Kidding aside, the Texas Tribune's Brandi Grissom reports the remarkable news that Mr. Kimbrough will be returning to TJJD. Her story opens:
The man who has become Gov. Rick Perry's problem solver, Jay Kimbrough, is going back to the state's juvenile justice agency, which is facing a crisis again five years after the last time he helped bail the agency out of a major scandal.Long time readers will recall Kimbrough was briefly assigned to oversee the Texas Youth Commission in the early days after the media reports revealed the agency had covered-up sex scandals and tolerating abusive employees. He left to make way for Ed Owens' disastrous conservatorship, which sought to turn TYC into a mini-adult prison system, bringing in fumbling leadership from TDCJ as well as an adult security mentality heavily reliant on pepper spray and solitary confinement. Repeating that failed approach would be a nightmare.
"I am pleased that Jay has agreed to help TJJD as we restore legislative, public and employee confidence that Texas is operating facilities that are safe for both employees and youth,” Texas Juvenile Justice Department Executive Director Cherie Townsend said in a press statement on Tuesday.
Kimbrough, who will be on loan from the Texas Department of Public Safety, where he serves as assistant director of homeland security, served as conservator of the Texas Youth Commission in 2007 after investigative news reports revealed horrendous sexual and physical abuse at juvenile lockups. He will act as special assistant for safety and security at TJJD.
On the other hand, it was also Kimbrough who authored TYC's initial moves to reduce youth inmate populations, an approach that has worked well beyond anyone's imagination, allowing the state to close multiple youth prison units while juvenile crime has continued to plummet.
So I'm at least slightly sanguine that Kimbrough's appointment won't necessarily spawn a repeat of the unhappy era when Ed Owens and his associates from TDCJ drew down a bevy of lawsuits and near-rebellion among staff. Whether or not it was Kimbrough's intention to foist adult practices onto juvenile corrections, he's now seen that approach didn't work and he's nothing if not a pragmatic man. A fellow as fond as Kimbrough of bold moves can't help but sometimes make a wrong turn, but in my observation he's not the type of fellow to make the same mistake twice. And he may decide the state should double down on the part of his strategy that did work: Further de-incarceration and shifting responsibility for supervising more delinquent youth back to the local level.
Even longer-time readers will recall Kimbrough's "fixer" stint helping the the Department of Public Safety try to rein in Texas' regional narcotics task forces in the wake of 2005 legislation putting them under the command and control of the DPS Narcotics division. Many task forces simply refused to comply, and the Governor's Criminal Justice Division ultimately eliminated their funding entirely in 2006, shifting the federal grant money which for two decades had supported hundreds of narcotics officers to a combination of border enforcement and diversion programming, with an emphasis on specialty courts. In essence, they shifted responsibility for drug-enforcement downstream to the local level much like TYC shifted responsibility for supervising more delinquent youth back to the counties.
At TYC, Kimbrough had good instincts about reducing inmate populations but not about putting Ed Owens and his TDCJ cadres in charge when he left, to the extent that was his call. OTOH, in my view he knocked the drug-task force issue out of the park. And in both instances, one notes, part of his approach was to eliminate failing institutions instead of reform them, which may give a hint as to one possible approach he could take at TJJD along the same lines.
One of the major alternatives being bandied about is to eliminate most of the rest of juvenile detention facilities (they probably can't get rid of the mental health beds) and shift more money and responsibility to counties to manage delinquent youth. If Kimbrough decides Texas youth prisons are completely dysfunctional, as was the case with the drug-task force system, will he similarly recommend a wipe-the-slate-clean approach? At this point nothing would surprise me.
At least formally, Kimbrough has been brought in as an assistant to Cherie Townsend, though a "special assistant" with the Governor on speed dial won't always be perceived or necessarily behave as a subordinate. Hold onto your hats. The agency is no doubt in for another tumultuous year between now and the end of the 2013 legislative session.