Among the major concerns Kimbrough noted from the report was the staff-to-youth ratio. Currently, there are about eight to 12 youths for each staff member at the TDCJ facilities, he said. He'd like to see that improved to about six youths per staffer. In the last week, the TJJD has begun advertising for part-time staffers, he said. The agency is seeking 20 part-time workers at four of its facilities and 10 for a fifth.Grits has maintained for some time that staffing levels - not a shortage of solitary confinement cells or the failure to treat youth more harshly - are the root cause of the agency's troubles, along with a failure to implement various best practices advised by experts the state convened to suggest reforms back in 2007. Despite over-the-top criticisms by legislators that TJJD administrators exhibited a "hug a thug" mentality, it's the Legislature, not agency administrators, which decides how many JCOs TJJD get to hire and what they are paid. The findings from these surprise inspections remind me of an old chestnut my mother was fond of when I was a kid: When you point a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you. That applies in spades to legislative critics of TJJD's remaining youth lockups.
Hiring additional staff, [interim executive director Jay] Kimbrough said, would allow existing workers to log fewer hours on the job, which would reduce their stress and make both the staff and the youths safer.
“It’s a pretty stressful week, and working 60 hours every week for 50 weeks is pretty stressful,” he said.
So far, the agency has received 16 applications for the 90 part-time jobs available.
The other big issue confronting Texas youth prisons - the failure to replace TYC's old treatment programming with a viable alternative - was raised by Texas Appleseed's Deborah Fowler in the final paragraphs of the Trib story:
Juvenile justice advocates applauded the agency’s efforts to address systemic problems that have contributed to violence and escapes. They said they were pleased that TJJD officials are doing more than simply punishing youths considered bad apples. But Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, which advocates for juvenile justice reform, said that the agency also must examine the programming it offers to rehabilitate youths. If that program is ineffective, she said, then problems will continue to plague the juvenile correctional system.Relatedly, at the Austin Statesman today Mike Ward has a story today on the implications of research in recent years regarding adolescent brain development on the juvenile and adult justice systems.
“The big, glaring problem is the failure to adequately implement rehabilitative programming for some of the kids in the juvenile system who are most desperately in need of it,” she said.
As long as those problems persist, she said, the agency may succeed in moving the violent youths temporarily, but another will simply take their place because the juveniles aren’t learning effective ways to cope or appropriate ways to behave.
To Grits, those two elements - increased staffing levels and implementing a viable, evidence-based treatment plan - would make a bigger difference than all the git-tuff demagoguery Texas pols can muster.
See related, recent Grits posts:
- Phoenix program aims to neutralize violent inmates at Texas youth prisons
- Adult prison model wrong approach for juvenile offenders at TJJD
- Here we go again: Is TJJD creating juvie ad-seg at Texas youth prisons?
- Solitary confinement at Texas youth prisons: A brief history
- Violence at youth prisons blamed on lax discipline; structural problems ignored