Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Yo-Yo Effect: TYC blamed by Lege for costs it was ordered to assume

I don't quite know what to make of a report from Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman that legislators are worried TYC's cost per youth is too high and want them to make cuts. Reacting to a new report from LBB (pdf) on costs at criminal justice agencies, Ward writes ("Texas spends $99k per year to lock up each troubled youth," March 4) that:

Even though the Texas Youth Commission's incarcerated population has dropped by almost half in two years, the annual cost of locking up juvenile offenders in Texas has climbed to almost $99,000 per inmate — a 66 percent jump since 2006.

With a tight state budget and a tough economy, legislative leaders say that is too costly, and they are moving to cut spending at the commission. ...

The Youth Commission budget dropped from $314.9 million in 2008 to $237 million in 2009, according to Legislative Budget Board figures. Whitmire and others say it could be reduced further.

"I think we could better deliver a lot of the services, a lot of the programs for these youth, in the communities and not at TYC units," [Sen. John] Whitmire said.

The agency's initial budget request was $249.1 million for 2010 and $253.8 million for 2011. But at a recent meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told Townsend to return with a pared-down version. She said she is in the process of complying.

Although legislative leaders have yet to see the new figures, Senate budget writers are expected to begin discussing their own reductions, perhaps as soon as today — including discussions about possibly closing two additional lockups.

Complaints about high per-youth costs strike me as odd considering the agency is still in the midst of a major, legislatively mandated transition. A little historical context would be helpful to this discussion.

The biggest reason TYC costs increased so much per student is precisely that, when the sex abuse scandal broke in 2007, the inmate-to-staff ratio systemwide was at 24-1. In response, the Lege mandated that TYC reduce that ratio to 12-1, but by definition that meant doubling the number of staff per student. So it only stands to reason cost per youth would increase - how could it not? That's what the Lege told TYC to do.

In addition, guarding is not TYC's only responsibility. To remedy existing shortcomings in special education services, for example, the state will have to spend more per youth, not less. Ditto for mental health services. Even if TYC's staffing costs for guards are too high (and I'm not sure that's true if they want to keep the staffing ratio at 12-1), they're still under-resourced in other areas.

Finally, it might be true that these service could be delivered more cheaply "in the communities," as Sen. Whitmire said, but it's also possible such services could be shortchanged or not delivered at all if the responsibility were left to the counties. That would certainly be cheaper, but to the extent the programming is necessary and improves safety (and otherwise, why does the Lege require it?), it wouldn't help rehabilitate youth. After all, most were sent to TYC precisely because county juvenile probation departments couldn't handle them with the resources available.

I don't inherently have a stake in maintaining the status quo at Texas' youth prison system; if they could eliminate TYC tomorrow and successfully replace it with higher quality community-based services run by the counties, I wouldn't shed a tear.

But neither do I harbor any illusion that radical change would be easy or that all counties are currently capable of managing youth that right now are headed to TYC. Plus it's likely counties would be subject to the same budgetary yo-yo effect seen with state youth prisons - ordered to add staff, e.g., then chastised for how much it costs.

Merging TYC with the Juvenile Probation Commission may or may not be a good idea, but it's likely not the case that it would be cheaper or easier to manage - in fact, arguably the opposite will be true.


Anonymous said...

The legislature always has "short term memory loss" from one session to the next. The entire legislature must be educated each session as to the difference between Adult and Juvenile services and the difference between Probation and Parole. How would anyone expect them to remember that they expected TYC to provide services to incarcerated juveniles last session with their short term memory loss?

They ordered TYC to provide the services, expected the services to be provided, now they want TYC to go away into the sunset and are using the costs as a means to get what they want! Simple isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Pay to have them serviced in TYC, or pay to have them serviced in public school, county level, or TDCJ.

Pay now, or pay big later. We need to introduce a law that legislators must pass an aptitude test before they can run for office.

Anonymous said...

"Pay now or pay big later."


Disappointing but not surprising on the lege's part.


Anonymous said...

With the level of youth cut in half, even with many new employees...this can't be justified. Little actual treatment, but massive waste of state funds. All the top TYC leaders should be bagged and bring in someone who can count heads and manage money.

Anonymous said...

Two years after the blow up and TYC is much worse than when it all began! TYC will be little more than a junior prison system for the worst of the worst as Whitmire puts it. All that has been done is to dump all the treatment and education people and keep the guards. Bring back the pepper spray and security / admin-seg to keep the units under control. Just be done with it and stop blowing our tax money. The average tax payer doesn't give a crap about the little gang banger criminals especially at $99,000.00 per year. Let's see $99,000.00 X 1200 = $118,800,000.00 - wow what a chunk of tax payer change for every 1200 youth! I wish my children would had a few years of $99,000.00 spent on them. I raise two good children to productive adults and I have to carry a pack of criminals with my tax money, this is pure bull shit! From what I read most of the youth in TYC don't want to change, what a waste of our tax money! Before you call me a troll know that I am actually a very tired tax payer and nothing else. It just blows my mind that we spend the most on the least deserving who have little chance of turning out for the good. No doubt there are a few select few success out of TYC but I don't read about many. Besides once you have a criminal record you are screwed anyway so why put all the money into these people.

Anonymous said...

Any large bureaucracy with large-scale facilities with large-scale floorplans will struggle with efficiency, but the Leg needs to realize that they ordered the reforms that are driving up costs. TYC should look at consolidating facilities, and actually shutting some of their doors, but a comparison of total numbers of staff to total numbers of youth is completely misleading. I heard Cherie Townsend explain at the first Senate Finance hearing on her budget that a 12:1 youth to staff ratio as mandated by SB 103 requires 6 full-time employees for each position to run it around the clock according to the mandate. I wish someone would point this out--again--when the press and legislators are throwing around these figures to make TYC look so wasteful.

Anonymous said...

TYC is extremely wastful...and abusive to youth and employees. Time for major changes.

Anonymous said...

They funded SB103 and bitched when we followed the law. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous on 3/04/2009 09:55:00 PM said, "Two years after the blow up and TYC is much worse than when it all began!"

Based on what? I work for TYC and the day-to-day quality of my job performance has not diminished. If it's not me, then who? Many individuals come to work in these facilities every day for low pay and huge amounts of disrespect, but they still come to serve Texas and the people who call this state home. We do the best we can with what we get. Period. Perhaps the system is done, broken, hopeless. Let's turn the kids loose so they can hang out in your neighborhood for a while.

"Just be done with it and stop blowing our tax money."

"From what I read most of the youth in TYC don't want to change, what a waste of our tax money!"

Trite as it sounds, no one knows the future - especially when it comes to these kids. Yeah, they messed up. Yeah, they curse and blather on constantly. Yeah, they punch, bite, smack, slap, poke, gouge, spit, jab, kick, trip, and strike out with whatever is available, but they may get over it, eventually. We hope . . .

Sometimes one makes it to the NBA or some other high profile position, but many of them get out, finish school, get jobs, and put all this behind them. There is no telling what wonderful things they can do if properly and lovingly motivated. It's true that many of them do not turn out as we would hope, but that is no reason to disregard them en masse.

Anonymous said...

People tend to think that if you have to maintain a 1:12 ratio for 3 shifts, that means one JCO for every 4 kids. (IF they even think that far). They forget to factor in the factors of a 24/7 operation. If no one ever took vacation, sick leave or training time, that would require 4.2 JCOs per position. Ah, but people do take vacaion, they do get sick, and they do have to be off their post for training. Remember the mandated 300 hrs for new-hires? All those people are not included in the count - 300 man-hrs equates to two full months. Those new-hires have been hired to fill positions that are not filled (duh!) Put all those factors together, and it takes 6 people to fill one post 24/7.

Now add in caseworkers, teachers, diagnosticians, psychologists, and teachers aids to the direct care staff who do not count in the 1/12, but who are absolutely necessary. Now add in people to supervise all those folks. With all this we already have a significant number without even adding in necessary administrative and support staff.

So where is the waste? One area of high-priced waste is in the regionalization of every function within TYC. It might make some sense if one had one Regional Director for each region who was responsible for all activities in the region. But we have regional directors for each entity (Business Services, Maintenance, Community Services, Education, and Residential Services - I think I have those categories correct - it is hard to keep up.)

The Human Resources department has grown in leaps and bounds since SB103, to what end I do not know. And all that supposed bloat in the Central Office staff? Maybe there is some, but nany of them are needed just to be able to respond to the multitude of Legislative request for information.

I'm afraid there is just too much sentiment in the Lege to make TYC into a TDCJ clone for young people, (e.g. warehousing) and not enough commitment to really trying to do something to turn young lives around. Remember, the TYC population still represents only 3% of the adjudicated juvenile population. The kids we deal with have failed all other interventions. Of course we all want a better recidivism rate, but, given the circumstances that landed these kids in TYC in the first place, any kid we manage to turn around is a precious life saved.