Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Surprise inspections find shortstaffing at root of youth lockup violence

Despite demagoguery aimed at administrators at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in the wake of recent escapes and violence at the units, surprise inspections at TJJD units, reported Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune today, revealed the worst problems stem from chronic understaffing, which mainly arises not from agency decisions but from legislative dicta and budget pronouncements. Wrote Grissom:
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.

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.
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.

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.

“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.
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.

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:


Anonymous said...

These youth are not violent. They don't commit these acts of violence. Its the staffing patterns that causes it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know, 11:13, I'd be embarrassed for anyone to know my name too if that's all I had to offer. What a pusillanimous punk you are! Every post we get the same comment from you. I'm sure you think you're very clever.

Back in the real world, of course, no one said "these youth are not violent," only that without increased staffing (and/or moving to smaller, better-designed facilities, as recommended by Gov. Perry's "blue ribbon panel"), harsher punishment won't reduce it.

Don't take my word for it, Kimbrough's report said understaffing contributes to violence (he's recommending staffing ratios go from 12-1 to 6-1), and front-line TJJD staff are constantly complaining on this blog that understaffing and excessive overtime contribute to failures to effectively supervise youth. But never you mind ... you wouldn't want reality to get in the way of your opinions.

Anonymous said...

From the post:
"Violence at youth prisons blamed on lax discipline, structural problems ignored . . ."

Who or what is violence blamed on?

SOSDD said...

Oh shit here we go again with a string of bashing Townsend and everyone and anyone working for TYC.

The Illustrious TJJD board is sure as hell ducking any public spotlight. LMAO thinking that a few on the board are chewing their leg off to get out of the trap!

Anonymous said...

They can't be allowed to hide from it: underfunding, understaffing, overincarcertion leads to these predictable train wrecks. Rearranging the same variable won't help. Just like with the adults, increase the funding or let 'em out.

Anonymous said...

After several decades in and around this business, I know one thing: You can't operate rehab and educational programs until you have safety and security for both staff and kids and you must also have order and discipline (staff and kids again). You're just pissin' in the wind to think otherwise. TYC/TJJD haven't had any of these absolutes in years and don't have them now. Until TJJD gains control of its institutions, none of the do-gooder ideas of Grits, Appleseed or other reformers will be effective, period!

Anonymous said...

Would you want to work there? After reading all the stories, would you want to work there?

Ms. Townsend was under fire when she walk through the door. Left overs from the Pope who knew nothing about the juvenile system.
And battles downtown left the 11-7 guy doing what he ahd always done, fought to survive.

Two years of paper reform without proper training, looked good on paper but was never implemented completely, does it work, who knows? And again the 11-7 guy is left out of the loop and just trying to survive.

CO became more intersted in kids not making news that they did just like any of us would do, took advantage of everything and every one! Before long the kids were calling shots. And again the 11-7 guy is left just trying to survive.

The merge brought about no substantive change. Recent reports were just a continuation of the same old stuff, this time it was pushed under the table until the appointment of Townsend.

Again there is no real change and CO was back in hunker down mode, always hoping the story would not make the front page. Not addressing issues became the MO and again the 11-7 guy is left just trying to survive.

By now the system has become three pronged, Hunkered down survivor cover-ups in Austin, just trying survive from the facilities and the new third prong from probation.

Probation side is on auto-pilot right now, CO is drawing lines in the sand to keep the status quo or make real change with the old guard throwing blame everywhere but at themselves. and still not much has changed for the 11-7 guy.

Kimbrough is trying but he has to know who to trust, with time he can make some useful reforms to get control of the facilities. Control that has to happen before reform can take place.

Until major reforms are started for him to step down will be a huge waste of his efforts and time. If reforms are not well on their way for the new ED, the inhouse games will continue and the new ED will be in the same crisis Ms. Townsend was trapped in.

This can be turned around, but not by repeating the errors of the past!

Anonymous said...

While I agree Grits that staffing has always been an issue at TYC/TJJD, the 1-12 ratio just went in effect back in 2007, prior to that the ratio was 1-20. I do not see a 1-6 ratio the answer because this will raise the cost of confinement higher that what it is today, do we really expect our elected to leaders to go along with this.
I also have stated for over 4 years that Conextions would never work, the idea of buying a hard core youths behavior with a pizza party every weekend if they behave is not feasible. At the same time locking them up at Mart after they have been in this Disney World is not the answer either, the agency created this current mess and throwing them into Mart makes little sense and no responsibility for the programs the agency rolled out.
A treatment program that taught consequnces, offense cycle, victim empathy, and community service, would go a long way of making staff and youth safe. This may slightly increase their MLOS from 1 year to 1.5 years if they fail to work the program but these are logical consequnces.

Anonymous said...

2:54 PM the same mistakes will occur, Kimbrough will move on, the agency will hire their new director and the ones who have fileld htese posts will change their stripes and continue to strive. Trying not to be negative here Grits but this is reality. Townsend was not wise enough to see what hand she was dealt with and she played the hand she was dealt and now she is gone, but the ones she supervised in these directors roles are still around. They will be waiting for their new director with open arms and the cycle will continue.

Anonymous said...

Shortstaffing is the root of youth lockup violence. It's not what the youth does.

Anonymous said...

Observation: Who was chairman of the TYC board for years while they got into a bind and who is the current chaiman of the TJJD board while the re-packaged state facilities remained in chaos? HMMMMM Same Scott Fisher. So, Townsend retires and the chairman overseeing her on 2 different boards remain? Houston we SEE a problem.

Anonymous said...

The TJJD board needs to applaud the leadership shown by members from the field. Without that the same ole same ole stuff would continue.

RAS said...

I don't think these part-timers will help much. They will probably work the no-contact jobs; meaning the regular staff will work the same number of hours with the kids.

Anonymous said...

2:54! You are right on! I can tell you I'm home right trying to relax, because I just went through a hell of a day! Had a long day that consisted of 4 major disruption referrals! Assaults, 10 10 fights, and everything else in between! It's was horrible! Last week when I posted, I was bashed on here, saying I was a weak, taken care of staff! It pissed me off, I'm a lowly JCO that is in a bad ass facility that has had to have help from other facilities right now! So, when I state it's a rough time now, just take my word! I had to get cleaned up tonight because of the blood on my face, so the next time a stupid ass poster has something funny to say, I'm gonna snap off! The real true hearted JCOs that have stuck in there, you guys have my respect! I'm hard headed, I believe that people that have heart will change this crap around! 2:54, is on the money! It's has to change, Kimbrough is on the right track, and all you haters that have no clue what your talking about, I'm not even kidding! You can talk all the crap you want to, but in the end, you wouldn't last 1 day! That's the truth! I get so sick of you people that comment on here that have no clue what your talking about! So, yes this agency is in a bind, we need help in a bad way! Grits, get real, we all know we are understaffed, we all know that Connections is a joke, we all know that this Agency is Fu'ed up! We all know that TJJD is in need of reform, so unless you hear what people like 2:54 are saying, then don't comment on the same old shit! It makes y'all look stupid, Kimbrough needs to step up, the Leg needs to step up, the State of Texas needs to gain control of these facilities so that the Offenders and Staff can see a change! When you get home and wipe blood off your face with alcohol, and get in shower ASAP, when you see what hard working JCOs and Security see everyday, then you can talk! Until then, I ain't hearing it, somebody with balls one day will have to take the reigns, until then, just be happy that these Youth aren't living on your street! You might want to think of the people that Handle, before you make stupid political statements that you know nothing about! TJJD, is at s point that's critical, trust me, show some respect to the J Kos that are public servants, not just political pawns! I still have faith, until I don't, then I'll walk out that front gate and never look back! I get no respect from Supervisors, I get no respect from CO, so until you guys see the real problem, which is a confused political ran Agency, then don't comment! Cause you have no idea! Thanks for letting me vent Grits, it's rough brother, trust me! I've got bruises, a blood splattered cap that got thrown away, and I'm exhausted! I'm laughing at it now, but in the long run, it's the small peeps that make a difference, as stated, shit runs downhill, and it's a bitch being a TJJD lowly JCO!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the commenter who said part time staff are not the solution. Sounds like another quick fix on the cheap.

It is 2007 again and we are again talking about cameras.

It's depressing how quickly we have descended back to the same unimaginative discussion we had five years ago.

Bill Bush

Les Brown said...

May be one of those deals where we have to burn down the village in order to save it!

Anonymous said...

Connextions was a grand experiment in which we severed the connection between behavior and consequences, between merit and reward. All that bad behavior, the experts told us, wasn't so bad. Then they took it one step farther: maybe bad behavior should actually be rewarded. That's how we got Connextions. They wrote their political beliefs into the policy manual. It's time to put reality back into our policies.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the JCO who was at home trying to relax. What they said was the real deal and and I say keep on saying it. I feels bad you have to work under those conditions. My sister does too. She has given 17 years of her life and what does she get back. Assaults and more of the same. Hang in there!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Simple solutions to TJJD's problems:

Hire more part time staff.
Get rid of Conextions.
Enforce consequences for youth's behavior.
Fire the deadwood staff.
Increase JCO staff pay.

Simplistic? Sure... but basic snags in the system that CAN be addressed, IF we want to see the system regain its health and relevance. Otherwise, we're all just playing Let's Pretend.

Anonymous said...

Staff shortages are a definite issue contributing to the situation at TJJD, but no one seems to be addressing a couple of the basic causes of these shortages. The two main ones are sick leave abuse and workers' comp abuse. Many staff historically call in during spring break, high school football season, concerts, professional wrestling and any number of other things. And they do so with impunity, while the dedicated staff get to pick up their slack. They go to some unscroupulous doctor, PA or clinic and pay for an excuse to be off. And Lord knows that with a medical excuse, a supervisor's hand are tied. A lot of staff go out on WC if they don't want to change dorms or shifts citing stress as the reason. Valid medical and personal issues are going to happen, but when the same people go out or call in the same time each year or are miraculously taken ill when George Lopez or the WWE comes to town might provide insight into who these guys are. And then add to that supervisors from the Superintendent down always seem to get their time off. I also agree that part time staff are not the answer. The chances of them being available on short notice, on a consistent basis are slim at best. Forrest Gump said it best, "Stupid is as stupid does. And unlike staff, TJJD has no shortage of that commodity.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Bush,

You really shouldn't be surprised by any of that. It's the same people (or their direct descendents) making these same unimaginative, basically worthless decisions. Until such time as wholesale changes are made to get rid of the people that have allowed the system fail to progess, nothing is going to change. Cleaning house is the answer. How many more failed opportunities should the current crop of egomaniacs and, personal empire-builders be given before someone figures out that they aren't capable of fixing the system? "REAL" juvenile corrections "PROFESSIONALS" are who is needed to correct the problems.

Anonymous said...

People that cop out on some bullcrap excuses should have to work 3-12s in a row! Just sayin! Hell, I work that anyway!:) lol TJJD is in a huge bad situation right now! Kids are uncontrollable, old Staff are throwing in the towel, and Staff that is trying to stick in there, well we are screwed, working probably one the worst jobs in the State of Texas! That's real talk right there, I think nobody can deny that! Been some good comments, that are right on! I enjoy the real comments, the posts that say it like it is should be commended! Keep it up people, real talk will be recognized one day, if not, people will not change this messed up Agency! It's a damn Shame the State I love with all my heart cannot handle business! I'm gonna go to bed so I can go work a Dorm tomorrow and do the best of my ability! I'm discouraged, but you know what, people will post bullcrap on here still, but I'm gonna go live the reality! Until then,keep posting the truth people, and the others, well you can stick it up your......!!!! Ya know! Work a Dorm fool! Lol I better not ever get hurt bad, cause I can tell ya, I keep a strict log book, with out of ratio days, and everything else! So, leave me hanging for the State of Texas, and I get hurt, well let's just say, I've got my lawyers number in my phone! Then it's on like Donkey Kong! I'm gonna get paid, either way! Come on Texas, step up, this is ridiculous! TJJD needs to handle, I mean right now! Not next month, not next year, NOW!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I hope your lawyer is aware issues regarding lawsuits and the state of Texas? In other words your screwed :)

Anonymous said...

TJJD’s problem is the need of an intensive treatment program for youth that includes the following components. Youth need to be provided formal group therapy at least 5 times weekly conducted by highly qualified group leaders to address treatment issues. In addition, behavior groups have to be called as needed to address behavior problems that may occur. Students must be taught how to identify behavior patterns and thinking errors (cognitive distortions) that result in poor decisions and delinquent behavior. The development of empathy for other people has to be a major objective for youth. They have to be provided with appropriate problem solving skills. Social skills training and development is another useful tool for youth assigned to TJJD. Discipline and immediate consequences for misbehavior is one of the cornerstones for rehabilitation of delinquent youth, which hopefully will prevent the need for referral to the Adult Correctional System. Also, positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior is beneficial for all kids. Youth require meaningful educational, vocational, and recreational opportunities. We all must understand the importance of good nutrition and medical care for youth in TJJD. Staff has to be appropriately trained to deal with this difficult population. It is critical that families and volunteer services are involved in the youths programming. Appropriate supervision and support is needed from supervisors and administrators to help staff successfully accomplish the mission of our agency. The aforementioned were major therapeutic interventions when TYC/TJJD was recognized internationally for its programming in the juvenile justice field.

Anonymous said...

One more suggestion. What about inviting the JCO VIs to visit their dorms? Tell them they can drop by anytime.

Anonymous said...

8/08/2012 01:38:00 AM:
I am sorry to say that I disagree. Not just with you but with a lot of what people are saying on here. These kids are kids who have made mistakes and they are dealing with them.Its not easy to adjust to a return when maybe you were raised where violence is the answer. Those streets you were talking about. Those kids were on those streets and they learned those behaviors.You talk about how it is hard to be a JCO well I can promise you its even harder being a inmate. Where you have to follow the rules of the guards, the state of Texas, and the inmates. They all have codes of conduct and I promise you none of them are the same. If you have not realized yet I was locked up in this system did 7 years and some months in Giddings State School. And I know about under-staffing and poor observation personally. But when you talk about how horrible these kids are (and they are kids) you are sounding like one of those bitter staff that contribute to an environmental where kids and staff get hurt. I agree that part time staff is not the answer but its better then nothing. When you have part time staff they tend to not care and really have nothing to lose. But we need to start some where. I have spent the last 8 year working to try to find a way to help. And an even attending the UN conference in London in November. Just basically saying dont blame it all on the kids it not easy for them..


Anonymous said...

We had a major fight today at Giddings, some things never change.

Anonymous said...

Another major fight at Giddings? And you're surprised? Look at the two idiots running the facility. The superintendent can't do anything on his own (he was Chip Walters' stooge)and the assistant should have been fired when he was at Al Price.

Anonymous said...

Who is the Supt. and Asst. Supt. at Giddings?

Anonymous said...

I will say that part of the issue is with the programming. In CoNEXTions at no time do you begin to peel back the layers to get to the root of the delinquency issue. The youth do not have to show any empathy or even learn how to deal with their behavioral issues. Everyone bashes resocialization, however you were able to really find out what the unmet need was and teach them how to control their anger and a little bit of human nature would surface, so they could feel what their victims felt. Nowadays they don't have to do any of that and this is why it is so easy for them to assault staff and get out and kill their neighbor. They don't even know who their victim is and could care less.Please wake up and look at the treatment program it does not work. I for one have seen Resocialization work and if our goal is to save lives then why aren't we using best practices in a system that truly works????? It does not have to be Resocialization, but we do need some of the components.