In recent days, the $430 million has re-emerged for inclusion in the Senate version of the budget. That reportedly is to include a pay raise for TYC correctional officers.
If adopted at a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee this afternoon, the funding stream would mean taxpayers will spend about $84,000 per year per kid rather than $99,000, according to two Senate number-crunchers.
But $84,000 is still much more than the county incarceration and treatment programs will cost, critics note. Agency supporters insist it is justified, and is less than before.
“I don’t like this at all,” said Senate Criminal Justice Commission Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, an outspoken critic of the agency’s spending and among the senators who have been working to cut the budget even more.
“What we’re getting ready to pay for is an expensive, overly bureaucratic agency that has way too many high-paid central office personnel than they need.”
Even if Senate Finance doesn't dismantle the agency through the budget, I hope they move forward with Sen. Whitmire's proposal to divert youth to counties using incentive-based grants.
In the short run, it's unclear how much cheaper diversion to counties would be. Under one estimate from Dallas, counties would be reimbursed $222 per day or $81,030 per year. Other counties, including Travis and a collection of probation departments from Southeast Texas, thought they could get the job done at $175 per day, or $63,875 per year, according to documents provided to this blog. (Of course, there would also be additional state costs for grant distribution, oversight, rule enforcement, etc..)
But I do think that, just as Sen. Whitmire and the Lege have done with the adult system, the state can and should still use grant-based incentives to change local juvie policy over time so that the number of TYC commitments declines - hopefully substantially. If TYC populations decline precipitously because of the diversion grants, two years from now the arguments for dramatically downsizing it will be much stronger.
I've never really bought into the notion that transforming the juvenile justice system would be cheaper in the short-run, though in the long run that will likely be true. But my skepticism about cost savings doesn't mean I oppose more local placements for offenders where adequate facilities exist. What's more, I think incentive-based grants have a proven track record in Texas' adult system and would work equally well in the juvie realm.