In all the fuss about whether to abolish TYC and merge it with the Juvenile Probation Commission, official discussions have too often overlooked needed educational reforms, which, happily, is something the Senate Criminal Justice Committee's Interim Report (pdf) remedies. This emphasis echoes a call last year from the Office of Independent Ombudsman (OIO) to focus on education as a key preventive for recidivism:
“Education and the associated attainment of diplomas, equivalency degrees, and certifications provide the most powerful and evidence‐based approach to improve outcomes for incarcerated youth and to reduce recidivism. Conversely, success in education and work are two of the strongest protective factors for delinquent youth. Conversely, success in education and work are two of the strongest protective factors for delinquent youth…“Agency officials, expert consultant Dr. Michael Kresmien [author of the OIO report], and the Chief Ombudsman met with Senator Florence Shapiro, Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, to discuss legislative solutions to the problem with the education services at TYC that were identified in the [OIO] report.” (Ed note: Hopefully that means we'll see legislation filed soon on these topics.)
“As a state, Texas should embrace and require a transformation of the education program at the TYC… If we want the youth at TYC to become civically‐responsible taxpayers and citizens, we need to rethink how we educate youth at the TYC. Education continues to be the best option for reducing recidivism by providing youth with post‐release opportunities to find meaningful employment, to pursue a post‐secondary education, or to pursue post‐secondary training in a trade or skill.”
The committee report includes charts showing a steady decrease in TYC students’ level gains in math and reading since 2005. Much of this can be attributed to the movement of youth among the facilities and the use of “self-paced” work and punitive measures that prevent the teacher-student interaction that’s essential for effective learning.
The Senate committee report echoed the Ombudsman's conclusions that TYC needs to require better front-end assessment and more funding to meet state and federal regulations on special education. Right now, 40 percent of TYC inmates qualify for special education services, but “more than two thirds of the special education students have no direct service from a special education teacher.” The committee also expressed a desire for more options for vocational programs to aid students in finding a job following re-entry.
The next step, said the Senate committee report, would be developing a curriculum that meets Texas Education Agency standards and is used consistently across all facilities. If there is a standardized scope and sequence all facilities follow, a student doesn’t lose as much progress when moving from one facility to another. Texas ISDs should already be doing this; there’s no reason TYC could not implement a similar system. The same goes for setting a specific daily schedule for TYC educational programs.
If the agency could accomplish all this — and to succeed, TYC would require funding for increased educational staffing and professional development — it'd put youth on a better educational track when they get out (as nearly all, eventually will) and hopefully a better track for life.