Sunday, May 28, 2006

TYC, juvie justice examined by TV news

What happens to kids in Texas' juvenile justice system? Bob Robuck of Austin's Channel 8 cable news had a nice five-part primer this week introducing viewers to the basics of juvie justice in the Lone Star state, from the local juvenile detention facility all the way through the process:
Texas' juvie system has gotten a lot more respect since John Hubner's book came out last year praising the TYC unit in Giddings for its rehab programs aimed at violent youth, which have become a national model. They've also had some problems. Recently, Rep. Pena reported that TYC had asked the feds to evaluate their use of force policies in light of reported abuse incidents and complaints by guards. (See Elizabeth Pierson's great reporting on the topic from the McAllen Monitor.)

As you might expect from local TV news, Robuck doesn't get that deeply into it - he's got a different audience. But for average viewers who seldom think about the topic, he provides a good, big picture analysis of where the kids go and what happens to them. The whole series is worth reading (or watching, video feeds for each story are in the links), but here's a taste from Wednesday's piece, In the System:

"They're locking them up almost two years on the average. It's costing you $56,600 per year (per child), and 55 percent of them are back within a year," Southwest Key President Juan Sanchez said.

More than 60 percent of juvenile offenders in Travis County completed Southwest Key program in 2004. Depending on the child's needs the program can cost from $11,000 to $44,000. However, 48 percent of the juveniles who completed the program were re-referred or arrested as adults.

Another TYC cost is emotional turmoil. Kids here must face possible crime within the secure environment. Gangs do form and troublemakers cool their heels in a special lock-up.

"Temptation is easy in here for doing the wrong thing, like stealing and fights. It's hard. You've got to pretty much use your self-control skills and coping skills," TYC inmate Steven Howard said.

But there are those who resist the pressure and use their time in lock-up for positive change.

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