April 05, 2008
Whitmire: Abolish the TYC

I think there's a lot of merit to this.

The Texas Senate's leader on prison policy has a novel idea for the state's $235-million-a year system of juvenile corrections: Abolish it.

John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston who chairs the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, said no amount of reforms at the Texas Youth Commission will correct what he sees as an expensive, poorly conceived, top-heavy, ineffective bureaucratic operation that's better known for its sex abuse scandals than its graduation rates.

"We're spending ($235) million a year and we've got these broken-down, unsafe facilities in all the wrong places," Whitmire said this week, adding that he would replace the state system with smaller lockups closer to where most offenders live.

In making the case for dissolving the 59-year-old agency, Whitmire noted these facts: The agency has more employees (4,100) than incarcerated youth (2,800), yet still, because of a complex set of factors, including the difficulty of recruiting staff in remote places, is short 440 guards. Its offender population is smaller than some high schools, but in part to support a huge bureaucracy, the state spends a large amount each year to provide for their care. It scatters troubled offenders in units located in largely rural areas around the state, even though most come from urban areas far away, he said.

"You can't take a kid from Houston and send him to the Oklahoma border where he never sees his parents and expect to reform him," Whitmire said. "Let's keep the kids in county-run urban settings and let the (state) money go with them and you cut out all the top and middle bureaucracy. We're wasting millions of dollars and not getting very much in return."

I think there's a lot of merit to this idea. One of the things we learned from the problems at the Pyote facility is that it's difficult to find and retain qualified staff at these remote locations. Not too many people would choose to live out in the middle of nowhere like that, especially at the prevailing wages. At least under this plan, you'd be able to draw from some larger labor pools, and yes, I think keeping the kids in familiar surroundings will help them rehabilitate. That is the point - rehabilitation - right?

District Judge Mike Schneider, one of [District Judge Pat] Shelton's fellow juvenile court jurists in Harris County, said he hopes that the state studies Whitmire's proposal.

He said he has felt frustrated because in the past TYC didn't provide youths with services ordered by Harris County judges. Before the TYC scandal, sex offenders sentenced in county courts to TYC often did not undergo counseling ordered by judges, he said.

If the county probation department ran lockups for such offenders, judges could check to see if the services were provided and hold the department accountable, Schneider said.

"I have no problem getting rid of TYC as long as we have the option of dealing with kids locally and that it's not an unfunded mandate," he said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, chair of the county juvenile probation board, said he will wait and see whether state lawmakers seriously consider Whitmire's proposal.

Brazoria County Court-at-law judge James Blackstock, who is chairman of that county's juvenile board, said the issue will come down to money.

"If the state orders that and funds it sufficiently, then I'm all for it," he said. "If it's an unfunded mandate, then I'm against it."

That's a perfectly reasonable position to take. Sadly, with the Lege, it's not something you can assume. Let's get the discussion going on this, and see where it takes us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 05, 2008 to Crime and Punishment

As I'm learning, there are a *lot* of incompetent state government agencies, but unlike TYC most of them can't be abolished outright.

*glares at TDFPS*

Posted by: Jim D on April 6, 2008 7:50 AM

charles....I need to speak with you....

Posted by: david jones on April 7, 2008 9:12 AM