The three TYC Ombudsmen so far have come from extraordinarily different backgrounds. Former Texas ACLU Director Will Harrell couldn't get a Senate confirmation vote after criticizing policies he believed harmed youth. The ex-Dallas judge who replaced him wasn't on the job but just a few months before she was caught smuggling contraband onto the campuses, ostensibly to test security. Mr. Moore, as an ex-Amarillo cop, DPS trooper, and federal marshal, is coming from a very different place - more the background you'd expect for a hire as Inspector General than Ombudsman. His skill set could still be applicable; the question will be one of "want to": Will he or won't he?
John Moore, a retired U.S. marshal and state trooper, was appointed [Wednesday] to be the new independent ombudsman at the Texas Youth Commission. ...
Moore, a Denison resident, is retired after a 25-year career as a federal marshal, and served before that as a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper and an officer in the Amarillo Police Department.
He also served in the U.S. Army, the Texas National Guard and the Texas State Guard. Moore holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Wayland Baptist University, according to Perry’s office.
As ombudsman, Moore will review and report on conditions in Youth Commission lockups to ensure that a myriad of abuse and operational issues that exploded in scandal in 2007 do not reoccur.
The ombudsman function is quite different from that of a cop. According to SB 103 (2007) which established the office, "The office of independent ombudsman is a state agency established for the purpose of investigating, evaluating, and securing the rights of children committed to the commission, including a child released under supervision before final release." So the job is securing the "rights" of convicted felons, plus "investigating" and "evaluating" agency actions or policies that interfere with those rights. Will an ex-cop be the right fit for that task? Let's hope so. It's who the kids have got.
One thing I'd like to see from this new appointee: The last two Ombudsmen focused almost exclusively on what goes on inside TYC facilities, which is understandable given the sex scandals that spurred creation of the office. But the office is also charged with "investigating, evaluating and securing the rights of children ... under supervision [on parole] before final release," and much less work has been done on behalf of youth parolees, who are equally part of the Ombudsman's charge. In particular, there are too many gaps in ensuring free-world mental-health treatment and reintegrating TYC parolees back into the education system. Especially now that lengths of stay have shortened and there are fewer than half as many youth locked up in juvie prisons compared to just three years ago, focusing on parolees and reentry becomes an even more critical part of the job.
TYC is still recovering from upheavals of the last three years, and while progress has been made, some employees have become alienated and in too many quarters its staff exhibit an "every man for himself" mentality. What's more, there's a not-so-subtle backlash from some of TYC's front-line employees against many recent reforms. In that context, Mr. Moore is taking on a particularly important duty. TYC youth have no voice in the process and it's up to the Ombudsman to educate himself about their situation and provide one. I choose to hope for the best and wish Mr. Moore lots of luck in his new gig.