Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Broken Agency: TYC by the numbers

While I'm more often focused on the adult prison system, it's become clear to me in the last year that if the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has its problems, the Texas Youth Commission is operating in a state of full-blown crisis.

Things have gotten so bad it's hard to wrap your brain around the massive scope of this enormous mess. TYC sounds like a hellish place to work and an even more hellish place to be incarcerated. Here are a few statistics that paint a picture of the biggest difficulties:
  • Guard to student ratios are presently 1-24 instead of the recommended 1-12.
  • Juvenile Corrections Officers in Texas receive two weeks of training compared to 300 hours for guards in the adult system.
Besides simply throwing LOTS more good money after bad, I don't know what the fix is to this situation. At a minimum, to even pretend they're seriously addressing the problems, the Legislature would need to double TYC's staff and quadruple staff training time to match guards in the adult system. (Imagine one adult trying to manage 24 misbehaving teenagers, and the high job turnover becomes understandable.) But even if the Lege budgets for more guards, with 90% turnover by new hires in the first 6 months there's no reason to believe Texas can find enough warm bodies willing to take the jobs.

They could try increasing pay significantly, but that gets expensive quickly and it might not help, anyway - most TYC units are in rural areas with a limited available employment pool. It might help if the Legislature decides to convert two TYC units to adult treatment facilities and built new, smaller youth-oriented facilities closer to urban areas. But those changes can't happen overnight, and the system is failing and flailing right now.

This is a broken government agency - mismanaged from top to bottom, underfunded, understaffed and barely functioning. Kids in the system at best are merely warehoused in a dangerous setting, and at worst are abused by guards.

At this point, it might even be wise to simply "sunset" TYC out of commission entirely, though that's an unlikely outcome. If the ongoing federal probe of TYC abuses leads to major civil rights litigation by the USDoJ against the state, officials may come to wish they'd considered that option.


Anonymous said...


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Huh? Maybe that would make more sense without the CapsLock on. Or maybe not.

Quismada said...

Ummm..seems anonymous is having a bad day. Are you aware that all caps signals screaming? Screaming will not educate the general public. I have a few comments for you:
1. If you don't like the pay then get out of the agency. Stop whining about your paycheck and get an education so you can make more money.
2. We, the general public, don't need or want people of your caliber. If complaining is all you know how to do then is quite obvious you could care less about working with youth.
3. Criminals have rights, as do you. One never knows when they might be looking through the other side of those bars. Cheer up...when it is you (that anger could get you) you will be afforded the same rights as any other criminal.
4. Take care of themselves? Are we talking the youth criminals or the general public? I can't clearly understand that statement but I've been taking care of myself without your help for quite awhile, thank you very much.

In closing this post, when you can post something that makes sense I'm sure someone will listen.

Anonymous said...

We could ask the legislature to move the TYC facilities into the state prison facilities and move the inmates we are housing in state jails on to out treatment programs which would do more to help them and save a bunch of taxpayer dollars.I know in the Houston area there a number of state jails in the metro area,that might increase the pool of potenial guards.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we could privatize the entire program. The winning company could and then outsource everything to India or Mexico or whichever country will do it cheapest.

We could require that bidders pay taxpayers a lump sum in advance to land the contract, which will run in perpetuity.

Anonymous said...

It is quite obvious to anyone who has lived in Texas, that no state, county or city employee is appreciated or paid well for jobs MOST people wouldn't even consider doing. It's not always about the money. Quismada should realize that all juvenile and adult probation and parole officers must have a college degree to be hired and they should be treated fairly. However, it's usually the juvenile/adult offender that has more rights.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

anonymous - you've never seen me dissing guards or POs on this site except over specific instances of misconduct. In fact, I advocate frequently for their boosted pay, improved training, and reforms that would make prisons safer places to work. But reread your Constitution. We all have the same rights - you, me, the crooks, the guards, everybody. On that score I have no idea what you're talking about.

That said, you raise an interesting point - why, I wonder, are P.O.s required to have a college degree but TYC and prison guards are hired straight out of high school at 18? Is the POs job THAT much more challenging that it requires so much more education? I never graduated college myself, but nothing I learned while I was there particularly prepared me for what a PO does every day. best,

Anonymous said...

I wanted to comment on the turnover rate at TYC. I work in a TYC facility and at our facility there are many good JCO staff who really do care about the youth and want them to succeed. I have also seen many excellent staff resign due to the working conditions. The youth to staff ratios mentioned in the article are very real. Budgets have been cut by our legislators drastically in the past couple of years. Cut budgets mean less employees. If the budgets were reinstated more JCO staff could be hired. Right now the youth have the numbers and they know it and are playing that card to the maximum. As I said earlier, I have seen many excellent staff leave due to the abuse they encounter from the youth. They are cursed at and threatened daily, spit on, have urine and feces thrown at them, are physically assaulted and what can the JCO staff do? I hear alot about JCO staff abusing the youth, and I am not so closed minded to think that it don't happen, but I also believe alot of the youth that are injured are due to the youth on youth assaults and youth fighting restraint when they are displaying aggressive behavior towards the staff and other youth. If the staff to student ratios were what they are supposed to be, I believe the abuse allegations would drop, because the staff would have the upper hand in dealing with the cliental they are entrusted to protect. In other words there is strength in numbers. Give the staff a pat on the back, they do put up with alot of crap that most people would not consider enduring.

Anonymous said...

I am a long term TYC employee who has multiple college degrees. I think there are many people who are speaking as if they knew all about the youth in TYC. Let me see if I can correct a few misconceptions the public holds about the poor little kids in TYC today. We house the very worst 3% of the youth offenders in Texas. Most have several felony convictions before the county judge gives up on trying to help them change. If a youth comes to TYC on his first conviction it is usually for a first degree or capital felony which would mean a life term or the death chamber had the child been a few years older.

After hearing the parents of many of our TYC youth tell me how their child should not be in TYC I look up their criminal history on my computer. I start asking about one crime after another their innocent child committed against a real live victim. This process seems to help the parent understand why their child is in TYC.

TYC staff are so afraid of being fired for touching the youth they basically let the youth run the dorms. TYC staff are instructed to use verbal judo to gain compliance from youth. The hard core gang members really respond to verbal judo. Recently 44 new staff graduated from pre-service and were taken to a TYC unit for their first day. Before the first shift ended, 32 of the new staff walked out, not to return. They realized they were being put in an impossible situation and would be seriously injured if they followed current TYC guidelines for dealing with TYC youth.

I have not heard anything about the victims of the youth housed in TYC. It appears the crime victims have the same status as TYC staff. No one cares about them! Remember we are talking about the very worst 3% of the youth offenders in Texas when we talk about TYC youth. These are youth who have killed people, raped and molested small children, sold drugs to school children, and committed untold thefts. Many are hard core gang members who would kill you with out a moment’s thought. I see gang tattoos from all the major gangs on a daily basis. Many have the gang tattoos indicating they have killed someone.

I would like to lock all the folks, who believe TYC is full of poor mistreated children, in a general population dorm for 30 days and see what they think about the poor children after their life changing experience. I have worked with adult and youth offenders. Adult offenders are not as dangerous as the youth in TYC.

Due to my level in the agency I don’t have to be around the youth for eight to twelve hours per day like the JCO staff. I could not hold up to the danger and stress of working directly with the youth the way they do. My heart goes out to all the good, honest, hard working people who we call JCO staff at TYC. I have witnessed many TYC staff carried away in an ambulance. One member of the legislature thinks we need to investigate TYC staff for workers comp fraud. Once again let’s investigate the honest hard working JCO staff and forget about holding the young criminals accountable for aggravated assault on a public servant. Aggravated assault on a public servant is a first degree felony which could draw up to a 40 year term for a youth or a life term fro an adult. I know of a JCO staff that was so savagely beaten one of his eyes was knocked out and resulted in blinding him.

We can not hire enough people to work as JCO staff at TYC so we will start to reduce the population by moving them back to contract care in your community. Hope you don’t mind having a few gang members or child molesters going to school with your children. They can teach your children about deviant sex, drugs, and other criminal activity. We have a number of 18, 19, and 20 year old gentlemen who would love to meet your daughter at high school!

I worked as dorm staff years ago when we demanded respect and discipline from the youth in TYC. I saw many young people given the chance to discover they were not failures. They could become self disciplined productive members of society. All they needed was an adult to teach them. Sorry to say the JCO staff of today don’t have the authority or tools to turn out the successes we did back then. I am glad I will soon retire from TYC because political correctness has doomed today’s TYC youth. Be careful what you ask for, I think your politicians are about to give you what you have asked for!

Anonymous said...

i seperated from the agency a year ago, and have some additional background/followup/comments.

i was with the agency 8 years and started at West Texas State School. The allegations before us today occurred after i had left and promoted to parole.

I think overall, staff needs to be empowered to do their job and be afforded protection by the agency IF THEY ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH POLICY. You violate policy, too bad - you get what comes to you afterwards be it criminal charges or sanctions.

as far as cover-up, who knows. when you have high level staff circumventing process, heads do need to roll. but any tom, dick, and harry can get anything they want from a state agency upon request - it is called Open Records. media is getting info now under the open records request, so even two years ago, this could have been known publicly. problem is, executive staff may not have disclosed to board of directors, thus the cover-up. but same crap goes on all over the place, be it TYC, TDCJ, your county jail, even Federal. It is just that sexual abuse of kids by people in a position of authority is so high profile now anyway that we even hear about this in the media. years ago, not such a big deal. society changes, and with that change, mountains are made out of what used to be considered an ant hill.

Now I am not condoning or supporting the agency in this matter. Changes should be made. Investigations should be done to root out potential bad apples. But the agency as a whole does not have to suffer. there are decent staff out there who overcome the obstacles, do their job, and have successfull careers. there are also those who just want power, and when they have it, abuse it. them are the ones who need to be rooted out.

I do agree that "quality" staff cannot be found in the rural areas that the major institutions are located. I agree that the agency does not conform to ACA recommended staff-inmate ratio due to the limited pool. But if they are going to change TYC, a good starting point would be to change the family code. non-violent offenders have three sanction levels before they can be committed. local counties seem to run them in all levels to gain tyc committment, and wash hands of kid as tyc funds them aftewards. Violent kids can have direct committment. they need to be that way - more risk to community. but debate to follow would be do we lock up non-violent offenders (property crimes). I bet public would think different until they are the ones getting propery stolen from. Same idea that people now push for auto burglary be a felony again. no significant time if convicted (only a misdemeanor). complained about overcrowding, no room in TDCJ for them kinds of people, no money to build more prisons to house them etc. just a never-ending cycle. you cannot have it both ways.

when i was in parole, i figured then this episode would occur. it was reported that a volunteer got the message outside the doors (remember, complaint procedure was circumvented at local level). Two days after the Rangers inquired, I got a complaint from a parent of one of the alleged victims who was on my institutional parole caseload. When what was described to me as what seems to have been founded true, I would have to say, this sounded serious. I did as required, filed alleged misconduct/abuse report. but with being a field staff, i did not have to send to the administrator in West Texas, it went to mine and can tell you it was forwarded to Central Office. That is when I was notified report would also be forwarded to Texas Rangers, as they had initiated an investigation. Could my report have been "misplaced" had the Rangers not been involved? who knows. Hind site is always 20/20, but my point is, there are staff out there who will do their job no matter the consequence. You can go home feeling you did the right thing (note - my reporting of incident had no impact on my status with agency or choice to seperate). that being said, public servants do a thank-less job. we have to have them, but do not recognize them at the public level.

On point of why parole officers/caseworkers are required to have degrees. Any staff above a Juvenile Correction Officer (Schedule B) are considered "professional staff". They are the ones responsible for the resocialization components, JCO is responsible for daily behavior. No "therapy". That is why they do not have to have a degree. Think of it as a baby sitter. They supervise youth daily activity. They do not get the training, education skill, to provide treatment.

to sum up, my personal opinion of the entire scenario is this - the state legislature is covering their own asses. we saw this 4+ years ago when Child Protective Services got funding cut (largest of all agencies) and what happened over the next 2 years following (state budgets are based on 2 years) - rise in child deaths, continued abuses and in all circumstances, actor had involvement with CPS before. Oh my god, our children are being killed - we need to reform the system, get them the resources needed to do their jobs and protect our youth, so the next budget, they give CPS alot more money. Have we heard as much about parents killing their kids and having had prior CPS involvement, or increased abuses that have previous history with CPS? No.

In turn, TYC still had to function with a cut in budget to fund that and what happens, a Sex Abuse scandal. Oh my god, we need to reform the agency.

Reform is not the sole answer. Accountabality is all over to the joe blow reading this post to their elected official. We cannot have things both ways. Either we as tax payers agree to pay more taxes to increase revenue to staff, train, implement and develop the agencies of this state (which we all know we won't) or just shut the hell up.

There may be no real immediate solution to the issue at hand. there will only be some kind of compromise. You cannot abolish the Juvenile Justice System. But, the system can reconsider their approach to rehab and get off this Chicago School line of thinking. This is the early 21st century, not the early 20th centruy. Kids are more violent and criminally oriented today than 100 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Randy Chance needs to amend his qoute from, "Raped by the State" to "Raped by the State Legislatures".

Sure, our agency has problems that need to be addressed immediately but our lawmakers are equally to blame. In viewing the senate committee hearings I see lots of finger pointing and no real clue of understanding. It is easy to sit on that big senate chair and demand explanations on how the tax dollars are being spent not having do the work of the TYC leadership. This form or leadership is reflected on the current crisis. TYC leadership points fingers, demands explanations and doesn't have a clue on what JCO staff do daily. The investigation should include how many times your local and state representatives have recieved complaints and what action was taken...and lets go back a few a years. I bet you'll find severall complaints about lack of legislative appropriations and/or funding for needed resources by the agency or its employees. You might even find several investigation against our lawmakers and/or allegations of mistreatment filed on them. I demand a conservator be appointed to replace our the Texas Legislature!

Anonymous said...

I have been a direct child-care staff, a caseworker,and program supervisor. I have been in this field for 17 years. I have served my state with integrity and helped many of the broken, abused children in Texas. I have also contained the criminal minds that were preying on your mothers, brothers, children, etc....
As we debate what is broken in TYC, let us not forget what is right. I don't think that you will get any arguments from those of us whom have made this our career that we are under funded, under staffed, and under appreciated. With that comes the fact that we are over worked, over scrutinized, and over dilignet in our efforts to do what we know is best.

Let's take a look at it from the inside, everyone has an opinion....
1. youth families
2. legislature
3. executive management in central office
4. media
5. county courts
6. victim advocates
7. inmate advocates
8. the great people of Texas

Now, none of these people get along, none of them have the same opinion, and none of them want to hear any excuses.

All the while we have physical plants that we didn't design. Do you really think that we would choose open bay dorms, with low staff to student rates, and limited ability to fix the problem. Do you really think that we want to keep youth in these institutions that could be managed in the community? Have you ever thought about the position that the staff and admisnitrators with integrity are put in right now?

There is no doubt that there is corruption. There is no doubt that we have staff in postions that should not be there (at all levels). There is no doubt that we are faced with challenges on a daily basis that the public doesn't really understand.

What I ask is this......
There are people working for TYC that have integrity and attempt to do the right thing despite the position that so may people put us in on a daily basis. We encourage reform, but we also would like the acknowledgement that the issues of topic right now have developed over the last 10 years. TYC went through an expansion during the 90's that opened up many beds. After that initial expansion, there was no solid plan for ensuring the progamming would also be put in place. We as TYC staff didn't decide the type of buildings that would be built, the type of youth that we would receive, nor the type of funding cuts that we would be given. Likewise, we have to rely on the executive management to present the issues that we are faced with. Many of us were aware that the agency leadership was not making decisions that were beneficial, but were powerless to influence it.

I am not hear to complain, I love my job. I know that I am helping these kids do better and I have integrity in my mission. I just want everyone else to know that there are many of us here that welcome the change, but don't want the public to just hear from the ones that throw the fit.

Anytime there is a major scandal (such as the one at WTSS and others), it is like a call for all the disgruntled people to get their digs in. I hope that those of you that are watching this from the outside ensure that you realize that those people do not speak for all of us. Many of us are committed to continuing the work we have done to help the kids, the families, the communities, and the victims despite the battles that we are placed in.

So here it is - the question:
Are you ready to get through all the words that are part of this battle, put down the finger pointing, roll up your sleeves, and finally help the people like myself who are doing the best they can with what they have been given? TYC's problems are complicated - I urge you not to jump to conclusions. No one wants the people prosecuted more than I. I want accountability measures in place for everyone. But, most of all, I want real help in completing our mission to put the youth of Texas back out on the streets better than how they came in the front door.