Thursday, February 21, 2008

A home remedy for juvenile corrections?

As we head toward tomorrow's oversight hearing involving the Texas Youth Commission, everyone who's concerned with juvenile justice reform should be sure to read the article in the New York Times yesterday ("A home remedy for juvenile offenders, Feb. 20) describing the Big Apple's new approach to juvenile crime: Intensive in-home services for offending youth in lieu of incarceration. (Thanks to several readers for pointing it out.) Not only does the program produce superior recidivism numbers, at least so far, it's a lot cheaper than locking kids up:
at roughly $17,000 per child, such in-home therapy programs cost a fraction of the annual expense of keeping a child in secure detention, which can be $140,000 to $200,000.

In fact, the financial incentive is such that both the city and state are rapidly moving away from residential detention. Gladys CarriĆ³n, the commissioner of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, recently announced that she would close six nonsecure facilities, a cut that will save the state $16 million a year.

The elimination of detention beds puts more pressure on the city to succeed.

In Texas we spend around $60-65K per year for children locked up in TYC - more for those with significant mental or physical healthcare needs - so $17K would be an inexpensive alternative, even here where we spend much less than New York.

The Texas Youth Commission has been placing community services under similar pressure under the previous administration, just without really announcing or planning for it jointly with counties. Both new agency rules and SB 103 contained provisions aimed at reducing the number of youths who enter TYC and reducing the length of stay for kids who are sent there. Thus, local probation departments and juvenile detention facilities, just like in New York, currently are under significant pressure to manage more of these youth in the community.

I'm particularly encouraged that the NY program appears to focus on the entire family unit, particularly the parents, not just the offending kid. The typical parent of youth in the juvenile justice system, while widely blamed in many quarters for their children's offenses, usually is at the end of his or her rope. Many need knowledge or resources they don't have to manage youth in crisis. In any event, locking their kids up empirically wasn't preventing new crime:

State studies found that more than 80 percent of male juvenile offenders who had served time in correctional facilities were rearrested within three years of their release, usually on more serious charges.

While in-home services mean that hundreds of teenagers with criminal records are returned to their communities, city officials say it is a trade they are willing to make. “It’s an uphill battle,” says Ronald E. Richter, the city’s family services coordinator. “These young people and their families present complex challenges.”

But whether the children go to residential correctional facilities or not, they come back to the community eventually anyway, Mr. Richter said, and the program “helps parents learn how to supervise and manage their adolescents so that they act responsibly instead of engaging in dangerous behaviors.”

Some youth are truly dangerous and need to be locked up for everyone's safety, but right now a lot of non-violent offenders and more petty violators are locked up in TYC with the true predators, mostly because counties - especially the Big Five - don't have an infrastructure to provide the kind of community-based resources described in the article.

Community-based services aren't a cure-all for juvenile crime, but neither are youth prisons, which are a lot more expensive and which we already know don't prevent recidivism. As the Youth Commission and the juvenile probation system go through "Sunset" review in the coming year, I hope this model - which coincides with and complements the recommendations of the "Blue Ribbon Panel" - is the direction they take things.

Indeed, I wish we'd had the foresight to prepare that infrastructure before they started shoveling kids downstream by the hundreds to local juvie probation departments, who don't have resources to handle them, after all, or the youth wouldn't have sent them to TYC in the first place.


Anonymous said...

I believe Massachusetts did something similar 10 or more years ago, and closed all their residential facilities. They eventually had to reopen some facilities.

Anonymous said...

Most should learn through trial and error that one solution will never fix a multitude of problems.
The system needs to be as diverse and the population it treats. The children that get thrown from the pendulum swings in Texas are the real losers. Politics = Money and Money = Politics. Maybe Texas will get it right for a change. Nedelkoff will give it his best shot and maybe just maybe for the sake of our kids politics will step aside.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Grits. We'll see if the republican legislature has the foresight to improve things in Texas, though I'm highly doubtful.

I'm concerned as well with the federal legislation widening the net on juvenile sex offenders being included in the sex offender databases. Apparently, low level offenders are to be included as well with basically what I would view as status offenses deemed criminal. I'm not alluding to the serious sexual offenses, mind you. The news articles have had many examples.


Anonymous said...


This sounds like a great program alternative for some of the youth who have historically ended up in TYC. All of us with TYC experience have seen plenty of kids who never could get adequate services in their home community, especially substance abuse and mental health services. There is no doubt that this problem needs to be addressed. However, Texas is not New York City and these type programs can be much harder to implement in small rural counties with relatively few offenders and few treatment providers. Note also that the facilities being closed in New York are nonsecure. This will not eliminate the need for properly staffed and programmed secure beds for more violent and incorrigible juveniles but it sure could reduce the number of those beds if it was properly funded and implemented.

>Don Brantley

Anonymous said...

Hey Don - Are you coming back? Man drop that suit and come back. They brought Eddie back. Have you left the Austin area? You got the shaft, and the new guy sees it all.

Come on back Don. We can use the help rebuilding...and that witch is dead, so no need to worry about that one because the snakes, barricudas and sharks got her ass in the end. You should have heard the song and the people dancing... the fives were getting very high that day. Body bumps and all... whoot!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don, if we could just get such programs in the Big Five counties it would make a huge difference. They're really driving TYC's population numbers.

I agree the rural areas have special needs, as does upstate New York, I'm sure, compared to NYC - if just Dallas and Houston, though, could do something like this, what a difference it would make!

Anonymous said...

The are programs in Texas that already do this. Youth are often referred to the companies from the juvenile probation department. The therapists of these companies are required to do both individual counseling and family counseling or FFT (Functional Family Therapy). Some of these companies require therapist to have 4 or more in home contact hours a week per family. However, there are many occassions in which the youth "go on the run" and continue to participate in negative behaviors. Thus, continuous violations of probation and the path to TYC. Several of these companies exist in Dallas they are just not talked about much in the community.

Anonymous said...

At the rate that we receive youth from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Forth Worth and Austin, more facilities will need to be re-opened. In theory the home remedy for juveniles sounds great, but in practice its a failure.

Communities will spend all that money trying to treat them at home and the youth will still end up in TYC and some in TDC. Where is the savings?

Anonymous said...

I think you missed the point about successful prevention of reoffending. That is where the savings are. Half the kids who go through TYC go back anyway, so why not give something else a try?

Anonymous said...

the families who participate also benefit, so for 17,000 dollars you potentially impact the lives of 2,3,4,5 or more people. Maybe the youth who was the original problem is not saved but maybe the parents learn something and are more successful with those behind him. I also bet there is some benefit for the families who receive these services, even when the youth fails, he goes back home eventually. Maybe the family is better off for having earlier intervention and more likely to be involved or educated about available services.

Anonymous said...

Don Brantley, so good to hear from you again...hope to hear more from you in the future. Those of us with TYC history who have "survived" this past year hope that you have some level of involvement, better yet, eventually having you joining us to assist with the challenges we now face.

Anonymous said...

Two quotes from Dr. George J. Beto come to mind when reading about the latest ideas:

"The future will bring more research. I know of no institution, unless it be organized Christianity, which has showen a greater reluctance to measure the effectiveness of its varied programs than has corrections. We engage in many allegedly rehabilitative practices, but we have little evidence to show they are successful in achieving the objectives which we have set for ourselves; namely, redirecting and restructuring the life of the offender. Many of our programs may be good, they may be effective, but they are based on an unvalidated assumption; we can have no assurance - without measurement found in research - that these programs are effective and successful."


"A review of the literature on corrections reveals little than is new today. Those portions of the literature devoted to corrections dating back to 1901 could well have been dated 1986. There is an inevitable stultfying sameness involved in the care and custody of society's deviants. Apparent innovations are haled in this hour and rejected the next."

So - I'm not saying....I'm just saying: There are no magic bullits that will deliver us from our difficulties, whether the conservator is a "national expert" or not. Having been around as long as I have, I've seen it come, I've seen it go, and I've seen it come back around again. Somewhere in the mix of what juvenile corrections in this state, these objectives continue to be relevent:

1. Safety for kids AND staff;
2. Security
3. Order
4. Discipline
5. Program
6. Education

Without the first four in place, the last two are impossible.


Anonymous said...

If Mr Whitmire doesnt care what happens in California, then he's unlikely to care what happens in New York either, sadly.

Anonymous said...

a whole other list is what is needed for community based programs...

I also think the number one thing that should be at the top of the list is...


we are 20 years past 1986. there is very interesting research these days about what has been working for some of the most troubled correctional youth. Mendota in Wisconsin is a great place to start. I think Missouri also has some pretty good data to back up their programs.