In a memo to legislative leaders dated May 25, Cherie Townsend, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said the agency is developing plans for a 24-bed "secure intensive behavior intervention program" at the facility near Mart, about 10 miles from Waco.Grits has already explained why I think that's likely to blowback, including potential litigation based on a federal settlement agreement that's governed solitary confinement at Texas youth prisons since the '80s. Time will tell: They're plowing forward with the idea, regardless.
Eight beds might open by the end of June, with the rest by Aug. 1, according to the memo obtained by the American-Statesman.
The memo also reveals that officials are developing a program "to serve the approximately 10 percent of commitments and recommitments who are responsible for the majority of assaultive behavior" in the agency's lockups.
Another building at Mart would be the site of that 32-bed program, for which Townsend said she intends to seek approval at a late June meeting of the agency's governing board.
Related: See, "Solitary confinement at Texas youth prisons: A brief history." Also, "Violence at youth prisons blamed on lax discipline; structural problems ignored."
MORE (6/4): A common theme in stories by Mike Ward on these topics is the false framing of the question to portray the state's options as a) treat juveniles like in adult prisons and punish with solitary confinement, or b) employ no consequences at all and let the inmates do whatever they want. He offered up another story in that vein today titled "Officials may look to adult prisons to help solve juvenile security problems," focusing on 63 juveniles who've been certified as adults and are serving time at the Clemens unit, where youth are on adult-style lockdown without the type of educational or treatment services provided at youth prisons:
At Clemens, such perks [rewarding good behavior] are unheard of. The youths wear prison uniforms, live in grimy, foul-smelling cellblocks without air conditioning and with chipped paint and graffiti on the walls. They might work in the fields.Ward claims these inmates are "statistically similar" to those in regular youth prisons, but that's not true across the board. Granted, juveniles with "determinate" sentences differ in profile from those certified as adults mainly in their county of conviction. They, like those in TDCJ, are not getting out anytime soon. Most offenders in youth prisons, though, are serving "indeterminate" sentences meaning they can earn release through good behavior, working the programs, etc.. Juvie corrections focus more on rehabilitation because in most cases they'll reenter society relatively quickly. So these are not the same situations at all, statistically or otherwise. Bogus argument..
Another difference is that youths at other lockups can be serving time for both determinate or indeterminate sentences, meaning they can get out sooner if they behave and complete their programs fast. In the Clemens Unit, all convicts have determinate sentences — meaning many won't get out until they are middle-aged.
If you really want to do a valid comparison, it shouldn't be to juveniles in the adult system: Does Missouri have similar security problems to TJJD, for example? That state pioneered the path recommended by experts on Rick Perry's "blue ribbon panel" (which the Legislature mostly ignored) in order to reduce violence. They re-structured youth prison environments, shifting to smaller units to maximize chances for rehabilitation. Their program is widely recognized as a national model. (By contrast, nobody considers Texas' juvie prisons a model for anything.)
Yes, you can stick youth "in grimy, foul-smelling cellblocks," make them work in the fields, and they'll likely pose fewer security risks than those engaged in school and rehabilitation activities, at least in the near term. But what about the "security risk" of sending un-rehabilitated youth back into society? Most youth in TJJD aren't going to be in prison for years like those Ward describes at Clemens: They're moving back (maybe into your neighborhood) much sooner than later.
Last year, Michele Deitch at UT"s LBJ School closely examined the issue of Texas youth housed in adult prisons in a report titled "Juveniles in the adult criminal justice system in Texas," (pdf). That analysis takes on new import as state leaders seek to model juvie corrections on the adult system, but the study cast cold water on the idea:
Housing juveniles in adult prisons and jails compromises both public safety and the personal safety of the youth. A Task Force of the Centers for Disease Control, reviewing all available scientific research, concluded that the transfer of youth to the adult system not only has no deterrent value but typically increases rather than decreases their rates of violence and recidivism. One nationally-reported study found that transferred juveniles who served at least a year in prison had a 100% greater risk of violent recidivism.
Moreover, juveniles housed in adult prisons and jails face vastly higher risks of suicide, sexual assault, physical assault, and mental illness. ...
The CDC conclusion was consistent with findings of prior researchers, who determined that “juveniles prosecuted as adults reoffend more quickly and at rates equal to or higher than comparable youths retained in the juvenile system.” The evidence supporting this finding was so clear that the CDC Task Force took the highly unusual step of recommending that legislators repeal laws and policies that facilitate the transfer of youth from the juvenile to the adult system. The CDC group specifically highlighted safety concerns about the placement of juveniles under the age of 18 in adult prisons and jails.Deitch's report detailed some of the differences between TDCJ's Youthful Offender Program and TJJD (then TYC):
While youth in the prison system’s Youthful Offender Program have access to some therapeutic programming, the curriculum has been severely compressed over the last few years. Vocational training and recreational opportunities are inadequate, according to TDCJ’s internal reports. Only 38% of juveniles in TDCJ are enrolled in educational classes, compared to 96% of juveniles in TYC. And there are so few females in the YOP that opportunities for this population are especially lacking.The report also noted the remarkable and disturbing statistic that juveniles housed in adult facilities are "36 times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in juvenile facilities." That alone should provide cause for concern. Further, "Juveniles who are housed in TDCJ’s Youthful Offender Program receive minimal specialized programming, especially compared to those in TYC. Also, the majority of these youth are not in school."
TDCJ has clearly made an effort to offer special protections for this juvenile population, but any services provided are at best an overlay to the agency’s primary security mission. Juvenile facilities, in contrast, offer specialized and intensive therapeutic programming with impressive results, an education-focused curriculum, and a staff trained to work exclusively with this population of juvenile offenders.
How frustrating! We've already been down this path where officials from the adult prison system came in to try to reform then-TYC's approach based on an adult security model. It failed miserably, generated expensive litigation that forced roll back of its "reforms," and set back progress at the agency for years. But no matter ... here we go again. If it's true that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, then it appears to Grits we're now entering the "farce" stage full-on, repeating failed approaches from just four years ago because the pols all want to appear tuff on crime but refuse to either accept expert advice or spend the money to do the job right.
Winston Churchill once said of Americans that we can always be counted on to do the right thing after we've tried everything else. In Texas, apparently we have to try everything else twice.