Thursday, January 08, 2015

Are Texas youth prisons now small enough to drown in a bath tub?

Grover Norquist famously suggested he wanted government downsized to the point where it could be drowned in the bath tub. Remarkably, that may end up being exactly what happens at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

At the Houston Chronicle, Mike Ward reported (Jan. 7) from the Texas Public Policy Foundation legislative conference this week that, "After years of reforms in Texas' juvenile justice system, officials now appear headed toward the next big step: further downsizing the system of state-run lockups or even junking it altogether." The suggestion is to double down on the trend since 2007 of punishing and/or rehabilitating more juvenile felons at the local level. Notably, juvenile crime dropped precipitously during this period while the juvenile incarceration rate plummeted, calling into question any direct link between incarcerating juveniles and reducing the crime rate:
Even as Texas was reforming its juvenile justice system in recent years, the number of youths targeted for probation programs and incarceration has declined by 31 percent in six years, officials said. Fabelo said that is part of a national trend: Florida's juvenile offender numbers have declined by 35 percent, California by 48 percent.

While the state-run youth corrections system held more than 4,200 offenders seven years ago, the number is now down to about 1,000 in five lockups.
That California and Florida saw even bigger juvenile crime drops tells you this is a result of larger crime reduction trends, not necessarily any specific Texas policies. But it does present an opportunity to shutter more and perhaps even all the state's youth prisons.
"That's where it's heading, yes, to counties keeping more youths in local programs, even some of the ones who are in state custody now, and to more outcome-based programs," said Tony Fabelo, a national criminal justice expert overseeing the national study by the Council of State Governments.
Citing statistics from the soon-to-be-released report that tracked more than 220,000 juvenile offenders for up to five years, Fabelo said Texas spent nearly $134,000 a year per youth held in a state juvenile lockup in 2012.
"In 2014, the 800 youth who were committed to (state lockups) cost $162 million, enough to educate almost 20,000 students for a year," he said, noting that statistics show 85 percent of the incarcerated youths are arrested again within five years - and 54 percent of those are sent to adult prisons.
"Fifty-seven percent of the population (in state youth lockups) are adults" aged 17 or 18, most of them locked up for serious felony crimes, he said. "That says a lot about why changes are needed."
Grits cautiously supports further downsizing, especially if the money follows the kids downstream. Long-time readers will recall that a "blue-ribbon panel" created by the Legislature after the 2007 sex scandals recommended (pdf) "using a regionalized system of care that supports the use of small facilities, that admits youth to TYC using research-based risk assessment and classification, and that provides specialized treatment for youth and families." If that's where this ends up, then better late than never.

One caution: I for one don't have a good sense of what exactly is happening with kids diverted from state facilities in recent years and there don't seem to be good benchmarks to let us know whether the locals are generating better outcomes than the state on education, recidivism, protecting kids from predators (whether staff or other inmates), etc.. For example, there's no independent entity comparable to the TJJD Ombudsman to whom kids in county detention can bring problems or from whom they can seek redress. There's a chance that the big-picture juvenile crime decline - which again, I don't think was caused by Texas-specific policies - could be masking poor outcomes. State institutions have been studied nigh unto death - and perhaps Fabelo's new study will be the fatal blow - but it's not clear to me we can say that the county-run lockups are superior, just that they're a) cheaper and b) out of sight, out of mind.


Anonymous said...

Juveniles in county facilities can call a hotline directly to TJJD 24/7 if they feel abused in any way form or fashion. FYI Grits

Anonymous said...

Grover Norquist is an ass.

I've always hated that "small enough to drown in a bath tub" quip. In a just world that sort of talk would be considered obscene, the very concept of a "youth prison" would be considered obscene, and explicit descriptions of sex would be considered art.

I apologize for the off-topic rant and will now slink back to my gin cocktail while listening to Imagine and desperately pretending not to know that John Lennon was also an ass.

FL PD said...

As a Texan, currently working as a PD in Florida, representing the juveniles filed into the adult system, my concern is whether the young people accused of committing the more serious crimes are just being sent up into the adult system and into adult prisons instead of to juvenile facilities. If that's not happening, then this sounds like wonderful news to me. In my job, however, it is often a win (albeit a sad win, and one not often accomplished) to get my kids who've been direct filed sent to a juvenile facility instead of to prison. This would only be good new for me and my kiddos here if there were, indeed, better local options that my Judges were willing to offer to my clients, many of whom are accused of terrible crimes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@FL PD, I basically agree with you, which is why I offered the caveat that I support it if the money follows the kids so local judges will have resources. If it's just a cost cutting scheme it will turn out badly.

Also, we just had a good high court ruling forcing judges to better justify certifying youth as adults. In the near term, I expect those numbers to decline instead of increase, though if local judges don't get resources I agree it could make things go the other way.

@10:49, fwiw, Norquist has been pretty good on crimjust issues lately.

And thanks for mentioning the hotline, 4:31, but I still don't think that's the same as an independent office that does site visits, etc., and has a formal role evaluating detention conditions like the TJJD Ombudsman.

Anonymous said...

Kids in county facilities have more recourse to report abuse/mistreatment than kids confined to the state facility. Not only do they and their parents have a 24 hour hotline that goes directly to TJJD, they have other avenues. Most kids in the county facilities have defense attorneys and unfettered access to speak to them as well. I agree with most of your arguments in this article but the part about the ombudsman. Advocacy groups have been pushing that since it was created and it still makes no sense. Counties already have a state agency that functions like the ombudsman office, it’s called TJJD. I find it ironic that we are trying to downsize TJJD yet put more money into the ombudsman office to have a redundant responsibility which is already done by TJJD. Not sure why the advocacy groups keep pushing this, I assume it’s their overall lack of knowledge of the system. Let’s spend millions of dollars and come up with two or three more state agencies all with the same duties to monitor and inspect county facilities and show that we are good stewards of taxpayers’ funds. Or just get some people with some commons sense that look at both sides of the system and not just the advocacy groups.

Anonymous said...

Juveniles in local facilites have as much or more access to reporting compared to the TJJD state facilities. TJJD is the oversight agency for all juvenile corrections in the state. This includes parole, probation, pre and post adjucation facilities and State Facilities. Intact the abuse and neglect investigators for the local facilites are licensed peace officers in the state of Texas. Thus they have arrest powers during investigations. \

Additionally, all juvenile facilities are monitored yearly by TJJD. Facilities that also house TJJD sentenced youth are also monitored for those standards as well. Therefor it is conceivable that a local facility (that houses both local and state juveniles) is monitored more often than a state facility.

With regards to getting rid of all state placed kids and keeping them local does not seem to be a feasible option. There are juveniles that based on the offense, their history and other circumstances will need to be placed in a state facility. If not then they would most likely be certified as an adult.

I agree that there could be more downsizing of the TJJD state run facilities but not a total dismemberment of them.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:39, from what I've been told (and not just by advocates) you're overstating TJJD's oversight of local facilities. E.g., correct me if I'm wrong but they don't do surprise inspections like adult jails. And a "hotline" is no substitute for eyes on the ground, which is why the TJJD ombudsman does site visits to the state facilities.

Also, I wouldn't bash the advocacy groups too much when they're the main ones pushing to make sure closing state facilities doesn't turn into an unfunded mandate for y'all. Be careful not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

Anonymous said...

Grits, You are right on the money with your out of sight, out of mind comments. There are more incidents happening in county run facilities than any state operated facility and because they are each independently run - there is no way for TJJD to be sure every incident is reported and investigated, hot line or not. They don't make the news when they are reported. Someone should do an open records request to see how many incidents of abuse/neglect and exploitation have been confirmed in county facilities - if they care. The counties have long lobbied downtown (and successfully) to ensure that the former TJPC and current TJJD stays out of their business as much as possible. The standards they are required to meet are MINIMUM standards and no where near the level of requirements placed on state operated facilities. Most visits are announced unless an investigation. The presence of an Ombudsman at these facilities would improve kids access to people whose primary interest is the safety and proper treatment of the youth.

The statistics Fabelo reports on the 85% percent rearrest rate are from 2012, 5 years after 2007 when leadership let go thousands of kids 19 and older due to SB 103 and tanked the agency rehabilitation program without a good solution in place to replace it for more than a year. No one should be surprised that with that number and if he would present the 5 year rearrest rate that is most recent, it is MUCH MUCH lower. By the way, the same statistic for the counties was around 78%, not much better.

This is a well timed delivery of well crafted report (not sound research) that allows leadership to make TJJD look as bad as possible to throw rocks at the idea that we should raise the age in Texas and move 17 year olds back into the juvenile system. Leadership doesn't want to pay for that because then those kids will get actual treatment and programming - not be warehoused in an adult system that only makes them worse.

The entire adult system cannot meet PREA requirements due to having those age youth in their system and TJJD just successfully completed all their first round of PREA audits.

Anonymous said...

What is missing here is the statement that a overwhelming majority of the juveniles sent to the TJJD institutions have had multiple run-ins with the law, many of them for very violent offenses. Where is the common sense statements that public safety outweighs the need to keep the juveniles in the community? I don’t want a violent juvenile in my community or in the schools my grandkids attend.
Who makes Tony Fabelo a national criminal justice expert? Who makes the advocacy groups experts in the juvenile or criminal justice fields? I can’t name a one of them who have ever worked with the troubled youth that they are experts in fixing. They may have the best of intentions but until they have walked the proverbial mile they are no expert. The true experts are the line officers who deal with these youth on a daily basis. Ask them. Statistics can be manipulated to reach anyone’s goal. Education does not make a wise man, real experiences do. Line staff don’t have the ability to be in front of the legislature like those paid to do so, therefore, advocacy groups get a lot of air time living in Austin. Doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about.
Statements made by 10:54 AM today lead me to believe there is another genius in the midst. Let’s remember county facilities are 80% funded by county funds, only 20% by state funds (on average). Yet the state agency dictates to the county facilities virtually how to run their operations. The “minimum” standards statement is a joke. The ANE information is presented at every TJJD board meeting and is available online in the resource packet prior to the meetings. Allegations are made every day by juveniles trying to get a officer in trouble. CONFIRMED allegations are the results of investigations by local staff, law enforcement and reviewed by state staff. Adding a Ombudsman component will serve to only add another layer of government at a cost to taxpayers. Spend that money on improving educational services and juvenile probation programs and it will better serve the youth in Texas.
Soon to retire

Anonymous said...

instead of relying on reports from upper management, advocacy groups and those who don't believe that TJJD serves a very useful purpose, listen to the front line staff. They often work grueling schedules with very difficult youth (up to age 19) daily. The kids in TJJD have not done well in other programs.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@12:57, please give more, specific detail on what you mean by "Spend that money on improving educational services and juvenile probation programs." Fund what, at what level of government, controlled by and accountable to whom? I'm not saying you're wrong, I'm saying your critique is too general to either verify or be useful for identifying solutions.

@10:14, Let's assume, as you seem to, that a) "TJJD serves a very useful purpose" and b) "The kids in TJJD have not done well in other programs." Given those two assessments, which I won't disagree with, how should state policy makers proceed going forward? Downsize? Keep the status quo? What?

@10:54, though I know nothing of the behind the scenes machinations, I strongly suspect you're right that PREA may be driving many of the the moves made this session by counties and the Lege, maybe even surprising stuff like raising the age of adult culpability. That's a big sleeper issue IMO.

Anonymous said...

In previous legislative sessions funding was cut for public education. School districts subsequently cut non instructional staff including diagnosticians and specialized instruction. A good diagnostician can identify first grader that will need extra attention further down their education career. Without this additional attention these kids become the 17 year old 8th graders who will never even get a high school diploma. These are the kids who start sjipping school and committing offenses such as breaking into your home while you are at work or school. These are the onew who learn to be street wise because they are not book smart.

Anonymous said...

By preventing these youth from struggling in school you potentially could divert a number of them from the juvenile justice system, however large or small of a quantity that may be.

Anonymous said...

Then, for the ones who enter the juvenile justice arena better programming needs to be available. The larger county departments have many programs available with adequate funding. Many medium and especcially smaller departments struggle to provide basic services. Most juveniles referred have mental health or substance abuse issues yet funding and availability of services for them are inadequate.