“There are just over 1,400 youths left — about the size of a middle school in Austin — and yet the budget is $250 million, the central office staff remains large, the recidivism is still high … the cost of caring for each youth is $120,000 a year — an amazing amount,” Whitmire said.Given that the Legislature declined a merger last session and Sunset Commission staff recommended against it this time around, under normal circumstances I'd consider it unlikely the agencies would be merged next spring. But the yawning budget gap throws that calculus into question. From a pure process perspective one wouldn't suspect it, but when we get to the point next year when legislators are busting up the furniture for kindling, certainly anything is possible, and a merger would clearly be Sen. Whitmire's preference.
“There are much less expensive ways to more appropriately deal with these youths … in community settings where they can receive appropriate programs, not incarcerated out in the middle of nowhere.”
Two advocacy groups that two years ago had lobbied against a merger — the Texas Appleseed Project and Advocacy Inc. — today endorsed merging the Youth Commission into a new juvenile justice agency that could better treat and rehabilitate Texas’ most troubled youths.
Expressing exasperation about problems that continue to plague the Youth Commission, almost four years after the scandal broke to trigger sweeping reforms, Whitmire at one point told Cherie Townsend, the agency’s executive director, that change is coming.
“If you can’t see that, you should,” he said, claiming that legislative leaders who are in charge of writing the state’s new budget seem to agree with his position.
MORE: From Laura Burke at the Texas Observer.