It remains an open question what would happen if Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire gets his way and converts two Texas Youth Commission units to adult DWI treatment facilities. Looking further at the LBB's new report detailing Texas incarceration projections (based on current law), a chart on p. 16 indicates that TYC already is 404 kids above its capacity, and that figure will "modestly" increase to 761 in 2012. (The number of kids in the juvenile probation system, by contrast, they predict will expand around 3% per year, from 44,423 in 2007 to 51,283 in 2012.)
The two units Whitmire wants to close were designed to hold 1,000 adult inmates each, but he told the Statesman's Mike Ward that they're each only holding about 300 juvenile prisoners right now. So getting rid of those units theoretically would put TYC about 1,000 beds short.
When the question of converting these units to adult prisons first came up I asked past Grits guest blogger Isela Gutierrez her opinion. (She works for the Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles.) She replied thusly:
The answer to the question, "Where do you put the kids?" is similar to the response about the adult system. You divert non-violent offenders, to community-based programs, by providing more monies for such programs to counties that are committing the most youth. There is already a progressive sanctions system in place for juveniles and most of the kids at TYC are eligible for other community-based options, but since they are high-needs kids, counties don't want to pay for them. Also, TYC can opt to parole other eligible offenders into more intensive after-care programs.I like the idea of replacing larger youth facilities modeled after adult prisons with smaller units scattered near large urban centers. That makes it more likely kids can stay in touch with their families and less likely their incarceration experience will resemble a scene from Lord of the Flies.
Yes, this would require TYC to build. But, that could be a good thing -- it provides TYC an opportunity to re-build its facilities differently, not modeled after the adult correctional models, but instead built with youth rehab in mind. In Missouri (and Ohio) the juvenile justice system gave their prison-like facilities to the adult system, and built new, youth-specific facilities. In MO, the juvy corrections system got $$ for 200 new beds, and built them -- in 6 different facilities near urban centers across the state with no more than 36 beds per facility.
If they keep any of the same staff, it would be a function of former TYC staff applying to new TDCJ jobs. All TYC facilities are currently located near correctional hubs, meaning TDCJ and often other TYC facilities are within commuting distance of each other. This is one of the reasons that TYC has such terrible turnover. Often TYC and TDCJ swap staff; they are competitors for each other. ... The TYC guards definitely do not get any juvenile-rehab/adolescent development training specific to working with juveniles. That's part of the problem. They are trained for only 80 hours before going into the field. (SB 103 would increase the number of hours to the same level as TDCJ, 300 hours pre-service training.)
And isn't it astonishing to learn that guards for juvie prisons get 80 hours of training before being sent into that demanding job?! Low pay and understaffing at both juvie and adult lockups is a critical question the Legislature desperately needs to address in the 80th session, but probably won't now that the surplus has vanished.
I hadn't looked previously at Sen Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa's SB 103, but it appears to be a substantial reform bill aimed at TYC, not only requiring more training hours but also mandating by law that inmate to guard ratios be maintained at a ratio of 12 to one. Right now they're about 24 to one. It would establish an Inspector General's office at TYC to investigate crimes, disallow housing youth under 15 with those 17 or older, and even require the Texas Rangers to make unannounced once per month inspections at each TYC unit! It doesn't mention requiring smaller facilities like they have in Missouri, but if TYC finds itself 1,000 beds short and the Legislature authorizes more building, I hope they follow the lead of the Show-Me state.
The increase in guard training and the numbers of guards alone will give this bill a whopping fiscal note unless, like in the adult system, the Legislature decides to fund what would be a lesser but still substantial amount necessary for counties to supervise more of these kids in the community. Whatever the outcome, we know one thing for sure: Like their adult counterparts, virtually all of them will one day get out again. It's in everyone's interest that a commitment to TYC serves as an effective intervention, that these same kids don't continue to offend and wind up funneled in a few years time into the adult prison system.