Still, an op ed yesterday in the Austin Statesman by former TDCJ monitor and LBJ school academic Michele Deitch and former TDCJ chief Gary Johnson gave it the ol' college try, criticizing the application of adult prison techniques to juvenile offenders and the newspaper's "caricatured" portrayal of the issue. "Readers have been presented with stark contrasts between a caricatured mollycoddling philosophy that supposedly characterizes the former Texas Youth Commission facilities, and the severe discipline, harsh physical conditions and solitary confinement options for juveniles that are endemic in the adult prison system," they wrote. The writers emphasized that maintaining discipline is critical to the agency's mission, but declared that:
discipline does not mean — and should not mean in the juvenile context — use of physical force or brutality, use of pepper spray, use of long-term solitary confinement or denial of programming. Not only are such measures banned under the terms of federal court orders that govern the state's juvenile justice agency, they are counterproductive strategies that worsen outcomes for the youths and put us all at risk when they are ultimately released from confinement.I'm glad they mentioned the federal court orders; Grits has wondered if there's been so much turnover at the agency, remaining officials just forgot about them. The op-ed writers describe how juvenile offenders are treated in TDCJ, noting that "administrators and staffers there will be the first to say that these youths do not belong in adult facilities." And they adumbrated national research and standards critical of using adult prison facilities and methods with juvenile offenders:
National research shows that juveniles who are housed in adult prisons have vastly higher rates of suicide, mental illness, and sexual and physical assaults than their counterparts in juvenile facilities. They also have much worse outcomes, despite the (surprising) similarities in demographics and criminal offense history. One nationally reported study found that juveniles who spend at least a year in adult prisons and jails have a 100 percent greater risk of violent recidivism than those in juvenile facilities.Finally, the authors point out that some of TJJD/TYC's programming - particularly their capital offenders program and their sex-offender regimen, "are far more successful in working with violent youths than any program the adult corrections system has to offer," encouraging lawmakers not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater."
A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appointed a task force to evaluate all available research on this subject. The task force concluded that the evidence is overwhelming that transferring youths to the adult system is counterproductive as a strategy for controlling or preventing violence; it actually makes youths worse. The CDC called on policymakers to immediately reverse policies that allow youths to be placed in the adult criminal justice system.
For these reasons and others, every major professional corrections organization — including the American Correctional Association, the American Bar Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Association of Juvenile Correctional Administrators — disapproves of the notion of keeping juveniles in adult prisons and jails.
See related, recent Grits posts: