Thursday, November 01, 2007

'Spray First' makes a comeback: TYC proposes more pepper spray, use of mechanical restraints

In the face of pending litigation, the Texas Youth Commission's today proposed changes to the Texas Administrative Code Section 97.23 on "Use of Force," posting the new policy to the Texas Register.

As anticipated, the proposed policy officially changes the use of force continuum to increase use of mechanical restraints and pepper spray. The public has 30 days to provide comment.
Read the proposed policy here.

One thing I learned at the Juvenile Justice Association Conference in Lubbock: Not one county juvenile detention center in the entire state uses pepper spray on youth, so why should TYC?

Also, the policy they're repealing was created to meet the requirements of federal litigation - specifically the Morales v. Turman settlement. This seems like another move almost guaranteed to drag the agency back into court, where lately it's not had a great track record.

I keep wondering why TYC staffer "Bronco" Billy Humphrey, the fellow who ordered trainers to continue teaching illegal tactics after TYC said they'd stop in a court settlement, hasn't been ousted by agency management. Now it appears they're just going to change the rules to match his illegal orders rather than hold Mr. Humphrey accountable.

Let me know in the comments what you think of the new policy, and I'll submit comments to the agency from Grits for Breakfast (and of course, publish them on the blog) with plenty of reader input.


Anonymous said...

Bronco Billy wants to set up staff! As He has in the past months by getting them to do Illegal acts such as the Use of Pepper Spray,, He will Terminate anyone who disagrees with Him or send them to other Units such as Vernon,, What a guy ,, Maybe He will offer more Job offers during meetings to TDCJ Loosers...Who knows,,, The Use of Pepper Spray will continue and many more Staff will fall until it is changed then tyc will get more Law Suits and more Tax Money down the Drain..

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits,

If possible, can you also post a link to the old/existing Use of Force policy so we can compare the text?

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

I don't get what the big problem is with pepper spray. It reduces injuries to both JCO'S and Youth. When Youth are violent, it is the safest wisest thing to do when it is used responsibly and carefully.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Bill, see here. I think the links are all in that post.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone think the way to teach youth that violence is unacceptable expect to do it with violence? Use of Pepper Spray is a violent assault against the youth.

The real problem is undiagnosed mental health problems. TYC should be providing adequate care for mental illness, not more violence! Mental illness treatment is expensive but not as expensive as law suits and the social cost of a failure to address the real problem - disease!

Change is needed to ensure mentally ill youth are treated, not assaulted!

Anonymous said...


No! Pepper Spray is an EASY way out and should only be used a last resort. Well trained staff who possess good verbal intervention skills (avoiding power struggles)who can deescalate a situation is the WISEST and SAFEST thing to do!

But that would mean spending money and time to train staff...and lord knows we don't want staff to feel they can adequately do their job and increase retention... instead lets spend MONEY and CHANGE Policy, and turn TYC into TDCJ for the kiddies!

Bottom line, while pepper spray can be an effective "last resort" means of control it too easily becomes a crutch for lazy, power/control driven, and intellectually challenged staff.

Former YAS/JCO

Hamhead said...

Man, they're not going to see the color of our shirts if we keep spraying them. Can we wear jeans now that they're all going to be blinded?

Anonymous said...

Well said 8:07 and 8:08. But this agency has no interest in providing treatment. There is no treatment program, hasn't been for months and months. Now they have Stan as the Director of Treatment. He is not treatment oriented and does not have a license to practice. If the agency cared about the kids, they'd hire qualified people to be in charge of rehabilitating the kids. I am now seriously questioning Stan's ethics for accepting this position. And David Walenta? This is more of the same sucking up for him. Never has taken a stand on behalf of the kids or what is right. He is in way over his head.

Anonymous said...

Use of chemical agents reduces the need for physical force and the potential for injuries to staff and offender.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, here's what the Blue Ribbon Panel said about pepper spray:

"At root, the new TYC executive leadership at Central Office in Austin should foster a “new organizational culture” that does not accept ward violence or staff use of force. Organizational culture change is aided by a new clarity of policy and procedure, but this must be strongly reinforced by ongoing training, as well as daily reaffirmation of the values of the new culture. It is admittedly very difficult for Central Office staff to effectively control the behavior of staff who work in institutions that are hundreds of miles from Austin. There is no substitute for continuous and regular communications of organizational values and expectations. There must also be opportunities for staff to learn new skills and participate in the new culture.

"This Task Force unequivocally expresses its concern about TYC’s new policy allowing the use of chemical control agents such as pepper spray. We recognize the high rate of worker injuries at TYC facilities and share with the TYC leadership the concern for and need to address worker safety. We also recognize that the youths often suffer significant injuries from the use of restraints.

"We understand that the new policy regarding pepper spray was implemented in an effort to decrease injuries to staff and juveniles; however, the ease with which pepper spray can be employed is exceptionally troubling. This is especially true in an environment
that has not yet seen a shift in culture away from punishment and towards a treatment approach. While there could potentially be scenarios in which the use of pepper spray is the best alternative in dealing with a crisis situation, it is all too easy to employ this technique in dealing with recalcitrant youth who refuse to obey an order or in an effort to extract a juvenile from his or her cell. In neither situation would the use of pepper spray be appropriate.

"Although public debates so far have framed this as a choice between the use of pepper spray and the use of restraints or physical force, we think that such a debate creates a false choice. The challenge is for TYC to find ways to decrease all uses of force through an emphasis on other methods. Specifically, greater priority should be given and resources allocated toward skillsbased training using standardized approaches for workers on how to verbally de-escalate crisis situations. This will require a shift in culture that is congruent with treatment over punishment."

See also Old Salty's comments discussed in this blog post.

Anonymous said...

Mental Health treatment means drugging kids with psychotropics, which can be equally distressing. I work for TYC now, but I worked in a mental health unit. The kids getting sprayed have it better than a kid shot full of thorazine. The taxpayers of this state don't give a crap about these kids. At some point these kids need to be stopped from hurting themselves and others. Pepper spray is less likely to cause serious injury. It doesn't matter how many staff you have or how much you pay them, a violent out of control youth has to be subdued to keep him from hurting himself and others. As for the former YAS/JCO who is stereotyping a lot of good people as lazy and intellectually challenged, come back to work and show us how it's done. Otherwise keep your unhelpful opinions to yourself.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"t doesn't matter how many staff you have or how much you pay them"

False. Understaffing in the last several years has led directly to increased youth injuries, which weren't always at the levels they are now w/o pepper spray, believe it or not. More and better trained staff DO help reduce violence better than intimidation and force. To claim otherwise in order to advocate for pepper spray use is wrong on many levels.

Anonymous said...

As usual you are all wrong. Listen Kids in TYC with mental issues...hmmm is that a TYC issue or a issue for the elected officials and judges to rethink who the hell comes to TYC. Use of force is necessary assholes on the blue ribbion pannel probably dont own any kind of weapon for belief they can verbably talk someone out of harming them. And they call themselves experts.

Anonymous said...

How much time have you actually spent inside the fence of a facility? Have you ever visited and which ones? Have you ever been in a facility during movement? Just wondering?

Anonymous said...

Naw grits aint been in any facility. You want comments....Here you go....I support the use of pepper spray in TYC. Hell let them decide how/what is best...Thas what they get paid for..

Anonymous said...

9:31 p.m.

I wasn't generalizing when I wrote "lazy, power/control driven, and intellectually challenged staff."

In fact I believe the exact opposite that most/many staff are quality people and truly want to do the best job they can and I can say I have worked with some of the best. For that reason I find it upsetting that the few staff that I characterize as "lazy, power/control driven, and intellectually challenged staff" have sullied the reputation of the many quality staff that are or were part of TYC.

I agree with Grits and Old Salty that more staff are needed. Cutting the staffing ratio's in 2003 made problems that were already festering worse.

Staff and caseworkers have been and always will be the backbone of the agency.

Unfortunately, too many of the "lazy, power/control driven, and intellectually challenged staff" got promoted and became administrators and brought down the agency thus proving that the "peter principle" is law and not just theory!

But there might just have to be a new principle to describe the havok that the new Admin is wrecking upon the agency!

Former YAS/JCO

Anonymous said...

And 10:17 p.m. reinforces my point of "lazy, power/control driven, and intellectually challenged staff."

former YAS/JCO

Anonymous said...

Lets look at the issues:
Pepepr spray can be effective but in exteme circumstances.
The reason for pepper spray comes to lack of staff. Why did TYC spend half of their OT budget in just one month? Our friend from TDCJ want an easy quick fix to drop the workers comp claims, this has nothing (good) to do with protecting the youth, it's about claims.
If TYC was able to attract and retain employees they could meet the mandated 12 to 1 ratio. But, who in their right mind (except for us bloggers) would work for this perverse agency that cares little for the youth?
The problem with our current leadership is they want the quick fix, rather than put the work in and hire and train staff. As long as we keep the same corrupt leadership we never will attract new staff and since they decided not to pay OT you will see more problems with staffing because staff will not answer their phones.

Anonymous said...


Which is why I believe that if effective change is going to happen in TYC then it is going to have to happen from the bottom up not from the top down.

It is going to take someone who can relate and understand TYC staff concerns and has a vision for the agency that he/she can communicate and inspire change. Someone who can relate and cut through the discouragement and well earned cynicism that many staff have and allow them to believe in the agency and themselves once again.

Not sure who that person is but it sure isn't Pope or Owens!

former YAS/JCO

Anonymous said...

Scott, good point why is Bronco Billy still employed?
Do we have to wait for the lawyers to take this back before a judge and show proof of his illegal activities. Everyone who has read his e-mails knows he violated the law or was compelling others to do so. So the question needs to be answered, why is this administration covering up for him. Does this not make them just as guilty/culpable.
Fire the Hillbilly and let him go back to abusing inmates at TDCJ and not the youth of Texas.

Anonymous said...

Pepper spray may be a necessary component of a use of force policy, just when and how it is used.

This new policy has pepper spray before physical restraint which means you can be fired for restraining before using spray. Doesn't make sense.

This policy also says a youth with a mental health diagnosis cannot be sprayed before a psychologist has attempted to control the situation. This policy obviously was not reviewed by experienced mental health professionals with correctional experience or experienced correctional staff. The correctional staff don't believe in mental health diagnoses and mental health staff typically have serious issues with the use of spray. What a joke...

Anonymous said...

The other problem is that spray is currently being used in situations where there is no serious threat of imminent harm just significant noncompliance.

If facilities were fully staffed you would not need spray. Staff at some facilities (e.g. Mart) harp on spray needed because of violent youth with gang related violent behavior. Most institutions are severely understaffed. Youth almost feel like they have to be affiliated to try to stay safe.

Spend the money on staff, not pepper spray, and don't spray kids who are just bucking the rules to get a few extra minutes in the shower or because you've illegally locked them up in security and they are pissed off and noncompliant.

Anonymous said...

Grits or Howard - no matter what TYC does with its policy, doesn't the recent court decision override what they're trying to do now. I guess I just must be slow, but I don't understand how these people are being allowed to blatantly disregard a court decision and none of them are in jail?

Someone please help me understand. Do I need to call the police the next time pepper spray is used or what?

Anonymous said...

I remember the Branch Dividian fiasco from many years ago. ATF came in with tanks, loud music, and an attitude.

They were going to show thoese "hippies" who was boss! No matter what. All their mean spirited tactics accomplished was to kill a lot of women and children. A little training and patience could have saved a lot of lives.

TYC is heading down the same path. Their reasons - protecting the safety of staff - are a very lame cover for their true intent - showing thoese kids who is boss. No matter what.

TYC Management needs to stop using OC Spray starting right now, not after escalating violence becomes the accepted everyday solution to daily operational activities.

Anonymous said...

11:38 -

The lawsuit filed by Texas Appleseed primarily challenged the process followed to implement the new use-of-force policy. Or more accurately, the lack of such a process.

The plaintiffs argued that adoption of the new policy should have first been offered for public comment (and generally follow other procedural formalities as required by the Texas Government Code.)

But the plaintiffs' complaint did not directly challenge the substantive validity of the new rule, assuming it had been promulgated correctly.

So when it gets passed, the plaintiffs will have to reconsider their challenge to it. They will argue that it does not square with the holdings of Morales.


Anonymous said...

Are you saying TYC will ignore any imput received from the public comment process, implement the new policy and then wait for the courts to rule?

If they ignore the risk of violating the Morales settlement, can an injunction be obtained to stop them until the courts have time to make a decision?

Dr. Papschmear said...

Hmmm! According to the "new" Use of Force policy, a youth can be sprayed even when they are already in mechanical restraints? Isn't that considered unecessary use of force (when cops do it, it's called police brutality)? Next, we'll be tattooing identification numbers on their forearms, loading them on railrod boxcars and shipping them off to concentration camps for extermination. Hitler and Stalin must be spinning in their graves with glee to know that the principles and tactics they espoused those many years ago are alive and well in today's TYC. Sadly, I remember a time when TYC's position on the use of any type of restraint (physical, mechanical, drugs and yes Dementia, chemical agents) were considered a loss of an opportunity for a positive interaction with youth. In the criminal justice system as a whole (and TYC is a part of that system), studies have shown that one of the biggest reasons for violence against officers is the result of them (the officers) being disrespectful to the populations they are intended to serve. Tell a person (adult or youth) that they are a piece of crap long enough, and they will become a piece of crap. Take away their self-respect and they will respond violently, just like you or I would. If you believe what 7:27 am says you are living in a fantasy world. The potential for abuse increases exponentially with the increased use of chemical agents and the chances of it being employed "responsibly and carefully" as 7:27 am states is unlikely. Just read some of the CCF-225's coming out of that TYC showplace Evins Regional Juvenile Center (and other facilities).

Rusty White said...

Very strange information being thrown around here?? Having worked from 73 till 78 on death row and admin. seg. I never remember a time I used it? During one stretch from May to August because of gangs fighting for control, we averaged 3 dead and 17 shankings A MONTH!

We gassed cell blocks during riots, but in use of force situations and forced cell entries we didn't want to have to get it on us during the battle! But there again we didn't have female officers in male prisons, nor have the helmets, shields and pads used today. We just took our good shirts off, racked the door open and took care of business.

And EVERYBODY knew spray was useless against an inmate with mental problems, those in a have to situation you hit on the shins or elbows to get them to law down??

So I guess out of my ignorance, are the officers spraying these kids while they are locked in their cells, and not having to go in after doing so? Or using it to break up two of them fighting?? Or for self protection?? Or just to show who has the power, or as a punishment for disrespect???

I for one believe there IS a use for it in a limited number of situations. But without PROPER training and PROPER supervision and ACCOUNTABILITY for wrongful use AT ALL LEVELS, there will continue to be PROBLEMS!


Anonymous said...


It may well be that TYC is deliberately drawing a legal challenge to Morales b/c it hopes to have it overturned.

I certainly could envision a scenario in which the TYC fiasco becomes the setting for a nationally significant constitutional case.

And given the composition of the federal courts right now, that is probably not a positive thing for proponents of the de-prisonization of TYC.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

The reason Billy Humphries is still hired is because he is doing exactly what he has been instructed to do by Ms. Pope. He is part of her team, and will remain so until they decide to replace Pope. Owens and his talk about silos suggest that he is trying to follow Lencione or some other business guru that is talking about how to manage a takeover. The problem is that those models only work for companies where a takeover can lead to a higher profit margin and people can see the benefit. There is no obvious benefit to be seen in changing our agency from "for cause" to "at will." It simply destroys any chance of establishing a team spirit.

Anonymous said...

O.K. - This may be a dumb question, but it has been on my mind for awhile and I've just been afraid to ask and look stupid, but to hell with that -

Can current TYC administration just 'blow off' Morales vs. Turman? Did this lawsuit not establish federal guidelines for TYC? Are those not still in effect today? Or was it just boxes and boxes of files stored away in some forgotten warehouse somewhere? I guess I'm just ignorant of the law, but it looks like several years and billions of dollars were wasted settling that lawsuit - because it's obvious the current administration could give a rat's ass about any of it.

Emily said...

11:04: I had the great pleasure on Wednesday of interviewing Judge William Wayne Justice, who presided over the Morales case. He assured me that the terms of the final settlement were undertaken on behalf of *all youth incarcerated in TYC in the future.* That is to say, it was the clear intention of the court that those settlement terms (including the limits on the use of chemical agents) be preserved in perpetuity.

I'm not lawyer, so I'm not sure how TYC is bucking those terms now, or whether it's legal or not. It certainly goes against the spirit of the settlement, if not the law. Justice described himself as deeply disappointed with the direction the agency has taken in recent years.

Anonymous said...

when was the last time any of you have been with 18 youth, two who are fighting and two female staff who are not physically able to restrain two big, strong 18 year old men? Only the threat of pepper spray stopped them. I have been with the agency and have had to use spray on two occasions, first time because a youth was strangling another and I couldn't pry his fingers off of the others throat and the second time was in a riot situation. JCO staff are within arms reach of youth at any given time during their shift.

before anyone is allowed to sit in the ivory tower (Austin) and issue rules for the ones who are really doing the hard jobs they should have to work as a JCO inside a fenced institution for at least six months.

I resent being referred to as a "lazy, power/control driven, and intellectually challenged staff".

I took this job to try to help youth but to help you must have control. Learning can only take place in a safe environment.

These are not small children physically, they are bigger than most of the JCO's. In my facility we have one youth who is 6'7". Thank God he's a decent kid and doesn't cause too many problems.

Anonymous said...

I remember Peter Harrell saying one time,"if you think the JCO's don't run TYC let them all call in sick one day and see what happens". Maybe, just maybe....

Anonymous said...


That language was front and center in the various Morales rulings. It is part of practically every class action suit, one of the ways I think that plaintiffs obtain "standing" to sue. Howard can probably comment more expertly than I in that regard.

An agency is not supposed to be able to just ignore a federal court order, but it has certainly happened before. Civics 101 says that the executive branch enforces the laws, so either Gov Perry, the Texas AG, or the federal DOJ should be all over this. Why they have done squat is a mystery about which we can only speculate.

On another topic, those of us who criticize the pepper spray policy are not attacking JCOs, but the "Austin/ivory tower" officials who put JCOs in the untenable situations where pepper spray seems like the only useful option. A poorly managed, understaffed agency that institutes a Band-Aid use of force policy like this one is not doing any favors for JCOs.

Many JCOs and direct care staff have expressed their frustration with TYC on this site, not because they want to be able to beat and spray youth at will, but because they had hoped to make a positive difference in the lives of delinquent youth. I doubt that even staff who support expanded use of pepper spray truly believe that it is an ideal or permanent solution to TYC's problems.

Bottom line: if TYC and the lege had their act together we would not even be having this discussion.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

§97.23.Use of Force.

This agency hereby certifies that the proposal has been reviewed by legal counsel and found to be within the agency's legal authority to adopt.

Filed with the Office of the Secretary of State on October 22, 2007.


Dimitria D. Pope

Acting Executive Director

Texas Youth Commission

Anonymous said...

The Texas Youth Commission Organization Chart is currently under revision.

Dictators need not a chart......

And we thought we were in America?

Anonymous said...

The current TYC administration is not thinking in terms of Morales. I doubt that they have ever read it, so this is not an intentional challenge to Morales. It is an approach similar to all their other decisions, based on what they want to do, not on what is right or even remotely legal. Yet again, they are creating another problem for the lawyers to resolve in the courthouse.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...


I'm sure you're absolutely correct, but I still fear that this regime's mindless policies could trigger a lawsuit that results in some kind of overturning or at least watering down of Morales.


Anonymous said...

emily at 11:23 - Has judge Justice indicated he has spoken to the Governor about TYC's indifference towards 'Morales'? Not that it would matter to the Gov, but I am just curious as to whether he treats a federal judge with the same respect he treats his state employees.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that TYC has become the worst place in Texas to work and it is full of retalation, discrimation and nothing will ever change. The retalation and rascial discrimation it more rampid than it has EVER BEEN. If those idiots in Austin serving the people of Texas believe that its not happening anymore in TYC they are turning the blind eye like they claim the last group that led us did.
This place is ready to explode! You can not degrade staff,not pay them and retalate on them and discrimate aganist them and expect to have anything more than a big ole cluster kfhkdjfla. That is what you have now in TYC.

State had better worry about fixing the staff issues before worrying about so much pepper spray. Not that I am for it, but when you have staff this upset at work constantly it does not matter what your using to control kids either way your going to have a mess. YOU FIX THE WORKERS then YOU FIX THE PRODUCT. You can not change TYC until you have people in the field that are PROUD to work for the agency and are treated fair.This is all departments not just the JCO staff.

Tyc is in the trash bag and just waiting for the State of Texas to be force to pull the string, tie it up and take it out and have it hauled off.

Anonymous said...


Thats the Trash Truck Backing Up

Anonymous said...

Let me try this one more time. If a TYC staff is hurt in a restraint with a youth. Regardless of if the staff is hurt by the youth, or is hurt by other staff in the restraint this is wreckless endangerment. Which still falls under assualt of a public servant. The average time a youth will be asked to serve is 3 years in prison for this crime. So you make the choice of which is the lesser of the two evils. 3 years in prison or a few hours of discomfort from the pepper spray. Many youth are sent to prison each year for this crime.

Anonymous said...

TYC mirrors TDCJ now

The inmates are running the facilities.

Anonymous said...

11:26 Good look getting a DA to try and convict a youth for Reckless Endangerment. Pepper Spray is not the answer. Dorms with less students and more staff are a better long term solution. Support and training for the staff are also key.

I am not against the occasional use of it, there are situations that might warrant the use but it should be used with wisdom and restraint and not as an impulsive knee jerk easy response!

Next will have guards in towers who shoot escapees!

Control is an illusion!

Anonymous said...

Scott, what I find hilarious is if this proposed policy policy was in effect today they are still violating it. Last week youth were sprayed while in handcuffs. The youth was not or could not injure self or others. The current leadership will continue to bend or break every rule regardless and no one will hold them accountable.

The answer has always been smaller youth to staff ratio's but they cannot achieve this, but they do lie to our elected leaders by saying we have a 12 to 1 ratio.

They get this ratio by having the facilities send in an e-mail every Tuesday to show the campuses youth population and how many staff working each shift. What thye know they do not take into account is how many of these staff are working 12 or 16 hour shifts, how many of these staff are actually on the dorms and not taking youth to a doctors/dentist appointment, how many youth have been taken off campus for community service, how many youth are off campus for some recreation endeavor. They just take the overall count assigned to that campus. So when you take this into account do you actually have a 12 to 1 ratio, "I think not". But as long as our elected officials believe the lies that are being spewed from CO, I guess it's okay!!!

Anonymous said...


Dimitria D. Pope

Acting Executive Director

Texas Youth Commission

Earliest possible date of adoption: December 2, 2007

Formal training has begun and it is Nov. 8 2007

Shackle & Spray them

Anonymous said...

Now Bronco is telling everybody to exercise restraint in using physical force and instructing staff to be trained to exhaust all other options before using force.
Staff are so confused...

Anonymous said...

What the HELL??? I just had a staff tell me on Wednesday that he had been threatened with disciplinary action because he did not spray a youth who was being restrained by another staff when the youth was not resisting?

The youth was compliant, but he didn't pepper spray him, so he (the staff) will be disciplined???

This is all crazy - but what else is new? I guess someone else is suing again.

Anonymous said...

No one is saying you can't use pepper spray. You just can't use it the way they want you to. The reason for staff injuries is not due to physical restraint, but really is due to staffing issues.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't believe a word that comes out of Les Brown's mouth (Director, Lubbock juvenile facility.)While my son was held there for 10 days Les Brown knowingly allowed my son to be locked in his room for hours on end without water or electricity. He even had me banned from the premises when I complained about how my son was being treated.He is as corrupt and cruel as one can get.
Dionne McNutt

Dionne said...

I wouldn't believe a word that comes out of Les Brown's mouth (Director, Lubbock juvenile facility.)While my son was held there for 10 days Les Brown knowingly allowed my son to be locked in his room for hours on end without water or electricity. He even had me banned from the premises when I complained about how my son was being treated.He is as corrupt and cruel as one can get.
Dionne McNutt