The House tried to pass some Texas Youth Commission reforms last week but ran into some technical difficulties (I’m trying to put a nice face on it here). Tomorrow, the Senate will take a crack at it.
The first wide-ranging legislation meant to fix reported physical and sexual abuse problems at TYC is expected to emerge Tuesday from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
That bill, by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, has been more than a year in the making — growing out of a 2004 riot at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center — and had its progress delayed by the infighting that erupted with the latest scandal.
“We need to fix the problem, period,” Hinojosa said. “The finger-pointing just slows down the process.”
We’ll see what emerges. The issue that tripped up the House bill had to do with naming a special prosecutor for abuse cases related to the TYC. My general impression is that the Senate will avoid that pitfall, but if the issue needs to be resolved in a joint committee, then all bets are off.
I’ve been critical of special master Jay Kimbrough, who is currently heading up the investigation into TYC, but credit where it’s due:
Kimbrough unveiled a plan along with the Texas office of the American Civil Liberties Union to review the sentences of youth offenders who had their sentences extended by TYC authorities. Kimbrough wants to find out if students have been kept in the system for purposes of retaliation or intimidation.
“This doesn’t take legislation. This just takes people sitting down, recognizing there’s a problem and working together,” Kimbrough said.
This is not only the humane thing to do, it’s the practical thing to do as well. The guards-to-inmates ration has two aspects to it, after all, and it’s far cheaper to release inmates who don’t belong than it is to hire guards to oversee them. Verifying who still belongs in custody and letting out those who don’t makes all kinds of sense. Kudos to Kimbrough for pursuing that.