Which gives me cause to introduce readers to Tara Haelle, a former schoolteacher who's now a grad student at the LBJ School studying juvie corrections this semester and who's been assigned to Grits as an intern to help supplement this blog's juvie coverage. I'll be editing her work (and sometimes injecting editorial content) as well as incorporating her research into my own writing. Needless to say, none of the opinions expressed here in any way represent those of UT, the LBJ School, her teacher, nor anybody but the writers themselves.
To kick things off, I asked Tara to run through the highlights of the section of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee's interm report (pdf, Interim Charge Two, pp 20-36) regarding TYC juvie corrections, leading off with a discussion of barriers to reentry identified by the committee. Here is an edited version of her first report:
If youth are to be successful after leaving TYC, the best path is for them to finish high school and eventually get a good job. But according to the interim report from the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, these things aren’t always happening.
The report describes two major issues with re-entry that legislators ought to address this session: requiring school districts to admit kids released from TYC and tightening confidentiality laws that often keep kids from getting jobs after they’re released.
Key among the “barriers to the successful return to law-abiding behavior” is treatment of TYC kids when they return to regular school districts, the report says. One part of the problem is the reluctance of school districts to take the kids back:
“Some school districts refuse admission of youth when TYC places the youth in a home of a person, not a parent, because the school district considers the placement to be made without a court order.”
The Education Code already requires that public schools admit children placed in foster care by a state agency in their district, but some school districts refuse to recognize TYC’s authority and deny kids admission.
At least one unnamed school district, according to the report, tried to put a TYC youth into an alternative education program for the same offense that sent them to TYC. The law needs to clearly state that students can only be expelled or sent to alternative schools for current behavior — not for so-called "prior adjudicated behavior," i.e., the behavior that got them sent to TYC.
(The Ombudsman is also working on an evaluation of re-entry obstacles with a focus on the educational challenges. Though the report is not ready yet, it will likely provide more depth on some of the reforms necessary to help TYC students’ re-entry process.)
The interim report sensibly says that “to successfully rejoin the community, TYC youth must be given an opportunity to complete their high school education in regular or alternative schools without impediment.” But getting back in school is only one hurdle these kids face. If employers can access their records, it can be an uphill battle to get a good job. The report says:
“Some of this is caused by the increasingly easy access the public has to delinquency and/or criminal offense information on TYC youth. Internet disclosure of this information has been reported as has inappropriate release of this information from DPS employees over the phone. Even though this information is usually restricted to the general public, most employers have access to it and are sometimes reticent to give TYC youth the benefit of the doubt as job applicants.”
These records should be sealed — and so should the lips of state employees. If the state doesn’t make these records harder to leak, and the penalties more severe for leaking them, that’s one more reason kids may end up back at TYC.
It shouldn’t be so tough for a youth released from TYC to get back into regular education classrooms and working at a regular job. And it shouldn’t be so tough for the Legislature to help make that happen.
Ed note: I don't necessarily agree that penalties should be more severe for leaking information so much as I think current restrictions should be more rigorously enforced and DPS systems improved so that such information is only revealed on a need to know basis, not online or over the phone. Otherwise, these are excellent reentry suggestions by the committee.