Thursday, January 24, 2008

Texas Monthly names Harrell one of group "who will shape Texas' future"

Texas Monthly named Youth Commission Ombudsman Will Harrell one of its 35 People Who Will Shape Our Future. Congrats, Will!

Here's their feature article about him written by Nate Blakeslee. Readers from TYC will be interested to learn that Jay Kimbrough's appointment of Harrell, he said, stemmed from Will's involvement in the campaign to abolish Texas' Tulia-style drug task forces:
The two first met in 2001, when Harrell was the executive director of the ACLU of Texas and Kimbrough became executive director of Perry’s criminal justice division. The ACLU had been pushing for reforms in the drug war, and seizing on a notorious police corruption scandal in the Panhandle town of Tulia, Harrell assembled a coalition to shut down the state’s scandal-plagued regional drug task forces. It was his first major organizing campaign as head of the ACLU of Texas, and though it took a few years to gain momentum, it became a stunning success. The governor eventually allowed the task forces to die on the vine, shifting funding and responsibility for statewide drug enforcement back to the more disciplined and better-managed narcotics division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Harrell followed this win with hard-fought victories on racial profiling and sentencing reform. He had a knack for attracting grant money from national foundations, some of which had previously written off organizing in Texas, and he accomplished all of this at a time when progressive wins were few and far between at the Capitol.
In addition to the piece on Harrell, TM web editor Eileen Smith published a companion "web extra" Q&A with yours truly regarding a wide range of criminal justice topics, including TYC, drug task forces, and the role of race and the criminal justice system. (See the interview here; I told her it was really an "A&Q," since a couple of the questions were rewritten afterward!)

Just for a taste, when asked what would be the long-run effect on Texas' death penalty of the current Baze case pending before the US Supreme Court (which will decide the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures), I replied, in part:
There was a brief moratorium in Texas during the 1920s, when they shifted from hanging condemned inmates in the county jails to killing them in Huntsville. When they finally got the new electric chair system set up, they electrocuted five men on the same day in 1924 to make up the backlog. I don’t think we’ll see that many at once, but we might set a [modern] record for the number of executions in a single month as soon as the death penalty is reinstated.
Read the rest, check out the interview with Harrell, or see who else TM profiled among its 35 movers and shakers, including Charles Kuffner, our good pal from Off the Kuff.


Anonymous said...

Will Harrell is the best part of TYC Reform and a truly decent person with a multitude of insight. He calls it like he sees it. I met with him several months ago and found him to have a very genuine concern for the youth of Texas.

Anonymous said...

I agree! Congrats to Will Harrell!

Anonymous said...

Way to go Will!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, so maybe Kimbrough did one thing right while he was Conservator. Two words of advice for ya, Will. 1. Don't associate yourself with Kimbrough if you don't have to do so. 2. Lose the ponytail and manpurse, it is so 1980.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Way to Go Will!! Keep up the good work.

Scott - congrats on your interview as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a couple of names on that list, this included. But most are pretty random. A chef? How much ad space does he buy from TM? Give me a break.

TCADP said...

We too are worried once the Supreme Court decision on lethal injection is made that Texas will feel the need to play catchup in an ugly way.

This lull in executions is not the time to take a break. The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty continues to work including hosting its annual conference in Houston this weekend with Mike Farrell as keynote. We need your help, get involved.

Anonymous said...

Hey way to go Will!
Charles Kiker, Tulia (the Rev.)

Anonymous said...

Texas is last in most and last in other criminal justice and social issues and services in the nation compared to other states. Texas state employees are also last regarding pay and benefits. I hope those politicians that need their jobs and their chronies Wake-UP!!!!!

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with this picture? Harrel is hailed as a state leader and the D'Pope gets this t-shirt:

Affront to authority: TYC misspending is latest political ineptitude

06:18 AM CST on Friday, January 25, 2008

Anyone who depends on higher-ups to approve funding for an annual budget knows the drill: Whatever they give you this year, spend it; if not, they might think you don't need as much next year.

In a nutshell, that's how top officials at the Texas Youth Commission – yes, that Texas Youth Commission – found themselves in the soup again.

TYC, which has earned national notoriety for abusive treatment of juvenile offenders placed in its care, wanted $14 million to reorganize its offices and accommodate new hires.

The Texas Legislature – no doubt horrified by Page One stories detailing rampant misdeeds in TYC facilities – said no. Instead, legislators said, they would give the troubled agency $29 million to hire new corrections officers, which is what it really needs.

TYC officials proved no better at hiring than incarcerating or rehabilitating. Unable to fill the jobs, they found themselves with millions in unspent salary money.

Their politically incomprehensible solution? "Hey, now we can reorganize and renovate our offices!"

Legislators, alerted by Emily Ramshaw of our Austin Bureau, are, shall we say, somewhat taken aback by this blatant affront. We certainly can't blame them.

Shifting a few travel dollars around might not be a giant deal in most budgets. But the TYC has become enough of a laughingstock – and an outright danger to many Texas teens – that short of using pepper spray on its critics, this was the worst idea possible.

Imagine the scene when TYC officials show up to discuss their next budget and face a group of legislators with bandages on their bitten hands.

We hope Dimitria Pope, the acting executive director, enjoys that new $600 office chair, since it sounds like she won't be sitting in it much longer.

Anonymous said...

Texas Monthly, your movers and shakers list leaves out an number of people without significant ties. I wonder Why?

Anonymous said...

Corpus paper says:

Texas Youth Commission remains troubled agency
Despite last year's badly needed reforms, the TYC still hasn't cleaned up its act


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The Texas Youth Commission, the state's corrective system for juveniles, still continues to lurch and stumble in its recovery from the scandal that wracked it last summer. The system came under glaring scrutiny when it was discovered that youths under its care were being abused by staff and, worse, that the abuses had been ongoing for some time, covered up by bureaucratic inertia and callousness.

The governing board of the Commission was summarily replaced, many of the higher-ups in the agency were ousted and the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry agreed on strong oversight over the system. Since the middle of last year, the road has been rocky for the agency as it tries to do a turnaround.

The system has gone through three overseers, with the latest conservator appointed in December. But the latest disturbing reports heavily suggest an agency that operates under a loose regime that has still to shake off the mindset that got it in trouble in the first place.

Isolation punishment

Using inappropriate and even potentially psychologically damaging discipline on juveniles is not the kind of treatment that Texans are likely to expect from its juvenile justice system. Yet the Houston Chronicle reported that the TYC has made increasing use of isolation, putting incorrigible youths in solitary cells for extended periods of time.

The newspaper said that a report from the system's ombudsman said that some youths were being placed in isolation cells up to 23 hours a day. And these incidents are not isolated, but an increasing pattern, the ombudsman reported.

The concern is that while youths may be hard to handle, such tactics should be used only as a last resort and only after psychological evaluations and other individualized treatment and screening. And then the isolation is supposed to be used as part of the rehabilitation effort. But the ombudsman, Will Harrell, said that the isolation was used simply to punish the juveniles. Equally of concern is the lack of action on the report by Harrell; the report was made by Harrell in November but TYC authorities by this month had failed to respond.

Nor has this use of isolation been the only incident of backsliding. The agency has been sued over its reliance on the use of pepper spray as a control measure. The reports on the increasing use of isolation and the use of pepper spray paints a picture of a TYC regime that hasn't gotten the message. The state needs a system that rehabilitates juveniles under professional and accepted standards, that shakes loose from the system's history of a culture of abuse, mistreatment and coverup.

That the system has yet to free itself from its tainted legacy was underscored by a report from the Dallas Morning News that said the agency, instead of hiring badly needed guards, had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for furniture, renovations and recarpeting of staff and executive offices.

The spending was in direct contradiction to legislators' rejection of requests for such spending. The agency said the money was left over because it didn't have enough applicants to fill the 500 correctional officer posts that remain vacant. The spending may be small relative to government budgets, but it speaks loudly about the misplaced priorities at the TYC.

Last year's scandal at the youth commission shocked Texans. The agency that was charged with rehabilitating the state's most troubled youths, referred there by courts all over the state, was found to be harboring sexual abusers within its own ranks. Worse, those abusers were enabled by a bureaucracy that knew about the abuses but simply didn't care, or refused to act.

The TYC bureaucracy is supposed to be on the path to reform. But that road, as it turns out, may be a very long one unless much stronger action is taken.

Anonymous said...

Explains why Whitmire had TDCJ hearings. He wanted to deflect his screwup of TYC.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of money ,Purchase orders are taking months. It will not be long before our campus starts declining .Federal grant monies are held up,and local monies also. All fingers are pointing to Austin,
One more time we in the field will have to pay for the game playing in Austin. The underpaid employees will again have to pull money from their pockets just to get common sense things done. The first 3 years I had zero budget for my area,and the list goes on for every Dept. The odd thing is years ago,Austin(T.Y.C.) offices took up one floor .Now there is an Army and it keeps getting bigger. Few are from the real world (direct care) and the rest are scared of our students. You can smell the fear as students come by the folks from Austin. The odd part is Austin folks talk down to you and will not listen to what is really needed . My job is to keep our students from coming back and not move up to the next step. Hopefully Mr.Harrell and the 3rd Conseverator will clean house and bring "common sense" back to T.Y.C.

Anonymous said...

And what about all the regional managers? There's several for everything; purchasing, maintenance, Business, HR, Residential services, etc. I'm surprised I haven't heard of any for education. If that's not a waste of a LOT of extra dollars I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

1:12, But is that how TDCJ does it? That's all that matters.

Anonymous said...

Having the regional managers is a waste of money. I agree with that. Plus you can't get anything done anymore because of them. And why does Business services need 5 of them? Do they even have that many for residential services? If that's the way TDCJ does it, no wonder they're in a bigger mess than we are.

Anonymous said...

Back to Will. What really amazes me about this guy - and it speaks for his level of dedication - is the measley salary they are paying him. The Lege made a big deal about the Ombudsman's office, and they gave him a tiny salary (B-13) and almost no budget to speak of. Never-the-less, he is getting around, looking at stuff, and talking to both kids and line staff. Many Kudoes for him!

Anonymous said...

when will the Harris County police learn to leave the innocent alone and go after the real criminals?

Anonymous said...

Will and Richard make a good combination.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if anyone has encouraged Will to apply for the ED job? Scott, you know him, does he have the executive ability to do the job, or are we better served by having him as a watchdog and conscience for the agency. If not ED, how about General Counsel? Any thoughts?