Thursday, April 03, 2008

Youth commission could face closure, radical change, lawmakers say

This is even more interesting given the previous post "Texas ranks low in child well-being," which shows that the number of incarcerated youths in Texas equaling 7,662. This article shows a total of 2,400 held in TYCs making me question if the other 5,262 are in adult penitentiaries?? -Patricia

As costs spiral, legislators look for more frugal alternative.

Friday, April 04, 2008

After spending a year trying to reform the Texas Youth Commission, some legislative leaders are discussing a new possibility: a drastic restructuring — and perhaps even shutting it down.

State Sen. John Whitmire, who co-chairs a special legislative committee overseeing the Youth Commission reforms after allegations surfaced last year of sexual abuse of youths, confirmed Thursday that he and several other lawmakers are actively discussing plans to drastically restructure the troubled agency.

One concept under discussion: lock up the most violent, most troubled offenders in a reduced number of lockups, run by a new incarnation of the Youth Commission or perhaps by a new youth division of Texas' adult prison system, and house the rest in locally based treatment and rehabilitation programs.

"We're spending $110,000 a kid now — about $250 million for 2,400 kids — and you could do the new concept for half of what we're spending now, maybe less," Whitmire said. "I've gotten nothing but encouragement from anyone who's been briefed on this so far.

"It makes so much sense, it'll be hard for anyone to argue against this — except maybe the rural counties where the TYC facilities are located."

Most other states have juvenile corrections agencies, though several use them mainly to oversee community-based programs.

Youth Commission Conservator Richard Nedelkoff, who has previously predicted the agency will face changes, said he cannot fathom that the Youth Commission would be abolished, even though it may face drastic restructuring.

"I can't imagine a day that we would not have an agency with authority over troubled youth," he said. "But there is a dialogue going on about what is the ideal juvenile corrections system for Texas, and how to we create that ... what does it look like.

"Dialogue is what we're having at this point. There is no plan yet."

In recent months, some legislative leaders have grown increasingly impatient with the progress of reforms at the Youth Commission, still reeling from the sexual-abuse scandal and subsequent management changes. In addition to frustrations with the slowness of implementing reforms, they have grown tired of perceived administrative miscues — including three shakeups of top management in a year.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Nedelkoff the latest conservator in December.

State Rep. Jerry Madden, Whitmire's co-chair on the special panel, said he does not favor "shutting anything down or drastically changing anything until we know what we're replacing it with.

"But I think everyone knows the agency may look much different in the future than it does now," he said. "This is a work in progress."

In all, the Youth Commission now holds about 2,400 offenders, about half what it did a year ago. The number of employees: roughly 4,600 approved positions, about the same.

The Youth Commission's top eight or so officials earn $1.8 million a year, a much higher total than a year ago, according to Whitmire.

"Once we got the worst, most violent youth offenders in secure facilities, we could take the rest and let the state funding follow them to programs in their communities, so Houston and San Antonio and the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex could keep their own kids," Whitmire said.

"This concept is in the initial stages of discussion now, but I think you'll see something coming together on it pretty soon. Where we've been going with this agency makes no sense in the long run."

One big criticism of the agency is that lockups are in remote, rural areas of the state, far from the major cities that most of the youths call home.

On Wednesday, Whitmire said he asked Nedelkoff during a Wednesday meeting to come up with a conceptual plan for the alternatives. Nedelkoff said he is working on several concepts about what the agency could look like in coming years.

Whitmire, Madden and others familiar with the discussions said the possible changes would emphasize community-based programs rather than the institutionalization of troubled youths who are doing time for relatively minor crimes. They might also pay for many of the programs through counties rather than through the Youth Commission — a change that California has recently embraced.

"We have high schools with more kids in one place than what TYC has locked up in a dozen or so facilities, several (of) which we're going to have to spend a lot of additional money on to bring them up to standard," Whitmire said.

"Why spend money like that when there's a less expensive, smarter way to do this?"

No comments:

Post a Comment