Thursday, August 12, 2010

Panel on juvenile parole and reentry

At lunchtime today I attended a panel hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation regarding juvenile parole and reentry, focused on:
How can Texas enhance its approach to parole and reentry to break the cycle of youth crime so there are fewer victims and taxpayers pay less to re-incarcerate the same youths?

  • The Honorable Jim McReynolds, Chairman, House Corrections Committee
  • The Honorable Robert Eckels, Former Harris County Judge
  • Cheryln Townsend, Executive Director, Texas Youth Commission
  • David Reilly, Chief, Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department
TPPF's Marc Levin set the stage by describing the state's somewhat fragmented juvenile parole system, run by the state in larger jurisdiction and by contract, usually with local probation departments, in more rural areas. There are 1,700 youth on TYC parole; about 420 were revoked in 2009, making up 20-25% of new commitments.

Chairman McReynolds focused on a theme that recurred among the presenters, that planning for reentry couldn't begin early enough. It should begin, he said, on the first day of confinement. He focused on the need to implement and use risk and needs assessment tools, and said it "sets the child up for failure" to release them without adequate services in place for them to succeed.

Because incarceration in TYC costs $271 per day and juvenile parole costs $15, he said, there may be room to develop middle ground programming - a "halfway solution" - that's more resource intensive than parole but stops short of full-blown detention, at least 24-7. He particularly mentioned in-home treatment and counseling as well as mentoring as examples of "interim" approaches.

Juvenile probation chief David Reilly from San Antonio showed us recidivism data from the first year out of detention for youth in their area: Seventy percent or so didn't re-offend at all in the first year, and of those who did, the overwhelming majority did so during the first six months, which makes the reentry period and "aftercare" programs critical to determining success.

Reilly made the provocative point that recidivism is not always a bad thing, that it should not be considered universally a negative event and that it's not necessarily a sign the child is failing. Recidivism is a limited piece of data regarding what it can tell you, he said. We rely on it because it's easy to count, while we ignore assessing things about youth that may be more difficult to quantify.

Bexar County Juvenile Probation is partnering with TYC and a Baptist children's charity to create a one-stop center for accessing resources for at-risk youth. The program includes the concept of a "circle of support" in which they bring in the youth's family, mentors, teachers, church leaders, or anybody else who's important in the kid's life and get them to assist in the intervention in a structured way.

Former Harris County Judge Bob Eckels described his history with juvie justice programs as a legislator and county commissioners court judge, saying at one point that after a while it dawned on him that by the time youth entered the juvenile justice system, society had already failed them. He identified mental health treatment, drug treatment and family counseling as the areas where state investments could help locals keep kids in the community instead of sending them to TYC.

Finally, Cherie Townsend from TYC said that youth sent to prison in Texas today are not much like other youth or even other delinquents because recent reforms removed most of the less hard-core offenders from the system. Those who remain require more supervision, more services, are generally doing poorly in school (40% qualify for special education), and have often been victims of serious trauma including physical and sexual abuse, she said.

Townsend referenced TYC's reentry plan (pdf), which I'd not read but which merits a link for anyone interested. She reiterated McReynolds' point that "aftercare shouldn't be an afterthought," declaring their goal was to get to the point where youths reentry plans began to be legitimately formed right at intake, keeping the goal (successful reentry) in mind from the get-go.

Interesting panel, if nothing too groundbreaking. Marc Levin's been doing a great job shining light into dark corners of the justice system, and this is a particularly obscure and rarely considered topic that deserves more attention than it usually receives.


Anonymous said...

After the last ten years of crippling the juvenile justice system in TYC, it is far past time to start helping Texas youth. So many have been warped by the agency that it will be difficult to break even with so much of nothing offered in the past. At least it may provide new thoughts to offer real help.

Anonymous said...

Move TYC more towards service provider and further away from adjudicator?

Rest the decision to discharge, to grant release to parole, or to extend stay in TYC back with the committing juvenile court. If the court releases the youth to parole, the youth returns to the caseload of the local juvenile probation (and now parole) department for supervision.

If the county probation/parole dept. later sees the need to revoke parole, they take the request to the juvenile court, who holds the hearing and makes the decision.

This eliminates from TYC the Release Review Panel, a separate TYC parole division, and parole revocation hearings.

Too rad. All that re-wiring. Never happen.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:50, if counties want that much control then they'd have to pay for the parole costs, etc., just like they do probation. THAT's the part that will never happen.

Indeed, the only way to realistically make your scheme work as a practical matter without expanding youth prisons dramatically and breaking the bank would be if counties were charged the $271 per day when they send someone to TYC so judges and county policymakers would take into account the full cost to taxpayers when they make decisions about youth.

For many years, as Judge Eckels mentioned yesterday, counties had an incentive to kick their problem kids to TYC just to avoid the extra costs and hassle - incentives the Lege changed somewhat with their diversion grants beginning in 2007. You're suggesting counties should have more power to keep youth at TYC longer. I say that's fine as long as county taxpayers foot the cost, but NOT if (as at present) costs for kids sent to TYC are offloaded from the local county budget to the state.

Also, the "adjudicator" doesn't make parole decisions in the adult system, why would you vest that power with them for juveniles? Is that done anywhere?

Anonymous said...

The presentors also mentioned the importance of evaluating probation/parole in order to realistically determine the relative success of programs/services. After conducting evaluations, administrators and policy makers would have factual information upon which to make funding decisions. Shouldn't that type evaluation be required for any agency/department receiving public funds?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:21, I had a private conversation recently with Dr. Tony Fabelo who frustratedly expressed exactly the same sentiment. It's an issue that comes up EVERYWHERE. The Lege creates these programs but instead of evaluating constantly to tweak them for maximum effectiveness, they usually allocate little or no money for evaluation and just scrap the program when it fails to meet expectations in favor of the next year' fad.

IMO the $200+ million spent on adult diversion in each of the last couple of sessions offered an amazing opportunity to include a research component to evaluate what's being done on the ground and develop our own "evidence-based practices." (I'd suggested 1% of the funds be reserved for that purpose. That didn't happen, though, and the result is that while there's topline evidence the programs are working, to a certain extent decisionmakers are flying blind regarding ways to improve or evaluate programs.

Anonymous said...

Goose/gander. If you're gonna charge counties to place kids in TYC, why not charge them to commit adult offenders to TDCJ? When counties have a "free" option, they're likely to overuse it.

Anonymous said...

After reading the link, referring to the (then and now) presentation of the plan it looks like they are definitely on the right track if not dead on, the plan seems to be well thought out on paper, if it is as proactive in actual execution then the success rate could be phenomenal.

I’m not sure I get your meaning, “interesting panel, if nothing too ground breaking.”

Root causes of criminal activity for those who are not mentally ill can probably be associated directly with the youth’s environment in most cases and this plan addresses a magnitude of environmental issues that surround the initiation of criminal behavior and a positive approach to reform.

The plan could be implemented for young adults and again if properly executed probably have phenomenal results. So many young people are at risk but somehow make it through without ever having to experience the juvenile justice system, (which as suggested by this article has been ineffective anyway, hence (the new plan), and then become frequent flyers after reaching adulthood.

Rehabilitation and recidivism hold direct correlation (obviously) and if we focus on the young offenders with good results then that’s less going back when they become adults.

And, for all the taxpayer money going into Pretrial Release going in, and Probation and Parole going out, with the (usual) pitifully poor results that certainly could and should be properly evaluated, (what a waste of money); this would appear to be a proactive approach to common sense solutions that actually could have an impact on young adult offenders, gee (spend the money wisely), what an idea that would be.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:59 asks, "why not charge them to commit adult offenders to TDCJ?"

Actually I think that'd be a good idea, but as a practical matter the answer to your question is that nobody's claiming local judges' decisions should replace those of the adult parole board. You're saying locals should get to decide to incarcerate kids longer. I say fine, if counties are willing to pay the extra $271 per day per kid.

Anonymous said...

Grits 10:21 - regarding your conversation with Dr. Fabelo, since the lege does not want to pay for the evaluation of their implemented programs, isn't there any type of grant/federal funding for evaluation? I keep hearing the legislators rant about being implementing EBPs and being penny wise and pound foolish, but what gives? Dr. Fabelo told them the truth years ago, but they didn't want to listen even then. Are their rants for evaluation just talk for re-elections?

Anonymous said...

Requiring all youth to return to the committing county court is a ridiculous idea. What judge is going to have on the record that they released a kid? That approach was done a long time ago and that is exactly the reason why legislators gave TYC paroling authority.

Anonymous said...

Honestly there is also too little consistency across judges for there to be any hope of working effectively with juveniles in TYC if all youth were to return to the counties. TYC is already having problems with this with all the DSO youth who have to return to court due to the SB103 age change to 19.

Anonymous said...

I would add that in the pre-TYC era, county judges did have the authority to recall a youth from a state facility.

But guess who those judges relied on for the crucial info on which they based that decision?

You guessed it: the authorities at the state facilities, or the State Board of Control. Rare was the judge who took a family or attorney or advocate complaint very seriously.


Anonymous said...

As is the case with most things in life, watch what people do, not what they say. Case in point: The TYC Director of Parole position has been vacant for 6 months. I am at a loss to understand how Ms. Townsend can sit on a panel and talk about all TYC is doing for re-entry when they cannot fill the position that is in charge of this critical level of care.

Anonymous said...

This do-as-I-say, not as-I-do attitude has been TYC's measure since I joined the party ten years ago. Nothing changes much in TYC.

Anonymous said...

If your wondering about the parole entry position just look at the hiring supervisor, after you do then it should be quite clear why it has been posted for 6 months and no movement.
If re-entry is the mantra for this agency why has this position been unfilled for so long, just another day in TYC.

Anonymous said...

There is a budget shortfall-TYC should close completely.

Anonymous said...

About the vacant TYC Director of Parole position. Let's hope this position doesn't go to one of the old insiders who did so much to harm the agency. It's time for a change in this crazy agency.

JTP said...

Just FYI -

In the 90's when the state was running viable SAFP programs for adult probation offenders sentenced to 9 months in treatment, the facility treatment administration, working with the probation department that referred the individual, could request that a recalcitrant offender be brought back before the judge to review his "treatment options", which would include going to TDCJ, going back to intensive Probation Supervision or giving the treatment program another try. It motivated many of those offenders as well as their peers in treatment. The Probation Officers did agree to this unless the offender's treatment record gave ample documentation for the judge to review. This is just another example of where implementing that strategy worked......until the G.W. Bush's pull yourself up by your bootstraps philosophy trumped Ann Richards and Bob Bullock's treatment focus. Now the SAFPF model is being looked at again, albeit because of it's potential to financially help lower the costs of adult incarceration, more than the value of treatment. As I recall it was Fiablo and his folks that researched the outcomes and found they were positive -- but unfortunately not politically viable.

JTP said...


The sentence, "The Probation Officers did agree to this unless the offender's treatment record gave ample documentation for the judge to review" should read "The Probation Officers didn't agree to this unless..........

Shirin said...

Rehabilitation is under-utilized in our society, especially with respect to juvenile offenders. Unfortunately, life without parole for juveniles committing murder is still a possible sentence that exists in our country today. There's an interesting article here discussing whether this kind of sentence should be allowed for juveniles: