A Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex employee, Holli Fenton, has been nominated for a state award, Outstanding Women in Texas Government. Fenton was nominated in the area of Outstanding Contribution. According to The Governor’s Commission for Women: Women and Government website: “The Outstanding Women in Texas Government Awards were created by the State Agency Council in 1984 to honor women who work in State government, who do not hold elected or appointed positions, and who have helped shape Texas by contributing their talents and skills to state service.”Grits has written approvingly of that program in the past so I'm glad to see Ms. Fenton recognized.
Fenton began her career at Ron Jackson as a case manager in 2004. In 2008, a group of case managers, including Ms. Fenton, started taking approved TJJD (formerly Texas Youth Commission) students to the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center for community service. Ms. Fenton, a long-time volunteer with the Center, fostering canines and serving on the board, conceived the idea of a dormitory at Ron Jackson that would pair canines with student trainers enhancing the canine’s chances for successful adoptions.
However, on a more melancholy note, via KWTX-TV: "A Mart juvenile detention facility corrections officer posted $2,000 bond and was released from county jail after his arrest earlier in the week on a charge he beat a youthful inmate at the facility." The 20-year old JCO who began working at the Mart facility in April was arrested on allegedly video-documented charges that he "assaulted a 17-year-old detention center inmate last Saturday." Wrote Kirsten Crow at the Waco Trib ("Juvenile officer jailed for beating of inmate," Oct 5):
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, an investigator with the Office of Inspector General launched an inquiry into the alleged incident at the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart after the youth complained he was assaulted by Davis on Saturday.I can't tell from the coverage I've seen so far whether this happened at the newly created and much-scrutinized "Phoenix program" in Mart, or in some other program, but it's a pity that violent incidents - this time staff on youth - continue to pepper state headlines out of youth prisons seemingly every few months.
Surveillance video of the incident shows [Bryant J.] Davis hitting the youth “at least 12 times about the head and facial area with clenched fists” in one of the dorms, according to court documents.
The youth, who attempted to defend himself by covering his head with his arms, later was treated by a nurse for a laceration to his eye, according to the affidavit.
Court documents state that Davis, of Marlin, confessed to striking the boy in an interview Tuesday. A warrant was issued for his arrest Wednesday.
Davis, who was hired in April, has been suspended pending the termination, said Jim Hurley, spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
OTOH, the episode can also be seen as a success story for the post-2007 reforms. The misconduct was identified through the complaint system the agency established in the wake of the much-publicized sex scandal, and the incident was captured on video because the Lege paid to outfit youth prisons with a far-more extensive video surveillance system than exists in most if any adult units. And the combination of the improved complaint system, video surveillance and the existence of the Office of Inspector General to pursue charges might be taken as evidence that "the system works," that mechanisms are in place to identify and prosecute criminal physical or sexual abuse of youth prison inmates that didn't exist a half-decade ago.
Grits wonders at first reading if there isn't an underlying staffing issue: Why are JCO turnover rates are among the highest of all state employees - higher, even, than turnover rates at adult prisons? And is it possible that the resulting lack of experienced staff to exercise oversight of younger, inexperienced staff lies at the nexus of this episode? We can't know from what's been published so far and it's premature to jump to conclusions without a lot more information, but those questions reflect my initial gut reactions when considering the policy implications of this unfortunate event.
Anyway, so welcome to the job, Mike Griffiths, where every inspiring, heartwarming achievement by your dedicated staff will seemingly be greeted by some counterweight of ignominious failure, too frequently in the same news cycle. And too often, those are the good weeks.