Thursday, September 20, 2007

Architect of Bush TYC policies now critical of outcome

Dr. Paul Tracy of UT-Dallas, one of the architects of Gov. George W. Bush's juvenile prison expansion in the mid-'90s, now thinks the policies he helped craft have gone too far, he told Dallas News columnist Steve Blow ("Get tough guy among TYC advisers: Get smart, too," Sept. 20). Tracy now believes that:

the pendulum has swung too far. Texas has come to rely too much on those lockups, Dr. Tracy believes. "We send too many kids there. We send them too soon. And we leave them there too long," he said.

Sending the pendulum back the other direction may be quite a challenge, however.

This overuse of incarceration was one of the key findings of a blue-ribbon panel that studied the troubled Texas Youth Commission. Dr. Tracy is a member of that task force.

TYC created the task force. But it ended up rejecting many of its findings, saying some are politically infeasible and some are beyond its control.

Dr. Tracy agrees that the task force came up with ambitious recommendations. "That's why we called it 'Transforming Juvenile Justice in Texas,' not 'Tweaking Juvenile Justice in Texas.' "

The report calls for putting far more effort into turning around young offenders within their communities before resorting to the drastic step of sending them off to TYC prisons. Counseling, family intervention, school tutoring, community service, intensive probation – those sorts of things.

"People worry about the cost of that, but I guarantee that it's a whole lot less than housing them at TYC and then ultimately at TDCJ," Dr. Tracy said, referring to the adult prison system.

Research shows that 75 percent of inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice were previously in the juvenile justice system. "We're obviously not doing a very good job at the juvenile level," Dr. Tracy said.

Our problem, he said, is that early, minor offenses are treated too lightly. Then the hammer falls too hard. "You can't just slap them on the wrist, then suddenly ship them off to prison," he said.

This isn't about going soft on crime. It's about getting smarter, Dr. Tracy said. "Everything we have recommended is a best-practices model that has been proven to work somewhere."

In its own blundering way, TYC may have actually helped hasten reform. By rejecting most of the recommendations – by refusing, in fact, to even release the task force report – TYC brought far more attention to it.

Had officials accepted it with the usual hollow ceremonial praise, the report could have died on the shelf with most other blue-ribbon studies.

And TYC could have gone right on turning little criminals into big ones.


Anonymous said...

The pendulum is an appropriate metaphor, but the task force only came up with where they thought it should swing to. They did nothing to spell out how we begin this swing, which we in the field thought was going to be a treatment program to replace Resocialization. We have to begin where we are, and move slowly in the new direction. The blue ribbon panel gave us nothing to help us do that. As we read about the lawsuits draining state funds, how do we expect to build all these smaller local facilities? And what do we do in the meantime? TYC's biggest blunder, in my opinion, was putting a man on a task force to help fix a mess he apparently had a hand in creating. Don't we at least get a "my bad" from this guy?

Anonymous said...

TYC leads the nation in correctional quackery. Policy-makers have always ignored evidence-based solutions to reduce recidivism in favor of reduced costs. It costs more when kids recidivate and we know this to be true.

Anonymous said...

I wish Dr. Tracy would actually visit a Juvenile Probation Department! Juveniles do start out with a "slap on the wrist"-if it is a misd.Felony-the hammer comes down, but they get plenty of chances to turn their lives around. AND, plenty of resources from the Probation Departments. TJPC directs funds to many, many programs to help them. Intensive Supervision (ISP), drug counseling, tutoring, and on and on. I think Juvenile Probation is getting mixed up with TYC and TYC Parole. Two different animals-Thank God! These "experts" are the ones who got us where we are-in a mess. They had better leave Juvenile Probation alone. The vast majority of juvenile Probation Departments are well run, cost effective and staffed by excellent professionals.

Anonymous said...

Historically, juvenile probation has rarely fallen under the purview of TYC.

County probation departments and juvenile "crime prevention units" within police depts began to emerge in the 1930s in Dallas, Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, Austin, and a little later in places like El Paso.

But they were largely autonomous and functioned apart from one another, which meant that their quality varied significantly.

When TYC was created in 1949, it was empowered to help improve and standardize local procedures. For a few years, TYC did work fairly closely with local authorities, offering training seminars, creating standard reporting protocols, etc.

But the "community-based" side of TYC's program was defunded by the lege within about 5 years of its creation, and money was shifted to institutions.

This caused local juvenile services to develop in very uneven fashion during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, with many counties continuing to lack even the most basic features like a juvenile court, JDC, or probation. Indeed, the Morales case began as a grievance against illegal practices in a local juvenile court and probation dept in El Paso.

In Texas alone, over a dozen adjudged delinquents successfully appealed their cases for due process violations by local authorities in the late 1960s and early 70s. These cases usually cited In Re Gault (1967), the Supreme Court ruling that juveniles were entitled to counsel, habeas corpus rights, and other due process protections in court. This eventually forced compliance from local authorities and led to the upgrading of their juvenile probation services.

Also, major federal legislation in 1974 mandated the separation of status offenders (e.g., PINS or CHINS) from more serious offenders, created the federal OJJDP, and urged more community-based treatment programs.

For all those reasons, the lege decided to vest statewide authority over juvenile probation in a separate agency, TJPC, rather than in the existing one, TYC, which had become more or less a correctional agency - not its originally intended function. Even though Morales led to better rehabilitation programs, it didn't really change this structural feature of TYC as a correctional agency.

Why say all this? Because I think that at least a basic understanding of the history of juvenile justice is essential to charting the way forward, and it is clear as glass to me that such an understanding has been, to put it charitably, lacking among recent proponents of locking up more juvenile offenders.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Paul Tracy is a farce. How can he condemn a system he hasn't even seen. He sits in his ivory tower, reading books and journals without ever experiencing all the wonderful things that happen in the Texas Juvenile Justice system every day. The system is not broken. Why doesn’t he visit community corrections agencies, talk to clients and their families. Unfortunately the people calling the shots in Austin don’t have a background in Juvenile Corrections and they don’t listen to the professionals that do.

Tracy helped corrupt the system in 95' and now he is whining about it. He supported criminalizing everything from gum chewing in the classroom to throwing spit wads. He is a hypocrite.

Anonymous said...

One topic I find getting little attention is the high number of youth in the juvenile justice systems of Texas who suffer from emotional problems and mental illness. During the years I worked with the little boys at the Marlin TYC Unit I had a high case load with emotional and mental disabilities. The juvenile justice system in Texas has been forced to treat youth with different types of histories with basically the same treatment mode. One size does not fit all! The children with metal or emotional issues need a different treatment program than children with conduct disorder. The girls at Marlin Intake had a different set of needs compared to the boys! I know several case workers tried to do the best for the children with the limited tools they were allowed to use. TYC is a catch all for children who have vastly different needs and until an array of programs is in place to meet the specific needs of these children it will be a failure! Maybe the next juvenile justice program in Texas will address the varied needs of the Texas youth it serves.

Anthony Mikulastik

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:40, In rhetorical defense of Dr. Tracy (who I don't know either personally or through his work), a) at least he's admitted he was wrong back then, and b) given he's an academic, a LOT of important best practices research has come out on juvie corrections since '93, plus crime today is dramatically lower than it was back then.

If he was a true believer as a juvie prisons builder 15 years ago, I'm glad to accept his apostate support for rolling back those policies now. It's quite possible, even likely, that he in good faith changed his mind. There are a lot of things I believed 15 years ago that I don't today.

Also, @2:11 - I must say while I respect the juvie probation folks and think they tend to do a lot better job, in general, than their adult-system counterparts, I think most local community systems are still underfunded and lack sufficient capacity to provide adequate services to the youth that run through the system. They're given chances, yes, and some support, but there could be a lot more resources applied to intermediate sanctions than happens right now. Considering how much MORE expensive TYC is for kids, in the long run intensive community supervision is not only the approach that produces the best safety outcomes, but also the most cost-effective. best,

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on Tracy - I've read his work and disagreed strongly with his conclusions at times, certainly his advocacy for more prisons in the 90s. The fact that even Tracy is rethinking his earlier views should mean something to those legislators and TYC officials who think things are going splendidly.

I'd note, though, that it's not clear he's admitting that he was "wrong" before, only that the "pendulum has swung too far" toward juvenile prisons.

The key concept in the blue ribbon report, which I think animates Tracy's comments in the DMN op-ed, is the "continuum of care," which calls for "intensive probation" for some and equally "intensive" transitional care for TYC inmates back into the community. The COC is an important concept in the mental health fields and I wonder if it is in TYC also.

I would love to see a discussion of this here, esp from system professionals. Even having read the report, I'm left with some questions.

Is there already a continuum of care in place? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How well does TYC transition youth back into the community? How long does TYC supervise youth during parole?

I suppose I could get some of this info from the TYC's public docs, but it would be interesting to hear what Grits readers think.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Grits: I read this blog often and rarely see anyone speak to the real issues in our State. Under funded / Low capacity behavioral health care, TEA 's focus on scores rather than content, poverty, lack of adequate health care....etc.... but yet, most bloggers expect the criminal justice system to fix societies problems. By the time a child from a chaotic home comes in contact with the Juvenile Justice system they have issues to numerous to adequately address in the short period of time community corrections professionals are given to fix the problems. To say nothing about the challenge of fixing the family that created the problems to begin with.

The Juvenile Justice system I know employs evidence-based solutions - like multi-systemic therapy, wrap around therapy, family preservation programs, and divert courts.
I am tired of it being bashed.

Look in you own family or your neighbors; teenagers need constant guidance well into their early adulthood. JJ kids are thrust into systems that leave their lives in a manner of months - at the best a few years.... give us some credit.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"I'd note, though, that it's not clear he's admitting that he was "wrong" before, only that the "pendulum has swung too far" toward juvenile prisons."

I agree, Bill, I overstated the good professor's position. Thanks for clarifying, and for your contributions to the discussion. I'm curious about the answers to your questions myself.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And @ 7:13, while I generally agree with your point and occasionally address issues like education as a tangent, I've made a conscious decision to limit Grits' focus to criminal justice topics, so I don't write much about the TEA. It's possible, however, I may do more coverage on mental health issues than you've been aware of, see these stories, e.g..

Believe me, I don't think the criminal justice system can solve everything. Not by a longshot. I think we use it to try to address FAR too many problems. My hope is that as the blogosphere matures, many of these other extremely important areas will receive the same type of intensive focus the criminal justice system receives on Grits and other Texas crimjust blogs, but we can't solve every problem here. Tackling big social problems is like the old advice about how best to eat an elephant - one bite at a time. best,


To Bill Bush at 3:13...

I find your historical interpretations of the TYC agency quite interesting. Thanks for sharing them with us.

In our attempts to repair the agency, I agree that one of the most important tools we need is a point of reference that starts at TYC's beginning and continues to the present. It seems logical that knowing how we got where we are now might help us take steps to ensure that hisory does not repeat itself.

Whatever we did wrong in the past can only be remedied by doing something different. By the same token, those things that we were doing right should not have been thrown out the window.

I would like to hear your opinion on where you think the agency is currently headed. I've been with TYC 10 years, and I have never felt such a loss of direction.

Anonymous said...

Old Faithful,

Thanks for the kind words.

I'm probably in less of a position than most other Grits TYC readers to predict what will happen next.

The last time something like this happened, though, was the late 1960s. Then, abuses came to light, the lege investigated, the media covered it, there were lots of angry cries for change, and it all got totally squashed by TYC's political allies.

The main culprits then were:

Gus Mutscher, Speaker of the House of Reps, who got a new TYC facility built in his district as a likely quid pro quo - this was the Giddings facility - for dissolving the committee that had been investigating TYC;

Ben Barnes, the Lt Governor, who had long advocated transferring authority over juvenile facilities to TDC - he held a truly despicable press conference portraying juvenile offenders as murderous monsters to undermine sympathy for abused inmates; and,

Rep William S. Heatly, the "Duke of Paducah," chairman of the appropriations committee, whose brother was a psychiatrist on the TYC payroll, and who made sure TYC got all the funding it wanted for more institutions.

And of course pols with TYC facilities in their districts fought against any reform too. Back then it was a very well oiled, if unsubtle, political machine.

Less than 2 years later, the Morales case was filed, and we all know how that turned out. If those pols hadn't been so small-minded and short-sighted, and agreed to at least some incremental reform, they might have forestalled the case.

It is quite possible that we are witnessing that history repeating itself, but I'm pessimistic.

Then, the federal government, the judiciary, the legal profession, the media, and much of national opinion stood behind protecting the civil rights of various groups, including not just racial and ethnic minorities but also prisoners and juvenile offenders.

Then, the Texas pols grossly miscalculated the national mood, and TYC's old guard paid a price.

Now, I don't think we have that sort of impetus. Neither the federal government nor the judiciary has shown that they give a rat's ass about the Constitution itself, let alone "civil rights," which many would put in quotes to indicate its illegitimacy (until their own civil rights were threatened, of course).

It will take a tremendous amount of public, political, or judicial pressure to force this state legislature, this federal government, or this agency to do the right thing. I think that is possible but it is a tall order in these times.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Bill, case in point this current TYC administration just promoted a man into a pwerful administrative position who according to many at West Texas State School had knowledge of Ray Brookins deeds and did nothing.

I really do not believe they understand or gives a rats butt about anything, especially civil rights.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Rangers report concerning the West Texas Incident on pages 78, 88, and 89 may shed some light into who knew what and did they report Ray Brookins and or file a complaint against the allegations made.

Austin American Statesman April 05, 2007

Anonymous said...

11:22, for us who aren't computer nerds, how de we get there from here?

Anonymous said...


I too appreciate your knowledge and insight into TYC history. As a 14-year employee, I was aware of parts of what you reference but not all of it.

Regarding your question about continuum of care in TYC, I can tell you it was never adequate from my perspective and from that of other top treatment professionals in the agency, such as Drs. Reyes and Alvarez-Sanders. In my brief time in TYC Central Office, I came to better understand the dynamics behind that. The legislature has all kinds of performance measures for TYC but the one measure that really translated into budget dollars is the average daily population in TYC high-restriction facilities. There was incredible pressure to fill up the state institutional beds to justify funds provided to TYC. Whenever population averages in institutions did not meet projections (upon which funding had been based), there was talk of possibly having to pay back some of the funds. Given that funding has not been sufficient to safely operate the institutions for many years, that left little or no money for addressing the continuum of care. For several budget cycles, TYC requested additional funds for contract beds. This was seen as one way to provide more specialized and community-based options for youth while still getting a 'bed days' count for the lege. However, these funds were largely denied and even cut with instructions to "fill the existing state beds first." This narrow-minded approach continued to force TYC into an institution-only format.

For those who are concerned about possible movement of TYC beds into contract programs, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition. Until and unless TYC can develop smaller facilities closer to the major metro areas, small well-monitored contract programs (not just beds but also day treatment and family services, etc.) are a viable alternative. However, TYC needs to retain a significant portion of its own beds. There are some programs and youth that just seem better served in state-operated programs. Having state-operated beds also helps avoid a total dependency on contract programs that can make it harder to hold them properly accountable. Furthermore, TYC and the State of Texas has an incredible investment in the core staff that operate the current state institutions. These programs do not need to be closed, they need to be down-sized to a level that allows effective programming, doesn't overtax the existing physical plant and doesn't overtax the local community's ability to provide appropriate personnel at an appropriate level.

All of this, contract programs and smaller state-operated facilities, translates into $$$. If state officials really want to address the problems in TYC and help troubled youth, then they need to face this reality. Blaming and replacing the prior administration and putting some new 'rules' in place for investigations and an ombudsman, etc. is not going to fix the core problems (as we are already seeing).

>Don Brantley

Anonymous said...

To give support ot Don's input, TYC had and still has a rider in the Appropriations Act that it must occupy 97.5% of its institutional capacity before it can spend money on contract programs, unless there is an emergency.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brantley, getting rid of the present leadership and getting qualified juvenile corrections experts will help reform the agency and send it in the right direction. The previous administration did have many corrupt employees and they did need to go. Not all of them were corrupt but the ones that weren't did not stand up to them. We need ethical administrators, what were once referred to as a "role models" Leaders that truly value "the employees" not just the buddies up in Austin they've pulled up but the ones in the field. The ones that agency needs to exsist! The overworked and underpaid who take what they have to take to keep their jobs. Those sir, are the backbone of this agency.

There were and are too many administrators that are solely there for the money and don't necessarily want to work for it. They just want to show up on payday
to collect the high money they make for doing little or nothing. Pulling up or promoting buddies to positions they are not qualified for has been a major downfall of this agency. Not making administrators accountable and ensuring they are at work has been another issue. That needs to stop. A non-exempt employee would never get away with coming and going as they please. Yet, we watch in the field doing exactly that and there is no supervision of these employees.

The hiring practice needs complete revamping and so does the promotion aspect.

I'm just your regular "in the trench employee" but I can see the simplicity of fixing this problem. Why can't they? I don't want to hear how complicated it is and that it's over my head. I just want it fixed. The youth and employees are suffering not to mention the countless lives that were destroyed by the corrupt employees we once had and have.

As an example, I ask you to look at the promotion of the Al Price superintendent to a regional superintendent. The man has only been a superintendent for 1 little over a month. He was promoted to assistant superintendent at WTSS even though he had involvement in coverup of the sex scandal and the former superintendent's protege. What an excellent role model to promote! I bet they are proud of their selection too! WTSS, I will pray for you!

The irony of this situation is that he will now be over the person that blew the whistle about the sex scandal, according to ranger's report he was a caseworker at WTSS when it went down. What were these interviewers thinking? Did they not read the ranger's report?

I have the right to place blame with the previous and current leadership, that's the least they owe me. I'm not ignorant of what is going on and neither are my coworkers. Until TYC, the politicians and any other egos involved,are willing to look at the real problems in TYC, the agency will not be any better than it was or is.

When there are no more coverups, when we hire qualified ethical employees, when they start valuing employees, setting programs in place to rehabilitate the youth, when they learn to communicate with all employees and when the agency becomes transparnt, maybe then we can begin the recovery stage. While we still have no moral values, we will spiral downward at the speed of lightening. It will be the death of TYC. Money is the bottom line and we all know it. Greed breeds corruption. They should strip all those high ranking administrators down to the kind of salaries the fields makes and give the field money for merits and promotions. Let's see how many of them stick around!

I'm sorry if I misunderstood your point and I am not meaning to offend you. This my viewpoint of an
agency I was once proud to work for. I'm not your 5, 10 or 15 year employee, believe me. I've been around many years. Have seen many things leading up to where we are now but no one ever seeks the input of the field! I take that back, they did seek the input in the field but only that of the corrupt administrators. So, yes, I have the right to place the blame where I think it needs to go. I can count on one hand the number of administrators that have visited my facility in the 22 years I've worked for TYC. All of them have sat behind their desks in central office and looked the other way with what going on in the field. The few that did visit,
treated the trench employees with disdain and disrespect. We were made to feel that we had nothing to contribute. I can only recall 2 polictians that ever visted or taken an interest in our youth and employees. That Sir, is my honest opinion.

Had enough.

Anonymous said...

A further problem is that local juvenile facilities are limited in the number of beds and despite the legislature's stated belief that some vast pool of local beds exists or that TYC can contract for needed beds, there is going to be a bed shortage or TYC is going to continue early releases because the number of TYC commitments has not decreased under SB 103.

I agree with Don on the need for more money and other changes but that is not going to happen in the forseeable furure. Contracting for beds is not going to allow TYC to shut down any additional facilities because enough contract beds are not available to meet the demand that exists and will continue to exist for the forseeable future.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

A couple more articles in Sunday's Austin American Statesman about TYC.

The fun never stops.

Anonymous said...

Someone explain this, please:

Two superintendents get promoted to regional directors. One of those superintendents assistant gets promoted - immediately, within the same e-mail - to superintendent; the other assistant is the 'acting' superintendent.

Is it me or is there something that doesn't feel right??

Anonymous said...

The feeling is secrecy and corruption once more by the powers that be!