Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunset public hearing today: Merger won't solve all TYC's problems, may create some

Today the Sunset Advisory Commission will receive public testimony regarding several agencies including the Texas Jail Standards Commission, the Youth Commission, and the Juvenile Probation Commission, among others (see the agenda). A live broadcast of the hearing will be available online here beginning at 9 a.m.. Also, see the public comments submitted to Sunset on the topic.

Most eagerly watched will be the final agenda item where they discuss the Sunset staff's proposal to merge TYC with the Juvenile Probation Commission. Now that I've had a chance to thoroughly consider the staff report (pdf) and talk to a number of people about the plan, I've reached the conclusion that simply merging the agencies won't solve the myriad problems described by Sunset staff facing Texas youth prisons.

What's more, to the extent a merger is done with an eye toward reducing expenditures, it could actually make matters worse because most of the major problems identified by Sunset staff - inadequate mental health treatment, lack of special ed instruction, oversized facilities, etc. - require more resources, not less, to solve. Cost savings predictions also ignore the need for investment in other areas like public schools and healthcare that affect juvenile justice.

In addition, Sunset staff (who are government efficiency wonks, not juvenile justice experts) failed to advocate a shift to smaller, Missouri-style facilities or a rehabilitation model that conforms to widely acknowledged best practices aimed at reducing recidivism. The gubernatorial Blue Ribbon Panel's detailed suggestion (pdf) in 2007 for reforming TYC along these lines was sadly defenestrated by the adult-prison transplants who were running the agency at the time and was never revived.

Given my druthers, I'd prefer Sunset had revisited those Blue Ribbon Panel suggestions - they're proposing to take the agency in a different direction than the one suggested by most juvie specialists.

The Sunset report also downplayed too much (IMO) the financial impact of downsizing TYC on counties at a time when the Legislative Budget Board says youth inmate populations will be rising. There's a pilot grant program suggested to reimburse counties for costs, but it appears underfunded and speculative whereas if more TYC kids must be handled by counties, those costs will be specific and concrete.

Likely most counties would seek to identify private residential placements to manage these offenders, but the truth is there simply isn't enough private capacity out there right now to pick up the slack if LBB's inmate population projections hold. The Sunset report and the LBB projections, as far as I can tell, cannot be mutually justified - something's got to give.

See related Grits coverage:
SEE ALSO: The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's written response to the Sunset Staff Report.


Anonymous said...

Because adequate solutions will take a great deal of initial capital outlay, don't look for the Sunset Advisory Committee or the LBB to choose an adequate solution. They have squandered the wealth of the state and don't have any clue as to how to recover it withou hurting the people we need the most, our youth.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I listened to your comments and agree that many of TYC's parole functions could be handled by county juvenile probation departments. The only issue will be paying for additional staff for monitoring these kids while on parole. In Harris County for example, about 23% of TYC's commitmetns come from there. That translates into a very big need for more officers in that county. The kids that are already on parole there is a few hundred, as more come out this will obviously increase. Additionally Bexar, Tarrant, Dallas, Travis, etc., have pretty large numbers of kids that would need officers to superivse them too. The counties officers are claiming that they already have large caseloads. Ask any of Ms. Medina's staff. Those caseloads are not small. Additionally for kids coming out after receiving intensive treatment, it would seem that aftercare would be a priority, and that specialized caseloads especially for mental health and substance abuse, sex offender, etc., would make the most sense. Maybe there should be a TYC and then a Texas Juvenile Probation/Parole Commission. I think the shifting is necessary, but staff will need to follow. It makes sense to have those staff get hired who already know how TYC works in these larger counties. This would mean that TYC's overall numbers of staff would decrease, but services would not and would better wrap around. I have worked with Mental Health caseloads for a long time (12 years) and certainly having continuity is beneficial for those folks. After watching all this today, I began to wonder how the Sunset folks came up with this recommendation to merge everything when everyone else seems so against it, save for the one older volunteer gentleman who spoke today. I can't say I am in favor of Sunset's plan either after what happened to the adult system, but maybe a hybrid like you suggested could work. Is it possible for the State to adopt a hybrid plan where the agencies remain separate but the oversight for the supervision functions are merged?

Anonymous said...

JTP said...
While many of the speaker's presented many good reason's for not consolidating TYC and TJPC. I thought that the Randall County Chief Probation Officer, Jane King, emphasized an important fact. If local probation departments are going to have effective rehabilitation programs, they need a tool to a) motivate reluctant kids to participate, and b) have a place to send those kids who are beyond rehabilitation. She said out loud that some kids are not amenable to change! Wow, what a brave lady! Of course that also means that the proposed Specialized Treatment programs that Ms. Townsend is building will have all the more challenge on their hand to have any success with these same youth who showed no motivation to change while they were in the counties.

The other thing that was interesting, was to see how the Juvenile Probation Chiefs, i.e., the field, expressed their frustration with their own TJPC beaurocratic structure, saying that they are regulated to death by an organization that fails to understand the direct care issues of local departments. They used the Sunset Commission meeting to not only oppose recommendation 1.1, but also to let legislators know that all is not well between local departments and the State Probation Commission. They were mostly nice about it, but the point was loud and clear.

Even Spriggs asked for clarification on how far her agency should go in providing guidance and oversight to the county departments. So even if there is no substantial restructuring of TYC or TJPC, other significant changes within each agency are sure to come.

Oh, lest I forget, even Will Harrell was not in favor of the merger. Of course, it took him about 5 minutes of tooting his own horn and the Sunset staff's horn, before he got to the point, but he finally was able to get there. I'm just glad he's not a defense attorney because I'd forget what his client was charged with.

Finally, it was nice to see and hear the real Scott Henson. It was clear that the legislators know and pay attention to this blog. Kudos Scott!

I suspect that the recommendations of the staff will be supported by the Sunset Commission and then the Legislature will say thank you and give TYC at least another Legislative session before they have Sunset come back again in two years to give Townsend her report card. I just hope she is an A student!!

Anonymous said...

You must be kidding. She is a leftover from SR and DW and thinks the same. Give her a chance...inch and she'll take TYC further to the dumps.

Anonymous said...

Back off. Cherie is the saint...come..lately. She will cover Mr Whit with her fairy spray and TYC wil become a halo of magic.. and like Rome all over again. Hail to Cherie.

Anonymous said...

Cherie is under the thumb of Whitmire. When he decides what he wants, he will advise her to implement his goals. She is merely, a pawn.