids.Brown also seriously questioned, however, if "the private, for profit, county and non-profit infrastructure currently exist for 1000-1500 additional beds?" In other words, if you tell the counties to manage more youth with serious behavioral problems, as a practical matter are there currently enough beds to handle them? I agree with Les that piece of the puzzle remains a big question mark.
Another way for the Lege to deal with this is to further restrict types of kids (by offense) who may be committed to TYC much like the barring of misdemeanors. Not what I prefer but an alternative.
Interestingly, I'm told that smaller, rural jurisdictions are more amenable to the idea of managing placements themselves because they have little faith in TYC and feel like, if given enough money, they can deal with the small number of kids they'll be asked to handle. It's some of the larger and mid-sized agencies that are more concerned about the devil in the details.
I've got a few calls still out to other juvenile justice professionals and will write more on this topic when I get more feedback from folks in the know.