Monday, April 02, 2007

TYC suffers from understaffing, focus on power politics

The Texas Youth Commission scandal and proposed subsequent reforms continue to dominate the headlines, and I thought I'd mention a few informative items in the news that put the problems in perspective.

First, in a guest editorial in the Waco Herald Tribune ("Don't treat TYC like prison"), Marlin unit employee Anthony Mikulastik puts his finger on TYC's biggest obstacle to success:
TYC is, and has been, dangerously understaffed for years. The agency is allocated too few staff positions to assure adequate staffing on a day-to-day basis, and staff turnover makes it worse. Work in the agency is so difficult, dangerous, and poorly compensated that the turnover – over 50 percent annually – constantly drains the pool. Staffing is in a downward spiral: Conditions drive away staff, making it harder to keep staff or hire qualified new ones, which makes the conditions even worse, which drives away more staff.

We need to be able to attract and keep qualified staff. Not just anyone is cut out for the work at TYC. It takes high levels of emotional and intellectual maturity, patience, and courage.

Good stuff. Definitely read the whole thing. Meanwhile, two articles in this morning's Houston Chronicle, one by R.G. Ratcliffe and one by Clay Robison, take a step back to look at the bigger picture at the Texas Youth Commission.

Ratcliffe's piece ("Allegations at TYC have some on edge") gives voice to TYC employees' fears, expressed many times in the comments on Grits, that the TYC reform bandwagon will turn into a "witch hunt" that punishes good people working in difficult situations. Some staff are "petrified" they might lose their jobs, said a union rep.

Ratcliffe also offered some stats on TYC's recent employee discipline I'd not seen before: "at least a dozen TYC employees who have been fired or allowed to resign in the past two years because they were accused of having sexual relations with youths in the agency's care. And more than 360 corrections officers have been fired since 2000 for unnecessary use of force," he wrote. How many of those dozen "fired or allowed to resign" were never prosecuted, as in Pyote? Quien sabe? Who knows?

Like many problems in the criminal justice system, Ratcliffe traces TYC's current staffing woes to the 2003 budget cuts:
Many of the agency's problems can be attributed to understaffing and poor training.

Corrections officers receive just 80 hours of training before they begin work, and they earn less than $33,000 a year. TYC has the most on-the-job injuries of any state agency. Staff ratios are supposed to be one guard for every 15 youth, but the ratio often is 1-to-24.

After state budget cuts in 2003, staff turnover shot up from 32 percent to 48 percent, and the number of staff on youth-abuse cases grew from 459 in the year before the budget cuts to more than 980 two years later.

But he also cites a culture of retaliation against employees who speak about about abuses. "A survey by the state auditor of TYC employees found that almost half of those working in corrections facilities felt like they were mistreated by management and feared retaliation if they filed complaints," wrote Ratcliffe.

Robison's piece ("Perry after power with TYC move") examines the TYC "conservatorship" deal between the Governor and legislative leadership in terms of the recent migration of power in Texas to the executive branch:
Ever so slowly, though, the governor's control over the state bureaucracy — extra power that Gov. Rick Perry obviously covets — is increasing, the latest chapter unfolding as a response to the Texas Youth Commission crisis.

Under a deal worked out by Perry and legislative leaders, the governor will be empowered to appoint a full-time commissioner to head TYC after the emergency conservatorship has ended. That change will give the governor more direct control over an embattled agency now being overhauled after allegations of staff sex abuse against inmates and an administrative cover-up.

I think that's right - the transfer of power to the governor is the most important aspect of this deal. Paul Burka has rightly argued that the struggle between the Lege and the Governor over who will wield power is a major theme of the session, and while higher profile fights like the HPV vaccine have gone the Legislature's way, on TYC the Governor secured a major boost in his own authority.

Robison also noted that "Besides universities, one of the biggest agencies still headed by a part-time board is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which oversees the adult prison system. There hasn't been much discussion, at least not yet, of a gubernatorial takeover of that agency, Perry spokesman Robert Black said."

In other TYC news, the SA Express News published an interview with newly appointed conservator Jay Kimbrough that may interest readers.

Finally, a UNLV professor writing a book on Texas youth corrections left an anonymous comment on my site survey. If that prof could please email me at shenson[at] I'd appreciate it - an acquaintance is in possession of some historical documents from past litigation that he'd like to make available for the project.


tttt said...

No doubt, if there is a major catastophe or scandal in the TDCJ, a power move will be made. I think most people think TDCJ is just the prison system. It is also comprised of the parole division (not the Board of Pardons and Paroles) and the Community Justice Assistance Division, or adult probation. This power move was attempted in recent years and I'm sure it'll be attempted, again.

Anonymous said...

It is reassuring that Jay became misty eyed during his San Antoni Express interview. The majority of staff at TYC have no issue with releasing youth who have done their time, the problem the majority of us are having deals with rules. If you have a rule in place change the system then release the youth, this is not happening. The same program (Resocialization) is being taught every day but whats the purpose if Jay comes in and releases 400 youth. If a youth cannot receive a phase out of Resocialization trust me you do not want this youth in your neighborhood, but I'm sure most of thee youth will not reside in Jays neighborhood. The struggle staff are having right now (those that are left) deals with the fact they are being told to release these youth knowing they will be back soon and the folks making these decisions will be gone in 2 or 3 months and will not be held accountable. If you do not like the current program change it but do this first before you give a free pass and quit worrying about the media coverage, your duty should be safety for both the youth your releasing and the community your releasing this youth too. Haste makes waste and trust me there is a lot of waste taking place right now.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know Jay's salary for caring so much while touring the state on his Harley?

surely he's doing this for free I mean...he cares

Anonymous said...

The Witch Hunt Begins

Memo was sent Monday at 5:01 PM and revised at 6! Info is due Wednesday! (Try getting old court records that show your case was dismissed in 24 hrs!)

"If you have ever been arrested, indicted, or received other official notification that you have been charged with a crime which includes Felonies, Class A, or B misdemeanors, you must report these to Karen Collins Giles, Director of Human Resource Management by 4:00 on Wednesday, April 4, 2007. Secondly, you must also report any change in the status of any criminal charge against you (e.g., dismissal, conviction, the initiation or termination of proceedings to revoke probation, etc.)"

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard the outcome of any of the hearings for those who have been recommended for termination because of the felonies?

Anonymous said...

So, is Lord Jay gone? I heard he was leaving today.

Anonymous said...

I had a hearing due to a felony that I had back in 1990. I still haven't heard anything. Some expedited policy! This has been going on for at least a month now.