Friday, November 10, 2017

New TJJD sex-abuse allegations recall similar, but different '07 scandals

For anyone paying attention a decade ago, news of sex-assault allegations against staff at a Texas youth prison in Gainesville brings on a deja vu feeling regarding the Texas Youth Commission scandals in Pyote, an episode which ultimately brought down the agency and sent its successor down a tumultuous path toward reducing incarceration levels by 75 percent.

Now, "At least four former staff members at the Gainesville State School, including a woman allegedly pregnant with a youthful offender's child, are facing prison time amid allegations of sexual misconduct at the state lockup for troubled youths," reported Brandi Grissom-Swicegood and Sue Ambrose at the Dallas News.

And everyone who was around in 2007 drops their heads and thinks, "Oh no, not again."

These troubles mirror problems witnessed at the adult system, where sexual misconduct by staff at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is a big source of federal Prison Rape Elimination Act violations. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault has recommended the Legislature create an independent oversight mechanism at TDCJ comparable to the Ombudsman created for TJJD after the 2007 scandals.

Which brings us to the big difference between this scandal and the last one: The perpetrators were caught by the government itself, not by reporters following up leads given to legislative staff by family members of raped constituents. And the perpetrators were promptly arrested and prosecuted. The agency culture that tolerated such behavior has shifted dramatically. So that part of the system worked better than last time, one notices.

And to be fair, that's really all the Legislature's reforms after 2007 were supposed to do. As the agency reduced the population in youth prisons, it was pressed along the way for commensurate budget cuts, even though most of the facilities are chronically understaffed and suffer from among the highest staff turnover rates of any state agency. That's because of low pay, crappy working conditions, and the location of the facilities in mainly rural areas where the labor pool is either dissipating or otherwise occupied.

As a result, the agency has mainly improved the lot of youth under its care by reducing their number, with the Legislature financing (mostly cheaper) community supervision programming in lieu of housing them in state youth prisons. If those reductions had afforded  the agency a chance to improve staff-to-youth ratios more aggressively, or to invest the savings in programming, it would be easier to make a case for them.

But in their current state, it's hard to argue for keeping them around at all. When activists like Angela Davis talk about "abolishing" prisons on the adult side, Grits must admit I roll my eyes. But on the juvenile side, I'm all the way there. Funding community-based programs in lieu of incarcerating youth in state-run prisons empirically has worked. Youth crime in Texas plummeted at even greater rates than crime overall when Texas shifted most offending youth into local systems.

Expanding on that model for the last thousand-or-so kids left in Texas youth prisons would also afford the chance to shift to smaller-scale units run on a more treatment-centric basis. In an ideal world, the Lege would finance locally controlled facilities reconfigured according to best practices like those endorsed a decade ago by a "blue ribbon commission," whose recommendations the Legislature first eagerly commissioned and then, when they proved inconvenient and expensive, ignored.

The blue-ribbon panel recommended the state move to smaller facilities modeled after Missouri's juvenile system, and put the era of housing juveniles in large units with hundreds of bunkmates behind us. Instead, they depopulated youth prisons, but continued to run the ones that remained on the old, large-scale warehousing model.

The other option floated periodically is to hand the system over to TDCJ to run. But as noted above, TDCJ has trouble preventing inappropriate staff relations and contraband at its adult units, which fails to inspire confidence that they'd do any better running juvenile facilities. Plus, when TDCJ executives were brought in to run TYC after the original scandals were uncovered in 2007, their skill sets did not translate to the juvenile realm and their leadership was (if we are to be frank) an unmitigated catastrophe. So as solutions go, I see that one as a pig in a poke. It could invite new troubles and wouldn't necessarily solve anything.

Anyway, that's Grits' initial takeaway from this dispiriting news out of Gainesville: The mechanisms the Legislature created to identify, prosecute and punish sexual misconduct by staff actually appear to have worked. But the corrections culture that produces these illicit relationships at TJJD and TDCJ continues to afford opportunities for predatory behavior.

So we're better at catching and punishing predators. What hasn't worked is warehousing youth in large state facilities a decade after the experts recommended breaking them up. Texas was told ten years ago it needed to shift to smaller, treatment-based programs, locally controlled and located near their own communities. And with these problems recurring, maybe it's time state leaders finally heeded those suggestions.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Omerta: Code of La Cosa Nostra. Omerta was the code of TYC for decades. Is it now the code of TJJD? Omerta: don't snitch.

Steven Seys said...

Phil Zimbardo did a study in the 1970s on the problems of prisons. It was titled The Stanford Prison Project. If you want to understand the psychological process of turning an otherwise good citizen into a corrupt prison guard, read Dr. Zimbardo's study.

Creator_of_SOFAQ SOFAQ said...
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Creator_of_SOFAQ SOFAQ said...

Another great article. Your work is always so well presented. Like I always say Grits for Breakfast should be getting paid for this type of blogging. I am going to post a copy of this here: http://sexoffenderfaq.blogspot.com/p/new-blogs-part-8-updated-august-30-2017.html This type of article must not be ignored; not matter what.

11/11/2017 06:06:00 AM

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:28, again, TJJD identified and punished this behavior themselves. The Omerta allegation doesn't seem entirely valid in that context. That part, IMO, is an improvement.

Anonymous said...

Once voters in Alabama knowingly elect a predator to the US Senate, I bet the GOP begins ignoring the issue. The ability to live in denial on this stuff is really amazing.

Anonymous said...

Grits, how many individuals were charged and convicted of sexual misconduct with youth resulting from the 2007 TYC sex scandal? Was the alleged cover up by TYC Officials proven to be true?

Anonymous said...

I am re-stating my previous post.Grits, how many staff were charged and convicted of sexually assaulting youth during the 2007 TYC scandal? Was the alleged cover up by TYC Officials proven to be true?

wolfe23 said...
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wolfe23 said...



Uhm in an "Ideal world" we'd have transformative justice... NOT prisons.

But hey, just keep rolling your eyes.

Goodbye.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:24, whether you call it a "coverup," there was certainly willful indifference that allowed bad things to occur, and unmotivated management that seemed uninterested in providing oversight. Eventually there were prosecutions - I'd have to re-research how many. But the DA in the county housing the Pyote facility wouldn't himself prosecute, they had to force him to give up the reins to somebody else, if memory serves, which contributed to the coverup meme.

@wolfe23, as John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we're all dead. You keep focusing on that "ideal world." I'm preoccupied with improving the one we actually live in, starting from where we are today, not pining for some leftist fantasy and ignoring the things that can be done right now. Back here in reality, #cut50 is ambitious but still likely unrealistic. I don't believe we're anywhere close to abolishing even the death penalty in Texas, much less prisons.

Anonymous said...

Ray Edward Brookins, guilty, 10 year sentence

Anonymous said...

Before the 2007 scandal, according to media reports, TYC Management presented evidence of Staff sexually abusing Youth to a prosecutor and he made the decision not to prosecute. Grits, the Press used the term “coverup” to describe the handling of sexual abuse allegations by TYC Officials during the 2007 scandal. Willful indifference is a crime when it results in failure to report child abuse to appropriate agencies. It is my understanding that the alleged coverup by TYC Management was investigated by Law Enforcement and no one was charged and prosecuted. If you or anyone else can come up with something different let us know. In terms of prosecutions of staff that were alleged to have sexually abused youth at the TYC facility in Pyote; two staff were tried, and one was found guilty. Grits, I’m looking forward to the results of your research into the exact number of TYC employees that were charged with sexually abusing youth, tried, and found guilty during the 2007 scandal. As I recall from media reports, State Law Enforcement Agencies were on TYC like flees on a dog.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The main reason there were few prosecutions from the 2007 scandals was that the DA in Pyote wouldn't pursue them. So using the absence of prosecutions to minimize what happened is a dicey proposition.

Anonymous said...

Grits, when there is evidence of staff sexually abusing youth, and there is an organized coverup, and the local prosecutor fails to prosecute, could the AG take the case and prosecute?

Anonymous said...

Great observations Grits! There is no one in juvenile justice with any education or experience who would deny that smaller facilities are the way to go. 48 or fewer in bed capacity as a matter of fact. The smaller size improves culture for treatment of youth, makes it easy to quickly identify oddities with staff and improves safety for youth and staff. Turnover drops and recidivism rates improve as well. You are also correct that despite all this information, the legislature in Texas does not want to pay what this would cost. And handing troubled juveniles over to the adult system, which is already overwhelmed with it's own problems, would be a catastrophe, if not criminal neglect. There is an increase of kids remaining in their counties but to push these kids back to their counties would require more funding and resources as well. Only the largest counties are best equipped to "keep" all their kids and fewer than that would want to.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:33, the AG must be invited in by the local DA.

xenonman said...

Why do so many female CO's enter into sexual relationships with their male charges? That's something I could never understand.

Well, I suppose that if middle school female teachers have sexual relationships with male pupils, then we shouldn't be all that surprised!