On Oct. 8, groups of rock-throwing youths broke windows, climbed onto the roofs of dorms and had to be pepper-sprayed to be brought under control at the Gainesville State School after they gained access to two security control panels and unlocked doors at the juvenile facility.TJJD chief Mike Griffiths pinned the troubles on inexperienced, ill-trained staff, noting that "much of the staff has worked there less than a year. He said it is hard to hire, train and retain employees when the agency faces possible further downsizing by the Legislature next spring." Grits has long believed staffing and structural issues underlie most of the common complaints about TJJD, particularly episodes like this one. Over the summer I'd written that such "safety issues are really symptoms masking a more fundamental, underlying disease: A frontline staff neither trained, experienced, nor numerous enough to manage facilities which were designed along adult models rather than for the specific needs of youth." None of that changed just because the agency has a new executive director.
The two-hour disturbance caused thousands of dollars in damage at the North Texas lockup but was reported to legislative leaders just three days ago, weeks after it occurred, sparking new questions about whether violence and gang-related troubles at Texas’ six youth correctional centers are even close to being fixed.
On Friday, facing new legislative pressure to curb such disruptions, officials with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department confirmed that they are bringing in a team from the adult prison system to help them beef up security systemwide. They said they also have hired a new security chief and are considering a policy change to group older youths together at one lockup to better control troublemakers.
“Obviously, what happened is not acceptable,” said Mike Griffiths, the agency’s executive director since August. “Our responsibility is safety and security. We are changing things for the better, but we can’t just flip a switch and say it’s fixed right now.”
Instead, legislative and agency leaders said, the episode highlights deeper problems: high staff turnover that has put less seasoned guards on the front lines much sooner than previously; difficulty retaining and hiring staffers because of talk among legislative leaders about further downsizing; and an older, more violent population of incarcerated youths who are harder to control.
Monday, October 29, 2012
New administrators face same old problems: Déjà vu on TJJD youth prison violence
The Austin Statesman's Mike Ward reported on yet another disturbance at at Texas Juvenile Justice Department Facility, though this time his article focused more on structural issues than calling for the heads of administrators ("Melee at youth lockup underscore stubborn problems at youth agency," Oct. 26). The story opened: