March 06, 2007
Perry declares TYC an emergency

Governor Perry took his sweet time in reacting to the problems with the Texas Youth Commission, but at least now the Lege can act quickly to try and fix some of those problems.

Law enforcement officers would be stationed at Texas Youth Commission facilities to investigate abuse allegations and prevent employees from covering them up under legislation the governor put on the fast track today.

The proposal calls for establishing an inspector general's office at the troubled agency, where investigations showing employees molested young inmates went unheeded for years.

A companion bill would expand the jurisdiction of a Texas Department of Criminal Justice special prosecution unit to help take the inspector general's cases to court.

Republican Rep. Jerry Madden of Richardson, the chairman of the House corrections committee, said the proposals would make it easier to bring abusers to justice.

"TYC's history has proven to us that non-commissioned personnel are not getting the job done," Madden said. "TYC needs their own police force. There are real crimes being committed on their property."


Madden's bill follows Perry's request that the agency create an inspector general's office.

Under the proposal, licensed peace officers would replace civilian investigators at each facility. They would report to a chief inspector general, who would report to the agency's board.

Rep. Rene Oliveira, a Democrat from Brownsville, said that means board members could stymie the work of investigators if they didn't like what was found.

"We're just running the risk of leaving things as is and not sending the proper message," Oliveira said, adding that he believes all the board members should be forced to resign.

But John Moriarty, the inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said law enforcement officers are bound to keep pushing investigations if they know crimes occurred.

In case you're curious what the bill numbers are:

House Bill 914 would establish the inspector general's office and require that its agents be sworn law enforcement officers. The office's chief would report to the board that oversees the youth commission, not the agency's day-to-day director.

House Bill 427 would establish a special unit to work with local prosecutors in areas where TYC facilities are located to bring charges in response to credible allegations of wrongdoing by either employees or inmates within the facilities.

That's a good start, but there are underlying issues that need to be dealt with as well. Item #1 on that list is to prosecute the bad guys, something that has not been done so far.

None of 13 confirmed sexual assaults last year by Texas Youth Commission staff on youngsters in their care were prosecuted, according to alarming statistics released Monday by state lawmakers.

In addition, over the past six years, TYC officials reported 6,652 abuse and neglect cases to law enforcement officials, including 39 sexual assaults. In all, authorities declined involvement in 6,634 of the cases - all but 18.

House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, in laying out the numbers, said something had to be done to "quickly improve the safety of the staff and youth at TYC."

Indeed. In related news, the vote yesterday on Jessica's Law may have an impact on the TYC as well. From the same article:

In other action, the House added an amendment to a child sexual assault bill that would make it a second-degree felony for state officials to not report or to cover up the exploitation of children by other state officials.

The amendment by Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, was tacked on to "Jessica's Laws," which aim harsh punishment for child sex offenders, including the death penalty.

"We need to protect Jessica whether she was taken out of her home or a TYC facility," Mr. Dunnam said.

Nicely done.

Finally, there were more accusations about who didn't do what yesterday:

An audiotape of a March 2005 hearing shows TYC's former executive director notifying Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and members of his committee that the agency was investigating reports of juveniles being sexually abused by staff members at the West Texas State School in Pyote.

"I would like to mention one other situation," the former executive director, Dwight Harris, said as he wrapped up testimony on the problems plaguing another juvenile facility. "We have sent you information regarding this. This is our West Texas facility. I want to go into the specifics, but I really can't. There is an ongoing investigation there about sexual impropriety between staff and youth."

There was no reaction from Whitmire nor any of the other committee members present.

Whitmire said Monday he had no independent recollection of Harris' testimony. Asked if he followed up with Harris, Whitmire said no.

"He was going to get with us. He never did," Whitmire said, adding later: "The ball was in his court. We get letters every day of allegations we refer to the agencies and the Rangers report was the first time that we knew of any of the particulars and we saw that three weeks ago."

I'm not sure what Sen. Whitmire might have done. Harris testified that this was an ongoing investigation. Yes, Whitmire might have followed up later to see if it had concluded, but it really should have been Harris' responsibility to get a copy of the Rangers' report into all the right hands in a timely manner. The fact that this report was not properly circulated is what allowed it to go unnoticed for far too long. That's why all this stuff is just coming out now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 06, 2007 to That's our Lege

Wow, now that you describe it, I was at that hearing on behalf of ACLU, remember Harris' comment, and had totally forgotten about it myself. So add that group, and me, to those who dropped the ball.

Obviously it was there for any reporter to follow up on, too. At the end of the day, all it took for Nate Blakeslee to break the story was a tip and an open records request.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast on March 6, 2007 3:35 PM