May 2

    Across the country teachers have been raising their voices on behalf of our kids, challenging the ways in which we don't value their education, from out of date and moldy books to schools that are falling apart.

    Every state must set priorities and make budgetary decisions, and what we decide to spend our tax dollars on says a lot about who we are as a society.

    Unfortunately, over the last 30 years, we've increased spending on incarcerating people at a much more rapid pace than we've increased spending on education.

    The reality is, we're spending incredible amounts of money just to lock people up. This explosion in prison costs isn't because we've improved the quality of life in prison (e.g., providing adequate sanitary products to women, which we oftentimes don't), or because we're spending money on treatment, or education, for people in prisons. Instead, it's because we've implemented policies that needlessly warehouse more people, particularly poor people of color.

    To learn more about this issue, please read my op-ed in this week's The Hill.

    In partnership,

    The number of Texas kids behind bars is suddenly at its lowest point in decades

    April 6
    Written by Lauren McGaughy
    Texas Government Reporter

    AUSTIN The number of Texas teens behind bars has dropped to its lowest point in decades, as the state yet again rethinks how to incarcerate its underage felons.

    The average daily population in the state's five secure juvenile lockups has hovered around 1,040 for years. But after more than 100 offenders were released, paroled or reassigned in the past three months, that number dropped below 900 on Friday.

    "Today's population is 889. We have not been this low in decades," Bobbi Kessler, spokeswoman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, told The Dallas Morning News on Friday. "Population fluctuates every day, but our current average daily population [since September] so far is 999 which is the first time it has been under 1,000 since the early 1980s."

    The population reduction was intentional.

    After The News reported on physical violence and sexual abuse at the state's largest juvenile facility in Gainesville including a guard impregnated by a juvenile offender Gov. Greg Abbott asked the Texas Rangers to investigate. He also installed Camille Cain, one of his top staffers, as the system's new leader.

    Cain has focused on lowering the offender population in the short term. The agency is also offering recruitment and retention bonuses to boost its chronically lagging staffing levels in the hopes that the higher guard-to-juvenile ratio will reduce rates of violence.

    "We are now conducting more proactive reviews that actively identify youth who can be released to halfway houses or parole," the juvenile justice agency told The News last month. "Typically 70 youth per month were moved out of secure facilities in this way."

    Now they're up to 90.

    Most of the youthful offenders were released or paroled, sent to halfway houses or medium-secure facilities, or they aged out because they passed their 19th birthday, the agency said. Twenty were sent to the adult criminal justice system, including six who been convicted of new crimes in the juvenile system.

    All reassignment changes were made with public safety in mind, with only "the best candidates for potential release or discharge" considered, including youths younger than 14 who had committed nonviolent crimes or completed specialized treatment programs.

    Violence persists

    But the population reduction won't solve the facilities' problems.

    J.D. Robertson, an ex-Texas Ranger whom Abbott appointed in January as the agency's new independent investigator, released a report this week that warned about a spike in violence just before the population drop.

    "Youth on youth assaults as well as youth offenders assaulting staff has become an increasing concern," Robertson wrote in his report, which covered December to February. At the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, for example, some of the assaults on staff have resulted in "serious injuries" including fractured limbs and facial injuries.

    Robertson pointed repeatedly to staffing shortages, an ongoing problem in the juvenile justice system, which has the highest turnover of any large state agency in Texas. Last year, nearly one-third of the agency's staff left. Of these 1,500 departing employees, 7 in 10 were guards.

    Gainesville had only 60 percent to 70 percent of the staff it needs, the report said, and staffers at the secure facility in McLennan County outside Waco are working "back to back 12 hour shifts due to manning shortages."

    Staff bonuses began in February, and the agency held focus groups with guards and case managers at every facility. While not "a silver bullet to fix staff turnover," the population drop will also "help ease staffing issues," Kessler said.

    Sexual misconduct cases

    Robertson also wrote that "the high number of allegations of sexual misconduct against staff members within the secure facilities is problematic." He recommended that the agency make every guard wear a body camera when interacting with youths.

    The agency agreed and is looking for funding to buy additional body cameras.

    "We're pursuing funding to purchase additional cameras and services so that all [juvenile correctional officers] on duty at a secure facility will have use of a body camera while working," the agency wrote in its response. "There has not been enough time to determine the effectiveness of this program although the overall loss of [guards] on a per month basis is down."

    The number of Texas kids behind bars is suddenly at its lowest point in decades

    March 7th

    'Culture of cover-up:' Warden forced to retire from prison where whistleblower says teen inmates abused

    Written by Lauren McGaughy

    During her four years as the supervisor of a program for teen inmates jailed at the Clemens Unit in Brazoria, an adult prison, Dominique Mitchell repeatedly alleged abuse and neglect:

    A mentally ill teenager was taunted by guards who told him to kill himself. Another teen had been in solitary for two years. Inmates were fighting because guards left them alone for hours. The guards derided her as a snitch. Bosses admonished her for speaking out of turn, sending too many emails, asking too many questions.

    I still feel that it is my duty professionally and ethically to report the issues, she wrote in a December 2016 email. Eventually a youthful offender is going to be seriously injured or killed by these officers or by another offender.

    Less than a year later, in August 2017, an adult inmate and teenager were discovered engaging in a sexual act through the bars of the teens cell.

    The internal investigation into the incident eventually led to the departure of two high-profile officials, including the prison warden and a senior director, and the state has decided to move the programs teen inmates to another, more secure, prison.

    Mitchell lost her job, too. Now, worried that systemic problems will continue, she is speaking out about what she calls a culture of cover-up in the program meant to rehabilitate these teenage criminals.

    Theyre coming out even worse, Mitchell told The Dallas Morning News. I felt in my heart I could not keep silent about this because I fear more kids will be damaged.

    I promised I wouldnt give up on them.

    In the eyes of the law

    In Texas, 17-year-olds are considered adults in the eyes of the law. And depending on their crime, teens as young as 14 can be tried as adults, convicted and incarcerated in adult prison.

    But federal law requires inmates under 18 to be separated from adult prisoners in most circumstances. Most of the male teenagers who fall into this group are currently housed in the Youthful Offender Program at the Clemens Unit, a 125-year-old prison about an hour south of Houston. During the day, teen inmates interact with specially trained correctional staff who work solely for the program; nights and weekends, adult prisons guards are in charge.

    Since its inception, the program has been divisive. Its been held up as a model by some politicians but opposed by juvenile justice advocates, who said the sexual incident last year illustrates why teens should not be incarcerated in adult prisons.

    But the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said the sex act was isolated and strongly denied Mitchells claims that the program at Clemens is broken.

    Any characterization of the program being systemically flawed is false, TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel said. This is an isolated incident in which TDCJ took swift administrative actions against all employees involved.

    As a result of the investigation, program director Stacy Rhodes, a 29-year veteran with the department, resigned, and Clemens Unit Warden Cornelius Smith retired, TDCJ confirmed.

    The agency has moved quickly to address the issue further by planning to relocate it to the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, Desel added. The new location will be better suited to the programs unique needs. There it will also have access to all of the agency resources in and around Huntsville.

    During her four years as the supervisor of a program for teen inmates jailed at the Clemens Unit in Brazoria, an adult prison, Dominique Mitchell repeatedly alleged abuse and neglect. (2012 File Photo/ No criminal charges were brought against the adult inmate involved in the incident because the teenager was 17, the age of consent in Texas, and both inmates claimed the sex act was consensual.

    The incident occurred on Aug. 3, 2017. The adult, who worked as a janitor in an area where teenagers 17 and younger were housed, digitally penetrated the male teenager through the bars of his cell, said Bruce Toney, the inspector general charged with looking into alleged crimes at TDCJ.

    We wanted to charge sexual assault. That was our goal, Toney said. If the youthful offender was 16 we could have proceeded ... which is frustrating.

    The only option was for the agency to punish the two men for breaking prison rules, which prohibit sexual contact between inmates. Desel said such disciplinary information is confidential.

    Mitchell said the August incident haunts her, and said that it could have been prevented if the prisons leadership had listened sooner. And the systemic problems she witnessed wont be fixed by pushing out a few employees, she insisted, or even moving the program to another unit.

    There needs to be overhaul and reform, Mitchell said. No minor child should be subjected to the adult system.

    Youre not loyal

    During the four years she worked for TDCJ, Mitchell sent dozens of emails, memos and official grievances about her concerns with the Youthful Offender Program.

    Mitchell complained about officers cursing out teens and withholding meals and showers. She fired off emails alleging offenders were starting fires, sleeping in their mattresses during cold weather months. Spanish-speaking offenders did not attend school with the other teens, Mitchell said, and the staff relied on other inmates to translate for them because the program didn't have a bilingual case manager.

    But her biggest concerns were with protective custody, where inmates are housed apart for safety reasons. There, teens were kept in separate cells next to adults who would throw feces and urine on them, she said.

    They are actually in solitary confinement, Mitchell said in an email from December 2016: One offender in question spent almost two years locked in his cell without any service.

    Some teens inflicted harm on themselves just to get out of the program, she alleged. According to the departments own data, there were 30 17-year-olds in TDCJs care last year.

    And last year, there were 30 attempted suicides.

    TDCJ has a culture of cover-up and retaliation Mitchell claimed, where staffers are discouraged from reporting abuse and penalized if they do. Documents are falsified, incidents go unreported and top officials ignored the problems, she said.

    They turned a blind eye to it, Mitchell alleged. If you reported stuff, youre not loyal.

    In a statement, the department said it does and will continue to investigate all allegations from employees or offenders and take appropriate action.

    Mitchell spoke to The News after reading Texas is unlikely to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 to bring it in line with national norms. Dealing with chronic understaffing and reeling from the news that two guards were arrested last year for having sex with teenagers, state officials are looking for ways to reduce the population in the states five secure juvenile lockups.

    About 35 of the most violent offenders in these lockups, now considered kids by the state, could be "certified" as adults and sent to Clemens.

    Mitchell said housing 14- to 17-year-old inmates in the same building as adults is a recipe for disaster. Teens were educated for years in the same classrooms as adults criminals this practice was ended in January and they often came in contact with the general population.

    All individuals who commit crimes should serve their time for the charged offenses, she said. But offenders under the age of 18 should not be incarcerated with adult offenders.

    Two scapegoats

    This isnt the first time the Youthful Offender Program has been criticized.

    Two decades ago, it came under fire when Rodney Hulin, a 17-year-old arsonist in for causing $500 in property damage, hanged himself just days after being gang raped by other teens. He had asked to be placed in protective custody, but his request was denied. Hulins death became the rallying cry for advocates seeking to end the practice of incarcerating teens in adult prisons.

    Whether or not it was consensual, the incident last year again confirms everyones worst fear about housing youth in adult prisons, said Michele Deitch, a lawyer and criminal justice expert at the University of Texas at Austin. They will be targeted by adult inmates, sexually or in other physically abusive ways.

    Reached for comment Sunday, Rhodes, the program director who resigned after last years incident echoed Mitchells concerns that top brass keep a lot of things hush hush, to clean it up.

    He complained the program hasnt had a friend in management who would funnel the time and resources necessary to improve conditions and spoke of many of the same problems Mitchell mentioned, including guards "cussing out" teens and low staff morale. As for his departure, Rhodes called himself and Warden Smith two scapegoats.

    And Im fine with that, he said. Thats a blessing in disguise because Im working somewhere else and making way more money anyway.

    After the August incident, Mitchell complained that Rhodes and Smith did not report it to Child Protective Services in a timely manner. Emails she provided show CPS was notified on Aug. 8, five days after the incident. Rhodes shot back, alleging Mitchell was the one who fell down on the job.

    The department investigated Mitchell and recommended no disciplinary action, according to an Aug. 22 internal document she provided The News. This memo was not in the personnel file provided by TDCJ. Still, Mitchell was asked to leave or take a demotion, so she quit. She said the department then tried to withhold her benefits in retaliation, she said.

    I have much to lose by coming forward, she said. But I know the risks and I strongly believe that I am doing the right thing. I will not let fear silence me.

    'Culture of cover-up:'

    Governor appoints former Texas Ranger as new juvenile justice watchdog amid agency shake-up

    By Keri Blakinger
    January 31, 2018

    A former Texas Ranger is set to take over as independent watchdog for Texas juvenile prisons, a shift the governor announced Wednesday amid an agency shake-up on the heels of a sex abuse scandal.

    J.D. Robertson, a retired major who served with Texas Department of Public Safety for 27 years, will replace Debbie Unruh, who learned this week of her surprise removal from her role providing oversight of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    "I think that this new appointment is going to present him with a challenge," said Lindsey Linder, a policy attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "The independent ombudsman to me is not so much a law enforcement position as it is a service provider position."

    Michele Deitch, an attorney and criminal justice consultant who teaches at UT-Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs, echoed her concerns.

    "I worry that this may reflect a misunderstanding about what the ombudsman is supposed to be," she said, noting that the role was never intended to be investigative and was instead created to provide oversight and monitor conditions in the wake of previous TJJD scandals.

    Yet Linder and other juvenile justice advocates expressed optimism about working with the new appointee from Hays County.

    "We look forward to getting to know the new ombudsman and talking with him," said Deborah Fowler, executive director of Texas Appleseed. "I hope to have the same kind of working relationship we had with Debbie Unruh."

    Lauren Rose, youth justice policy director for Texans Care for Children, said she hoped that Robertson would be a "strong advocate" and that the ombudsman's office would "continue to work hard to protect the safety and rights of Texas youth in lockup."

    When news of Unruh's departure broke Tuesday, reformers and experts responded with shock.

    "This is a really sad day for youth in Texas," Linder said at the time. "This certainly feels like retaliation. It looks like she was punished for doing her job too well and effectively reporting on the issues going on in TJJD."

    Scott Henson, policy director with the non-profit Just Liberty, said the surprise ouster "sends a bad message."

    "They got rid of someone who was doing a good job and had exposed a lot of problems that needed to be exposed - and I hope this new person will as well - but I think it was a mistake to reward her for her good work by getting rid of her," he said.

    A few hours after news of the replacement made the rounds online, Gov. Greg Abbott took to Twitter to address the changes.

    "If there's a problem at a state agency I'm going to clean house & shake things up like I have by appointing a Texas Ranger to help fix things at the Juvenile Justice Department," he wrote in response to the Chronicle's coverage.

    The changing leadership at the ombudsman's office follows two other high-profile replacements in the Texas juvenile justice in recent weeks.

    On Monday, Abbott announced the appointment of a new board chair, Wes Ritchey, who's taking over for Scott Fisher.

    And earlier this month, Camille Cain took the reins as the agency's new executive director following the retirement of former leader David Reilly. Though Cain came in without any apparent background working directly with incarcerated youth, she is charged with boosting safety and reducing population at the scandal-plagued state agency.

    "I've got confidence in her," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

    Even before the string changes in the agency, the governor two months ago also ordered the Rangers to launch a "detailed investigation" into sexual misconduct in the youth lock-ups.

    Now, the incoming ombudsman is a former special ops commander with experience in special weapons and tactics, bomb squad, reconnaissance, crisis negotiations and border security. He also served in the U.S. Air Force for six years and holds a masters in applied criminology from Texas A&M University - Commerce. He'll finish out the term set to expire in February 2019.

    "J.D. Robertson has very impressive credentials and experience," Cain said late Wednesday. "I have no doubt that he will bring professionalism, integrity, and a keen eye to the job along with good advice for the Governor's Office and actionable information we at TJJD can use to make positive changes."

    Governor appoints former Texas Ranger as new juvenile justice watchdog amid agency shake-up

    In bid to boost safety, juvenile justice agency reviewing violent youth for possible transfer

    By Keri Blakinger and Meagan Flynn
    January 22, 2018

    Staff at the scandal-plagued Texas Juvenile Justice Department have been asked to review a few dozen violent inmates for possible transfer to adult prisons, a move that has sparked concern among activists and advocates.

    "Children don't belong in adult prison," said Jay Jenkins, a project attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "Juveniles don't belong in adult prisons. Full stop."

    But lawmakers and officials stressed that the review is part of a push to boost security by working to remove assaultive youth.

    "I am very positive on the plan to once and for all make Juvenile Justice safe," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston

    The review coincides with a push to reduce the population of TJJD facilities amid ongoing staffing shortages and an unfolding sexual abuse scandal amid that has caused lawmakers, the governor and advocates to lose confidence in TJJD's ability to protect kids in its facilities.

    In addition to reviewing troublemaking teens for possible transfer to prison from three of the agency's secure facilities, officials are taking a broader look at files of sentenced offenders at two other facilities just to "figure out what the next step is," according to a TJJD spokeswoman.

    "Some facilities have been looking at sentenced offenders and specifically the ones assaulting staff, and if they meet the objective criteria for transfer, they're starting the process," said spokeswoman Carolyn Beck. "So they're making sure that process is starting for those kids that are hurting people."

    Transfer to an adult facility, which ultimately requires a judge's sign-off, can take months, Beck said - so the ongoing reviews aren't expected to result in any moves in the immediate future.

    The juveniles under review are those currently held on "determinate sentences," usually reserved for more serious offenses and leave the possibility of prison on the table if the juveniles have failed to demonstrate they've benefitted from services and programs before they turn 19. Although kids can be up for transfer to adult prison once they turn 16 if they meet certain criteria, typically the agency works to avoid that outcome.

    It's not clear how many kids could undergo some type of review. Roughly 35 determinate-sentenced offenders systemwide meet transfer criteria and have a history of assaulting staff, Beck said, though she didn't have concrete data on how many fit that profile at the two facilities zeroing in on those teens for evaluation.

    "The goal over time would be to reduce our population by approximately 250 to get to where we needed to be to be safe, based on the number of staff we have available," Beck said.

    At the same time, this month the agency is taking a look at non-sentenced offenders who could be eligible for release back into the community.

    "We are reinstating release criteria to make sure that all the kids that are appropriate to go home get to go home," Beck said.

    Last year, when the agency previously put in place such criteria, it netted around 20 releases per month.

    Agency officials have said in the past that a few hundred of the roughly 1,000 juvenile offenders could be better housed in community-based programs rather than a remotely located state facility. With an eye to the future, the agency's governing board recently hired a new executive director, Camille Cain, whose vision for reducing the population in TJJD facilities also includes assessing which kids might be eligible to be transferred to prison or release on parole.

    Beck stressed that the current sentenced offender reviews were "more for safety than for population management" and said they should have been getting done anyway.

    She also debunked recent whisperings about possible large-scale transfer of youth to TDCJ, misinformation she said stemmed from discussions about how to make facilities safe.

    "The rumor about them being told to review all the sentenced offenders as tied to population management is coming from this, these conversations," she said.

    Cain declined to be interviewed for the story, citing the fact that she's only been on the job for a few weeks.

    "The new director is trying to determine what the real problems are," Whitmire said. "I've got confidence in her."

    Some experts questioned any push to move kids - even those with disciplinary problems - to adult facilities.

    "I don't want to downplay if there are serious incidents of violence where people are getting hurt," said Michele Deitch, a criminal-justice expert and senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Austin, "but there's also just going to be a lot of youth who are acting out in anger and simply need to have different approaches tried in managing them."

    Jenkins called transferring kids to adult prisons a "bad way" to solve juvenile justice disciplinary problems.

    "The abuse that took place in the TJJD facility was horrific but the abuse for a young offender in the adult system is going to be much much worse," Jenkins said. "You're solving a sexual assault problem by creating a very strong likelihood of sexual assault."

    Lance Lowry, a sergeant in Huntsville and former Texas prison union chief, begged to differ.

    "TDCJ does a lot better job - you don't hear me saying that a lot - at managing the youth offenders than TJJD," he said. "The inmates run the asylum at TJJD - they have no control. We're just contributing to these guys becoming future wards of the state."

    In bid to boost safety

    Jan. 19th

    'That would break us': Raising age of responsibility would create massive influx to juvenile lockups

    AUSTIN Texas is unlikely to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 next year, a top state official has predicted, to the dismay of juvenile justice advocates.

    Texas is one of five of states where lawbreakers younger than 18 are considered adults in the eyes of the justice system. For years, advocates have unsuccessfully urged lawmakers to up the age, arguing 17-year-olds are not mature enough to be tried, sentenced and imprisoned with adults.

    But it's improbable state lawmakers will do that when they meet next year, the new head of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department predicted. On Friday, Executive Director Camille Cain said passing a "Raise the Age" bill into law would funnel 350 to 400 kids into the state's juvenile lockups and upward of 20,000 into parole, an unsustainable influx during a time of crisis.

    "That would break us," Cain told the agency's advisory council. "The impact would be enormous."

    This isn't based on an ideological opposition to raising the age, Cain said, but on concerns that implementing the change too quickly would result in a dangerous breakdown in safety and security for both incarcerated kids and staff.

    "I don't know that there's money, that this time around even if we had the money we couldn't get out of the hole we're in and up high enough to be able to support that," she said.

    Advocates disagreed, saying delaying action on the raise the age bill was just the state kicking the can down the road.

    "I disagree that raising the age would 'break' TJJD," said Lindsey Linder, the juvenile justice policy attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "TJJD is already broken."

    Lawmakers have praised Cain's appointment as an indication Gov. Greg Abbott and state lawmakers are paying attention to the beleaguered agency. The former head of the governor's criminal justice division, Cain takes over just as the department is dealing with renewed concerns over violence and sexual abuse at Gainesville, the state's largest secure lockup for juvenile offenders.

    Last month, The Dallas Morning News reported four Gainesville staffers were fired due to improper sexual activity with youths in custody. One staffer, a 29-year-old who was allegedly impregnated by a juvenile offender, was charged with a second-degree felony and is currently free on bond. Abbott asked the Texas Rangers to investigate soon after, calling the reports "reprehensible."

    Divert hundreds of 17-year-olds from the adult into these ailing juvenile facilities, Cain said, and "we'd be in big trouble." While she insisted that thoughts on the bill's fate were just a prediction based on recent conversations, Cain added that lawmakers understand the agency's priority is to improve safety and security for the staff and more than 1,000 offenders at the state's five lockups.

    "They get that the practical application at this point would be bad for kids," Cain told the advisory board. "It is my prognostication that this time around that bill will not get a hearing. Now, next time around? I don't know."

    A bill to gradually raise the age passed with overwhelming support in the Texas House last session but failed to get a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee chaired by Houston Democrat John Whitmire. On Friday, Whitmire told The News efforts to raise the age have "faced enormous opposition from state agencies, courts, and local juvenile justice officials" due to cost and safety concerns.

    "No one, including me, can predict what the Legislature will do next session," Whitmire said. "I am working with various stakeholders to pass 'Raise the Age,' but the opportunity will never take place if we do not fix the juvenile justice system we currently operate."

    Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who sponsored the Raise the Age bill, said he was dismayed by predictions his efforts would fail once again. If the state waits to fix the juvenile facilities, he said, "at some point Texas is going to be the only state in the union that treats 17-year-olds this way."

    "How long is it going to take to get the facilities straightened out? Is that going to take one month, one year, 10 years, 15 years?" Dutton asked. "Why can't they figure out how to make this work?"

    Linder of the Criminal Justice Coalition agreed that fixing the juvenile system and raising the age shouldn't be an either-or decision.

    "The consequences of failing to raise the age in the 2019 legislative session would be far greater than the inconvenience of rolling up our sleeves and doing the necessary work to bring Texas up to speed with the vast majority of states," Linder said. "Texas leadership should instead be committed to restructuring the juvenile justice system, which should include 17-year-olds."

    'That would break us'

    JANUARY 01, 2018

    Texas getting better at identifying problems at Juvie Facilities, but not fixing them

    In reaction to revelations of dysfunctional youth prisons, advocates including your correspondent have been calling to dismantle them and shift to smaller facilities located closer to the urban areas from which most of the youth first came. (Check out Grits' interview with former Dallas News reporter Brandi Grissom on the topic.) I still think that's a good idea.

    But we must then pay closer attention to how locals are treating juvenile offenders under their care. For example, inmates at one secure youth-treatment center in Dallas may go months without being allowed to exercise outside. Here's the lede to the Dallas News article breaking the story:

    Death row inmates in Texas are given at least an hour a week outdoors. Hardened criminals inside California's famous San Quentin prison get 10 hours.

    Yet kids at a Dallas County correctional center for boys went months, sometimes more than a year, without going outdoors more than a few times.

    For years, the boys at the Lyle B. Medlock Youth Treatment Center in southern Dallas County were rarely allowed outdoors, according to former guards, probation officers and families of incarcerated teens.

    One boy said he was locked up for nearly 10 months and wasn't let outside for exercise once.

    That we even know about this is a testament to the creation of the Independent Ombudsman at TJJD as part of the 2007 reforms, and the expansion of their authority to include local facilities. They began inspecting local juvenile detention facilities in 2015 and immediately identified the issue, reported the DMN. By May 2016, "During a third ombudsman visit, in May 2016, the inspector again noted the lack of outdoor time and submitted a 'Request for Plan of Action' to Dallas County juvenile officials: 'What plan can be developed and implemented at Medlock that would ensure youth have access to outdoor recreational areas?'"

    So the mechanism to identify the problem worked, but the Ombudsman was not empowered to enforce her request to create an action plan for changing a bad policy. That didn't happen until the County Judge saw the Morning News article and sent the juvenile probation director a Nastygram, after which the policy was immediately changed.

    Ideally, you want government structures that identify problems in order to fix them, not to allow them to linger until some reporter catches on and embarrasses the government into changing bad policies. This reminds me of Austin's police monitor, which at its best made important recommendations for reform but had no authority to fix the problems they'd identified.

    At a minimum, when the Independent Ombudsman recommends this sort of policy change, local officials should be required to either implement the recommendation or formally reply to explain why they won't.

    The TJJD Ombudsman had similarly identified most of the problems the Dallas Morning News reported on as Brandi Grissom was on her way out the door (check out Grits' interview with her; this was Brandi's final story as Austin bureau chief). So they're giving government officials an opportunity to rectify problems long before they become front-page news, but it's just not happening.

    Which leads Grits to this conclusion: Legislators were successful in 2007 at creating a mechanism to identify problems at state and local facilities. But waiting until already-identified problems mushroom into front-page scandals and crises makes little sense. Someone must be empowered to fix identified problems, and to force local actors to adjust bad practices when they persist in the face of Ombudsman recommendations.



    Nov. 22
    Dallas Morning News Editorial

    Gainesville State School crisis requires Texas consider shuttering remaining Youth Lockups

    Texas lawmakers have a difficult decision to make. Should the state shutter its five remaining youth lockups and admit we're just not capable of finding the money, the staff or even the fundamental competence to keep juvenile offenders safe in large facilities?

    It certainly doesn't appear that we can keep them safe not from predatory guards and not from each other.

    Reporters for The Dallas Morning News reviewed hundreds of pages of records from the Gainesville State School for delinquent youths. What they found not only shocks the conscience but calls into question whether Texas is capable of running schools like it across Texas without putting the students and their guards at constant risk of abuse, violence and neglect.

    Reporters Brandi Grissom and Sue Ambrose found that:

    - At least three guards at the Gainesville facility have been accused of sexual misconduct with students in the last three months, and another was sentenced to 10 years in prison this summer.

    - Last year, a psychologist hired as a counselor to the youths confessed to providing pornography to one youthful inmate to watch him masturbate.

    - In a 13-month period ending in September, monthly assaults of guards by youths averaged nearly 27.

    David Reilly, executive director at Texas Juvenile Justice Department, acknowledged that the situation is harmful for the students who are sent to the school. He said the school does the best it can with a staff in constant churn.

    "The constant churning of staff presents significant operational challenges, and has a detrimental effect on youth outcomes," Reilly said. Turnover at the Gainesville lockup is staggering, and has been for awhile. In 2017, for example, the turnover rate is nearly 39 percent.

    It's tempting to put the blame solely on the shoulders of the staff members and managers who have failed these kids, or even on the kids themselves, given the mistakes they've made to land in the youth prison. But the fault goes much deeper than that.

    Outside monitors began raising alarms a year ago that Gainesville was troubled. But lawmakers missed their chance to address it in the last session. And meanwhile, the agency has been told to make due with millions less in funding.

    This is simply unacceptable. Facilities like the Gainesville State School need the money to hire adequate staff, to train them, and to retain them as they get better at their jobs. If Texas can't find the money to run these schools, it should shut them down.

    Ten years ago, after a major sexual abuse scandal and cover-up, lawmakers up-ended the juvenile justice system and shuttered seven of the then-12 facilities. The youths were transferred to smaller facilities closer to their homes that haven't experienced such profound abuse, violence and neglect.

    It's time to lawmakers begin asking whether it's time to close the remaining five.

    What they are saying:

    "It's a bad culture. It's a dangerous culture." - Debbie Unruh, an independent watchdog charged with ensuring the safety of the approximately 1,000 youths in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department's custody.

    "There needs to be an urgency among people who have the ability to change the system. You can't say as a lawmaker that you care about public safety and not respond to a situation like this." - Lindsey Linder, attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    Read More HERE

    Nov. 16

    Fights, sex, drugs: Texas Juvenile lockup on the verge of crisis, reports show

    Reporters: Brandi Grissom & Sue Ambrose

    Youths at the Gainesville State School say staff paid them with drugs and cash to assault one another.

    A psychologist at the campus gave pornography to a boy there to encourage the young man to masturbate in front of him.

    A youth attacked a guard and stole his radio so he couldn’t call for help. By the time help arrived, the officer had a broken nose and needed four stitches over his eye.

    The Gainesville State School for delinquent juveniles has been on the verge of crisis for more than a year, according to interviews and hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News. The youths and staff who are supposed to protect them are often abused and victimized.

    Its a bad culture, said Debbie Unruh, an independent watchdog charged with ensuring the safety of youths in the Texas Juvenile Justice Departments custody. Its a dangerous culture.

    Department officials blame the schools troubles largely on their inability to hire and retain qualified staff to supervise hundreds of juvenile delinquents, many of whom suffer from severe mental health and behavioral problems. They say theyre working to improve the situation.

    The constant churning of staff presents significant operational challenges, and has a detrimental effect on youth outcomes, David Reilly, TJJDs executive director, said in a written statement. TJJD is continually evaluating options within available resources to address these concerns.

    Juvenile justice advocates, however, say these problems have persisted at the remote, rural lockups under the departments control for more than a decade. Texas should abandon the fraught system, they argue, and adopt a model that keeps troubled kids closer to their homes.

    The entire purpose of this system is to rehabilitate, and if we are subjecting them to assault, that is the opposite of rehabilitation, said Lindsey Linder, policy attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    Lawmakers were angry over the agencys failures and said the recent developments warrant investigation. But Reilly warned them more than a year ago of the impending trouble, and they failed to take action that might have averted the dire straits the agency now faces.

    Chaos on campus

    Like other youth prisons around the state, Gainesville has had too many kids and not enough staff. In monthly reports from August 2016 to September 2017, the independent watchdog routinely found the facility housed dozens more students than it had the capacity to oversee. Each month, the reports also documented how critical the staffing shortage was.

    During that time, 160 employees at the facility either quit or were fired, data obtained by The News shows. According to the agency, the turnover rate at Gainesville in 2017 has been nearly 39 percent, the highest of the states five youth lockups.

    Theres always this new staff that doesnt quite know what to do, Unruh said. That makes it more dangerous.

    The staff who do show up to work are often saddled with overtime, Unruh said, leaving them exhausted and less attentive.

    If youre not able to supervise these kids, they act up and they do things to each other, Unruh said. That makes it a very unsafe environment.

    Monthly reports from the watchdog make clear that supervision is lacking.

    In June 2016, the watchdogs office reported dozens of incidents in which youths fled from supervision. They climbed up trees and clambered onto rooftops. The agency, however, says it has records of just seven such incidents that month involving 16 youths.

    This May, a youth disappeared for three hours. By the time staff found him, he had broken several windows.

    Another youth was left unattended in leg shackles for nearly six hours. In July, a campus surveillance video showed three youths huffing gasoline from clothing they had doused after finding an unattended lawnmower.

    In some instances, though, youths report that staff paid the wrong kind of attention. Several youths independently told the watchdogs office in June that correctional officers would pay them with cash and drugs to carry out hits on other youths. Those reports followed incidents in which staff found suspected drugs, whiskey and cash, and one youth tested positive for K2, a form of synthetic marijuana.

    Good staff or bad staff, the kids will get under their skin, and next thing you know, theyre offering them something to go fight a kid, Unruh said, adding that she was unable to document a specific fight that occurred in exchange for payment. Her report said youths didnt give names out of fear of retaliation.

    TJJD officials said they were unable to investigate those incidents because they were not provided enough information.

    Staff members also face danger. From last August through this September, they reported an average of nearly 27 assaults a month, according to reports of the independent ombudsman.

    In October, a youth was arrested and charged with assaulting a public servant after he attacked guard Kenneth Marten. According to the youths arrest affidavit, Marten was manning a dorm hallway when the youth asked to be released from his locked room to use the bathroom. When Marten unlocked the door, the youth beat him and threw his radio in the toilet so he couldnt call for help.

    Marten ended up with a broken nose and four stitches above his left eye.

    The youth admitted the assault to police, saying he was feeling restless and wanted to get outside the dorm to hide on the grounds and in the trees.

    The agency needs to develop a more positive culture in which the youths respect the staff and vice versa, Unruh said.

    Lawmakers created Unruhs watchdog position after a 2007 sexual abuse scandal in which at least 13 boys were abused. The case led to accusations of a cover-up and reports exposing lax medical care, youth beatings and a culture of retaliation against whistleblowers at the agency then known as the Texas Youth Commission.

    Lawmakers overhauled the system with the goal of improving safety by keeping youths closer to their homes and out of remote rural juvenile lockups. They also created the ombudsmans office to regularly talk with youths and ensure that problems are addressed before crises arise.

    The number of youths in state custody has fallen dramatically, and lawmakers shuttered seven of the 12 facilities that were operational in 2007. Despite some improvements, population has recently increased, and problems retaining qualified staff have persisted.

    Despite her repeated reports of mounting troubles, Unruh said she has seen little effort from TJJD leaders to improve.

    When we point out things, they dont change, she said. These are things that I think are critical that have to do with safety.

    Sexual predators

    Staff members have also been accused of sexually abusing youths at the Gainesville facility. In the last three months, three female guards have been arrested on charges of sexual misconduct, including one who was arrested this week after allegedly having sex with a youth on multiple occasions.

    Those arrests follow the conviction in July of Samuel Lee Wright, who pleaded guilty to improper sexual activity with a person in custody and is serving a 10-year sentence.

    And last year, a psychologist hired to counsel youths confessed to providing pornography to a youth to encourage the youth to masturbate in front of him, the agency told The News.

    Vincent Rager, now 31, began working at Gainesville in 2015. His online resume indicates he provided individual psychotherapy to boys at the school.

    Rager resigned during their investigation, officials said; records show he resigned in lieu of involuntary separation.

    Reached by phone earlier this week, Rager said he resigned because he wanted to move to California. On Thursday, an attorney for Rager said the information that the state provided to The News was not true.

    "It is our position that these statements about our client's conduct are untrue ...," the attorney, Gina Tennen, wrote in an email.

    Rager now works as a clinical psychologist treating male prisoners at Kern Valley State Prison in Bakersfield, Calif., according to a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

    Problems, not disarray

    Reilly said the turnover rates at Gainesville and the states other youth lockups are "unacceptably high. But he rejected Unruhs assertion that the campus is in chaos.

    Despite the recent unacceptable events, the facility has had many positive accomplishments and is not in disarray, he said.

    This weekend, 88 youths at Gainesville will graduate with high school diplomas or other certificates. The campus also offers a smorgasbord of extracurricular activities, including football, dog training, art and religious events.

    Reilly said staff at the lockup helped bring the sexual misconduct on campus to light so that it could be addressed. And the offending officers, he said, have been aggressively pursued.

    The reforms that began over 10 years ago addressed enforcement, and the recent arrests are evidence of our continued commitment to that priority, he said.

    The agency also refuted allegations that it has done little to improve the situation at Gainesville. It has increased training requirements to prevent sexual abuse and implemented extensive background checks. Among other steps, the agency also instituted a policy in which anyone accused of sexual or physical abuse involving a youth is immediately removed from direct contact with youths.

    But Reilly also acknowledged that the agency doesnt have enough money to ensure the safety of youths or staff.

    Today, TJJD is not financially able to provide the staff presence necessary to minimize incidents and fully prevent misconduct. The lack of sufficient safety contributes to turnover, which exacerbates the already critical situation, and makes it difficult to achieve our goal that no staff is ever alone with youth, he said.

    The agency cited safety concerns and compensation as reasons staff members leave. They are regularly left alone with up to 12 youths and havent received overtime pay since mid-2017, when the agency stopped paying it because of financial constraints. Payments are set to resume next month.

    'How do we stop this?'

    In his budget request to lawmakers last year, Reilly warned that the department was facing a crisis because it was experiencing a surge in population, housing more youths than it had the money to serve and struggling to keep people employed.

    But his requests largely went ignored.

    Reilly said he hopes lawmakers will provide the agency with more money to hire and retain staff when the Legislature meets again in 2019.

    Lawmakers who were told this week about the most recent troubles said that the agency should be investigated, that it needs more money to hire quality staff, and that the situation is unacceptable.

    When we get the facts together, we need to come together and decide how do we prevent this, how do we stop this, said Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, chairman of the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee.

    "When we get the facts together, we need to come together and decide how do we prevent this, how do we stop this," says state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston.

    But with more than 1,000 youths in Texas lockups, the state cant wait another year or more to fix the systemic problems at TJJD, said Linder, the staff attorney at the Criminal Justice Coalition.

    There needs to be an urgency among people who have the ability to change the system, she said. You cant say as a lawmaker that you care about public safety and not respond to a situation like this.

    For years, advocates like Linder have urged lawmakers to shutter the states sprawling rural youth lockups that have struggled to find and keep competent employees. Instead, they contend, youths should be sent to smaller rehabilitation facilities in urban centers with a supply of qualified staff.

    I dont know how much we really deserve to be shocked, Linder said. Weve consistently known they dont have the means to adequately staff these facilities, and we havent done anything about it.

    Read More HERE


    Raise the Age: 17-Year-Olds in the Criminal Justice System

    By Texas Appleseed

    "Texas is one of only seven states in which 17-year olds accused of committing crimes are automatically shuffled into the adult criminal justice system rather than the juvenile justice system, regardless of the crime."

    Read Report Here:



    News of Juvie Prison Rape should cause Lege to prioritize PREA compliance

    Grits experienced a terrible moment of deja vu upon seeing Brandi Grissom's report in the Dallas News that, "Officials at the state youth prison agency are investigating a suspected serial sexual predator among corrections officers at a juvenile lockup in Gainesville." For me, seeing the story brought me back to Nate Blakeslee's January 2007 investigative report in the Texas Observer about sexual abuse at what was then the Texas Youth Commission. His story set off a chain of events which led to the dismantling and renaming of the agency, which reemerged from a troubled conservatorship renamed the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    Brandi attributed some recent problems to budget cuts and rising inmate numbers:

    As the agency's population and facilities shrunk, so did the budget that lawmakers approved. But the population has begun to increase, and on Thursday the agency reported that it is housing 15.5 percent more youths than it has the budget to serve. Unruh said three of the five secure state facilities are short-staffed.

    Grits is surprised to hear this because I was under the impression Sen. John Whitmire passed legislation last year aimed at shifting more juvenile offenders into community supervision, though the final version was much neutered from what he originally proposed. Still, this news runs counter to expectations set during the 2015 Lege session that more troubled youth would be supervised in the community. Instead, we're sending more to state youth prisons.

    The agency says solving these problems will require a big investment: While lawmakers told the agency to cut nearly $17 million from its budget for the 2018-19 biennium, the agency has said it needs nearly $170 million more than it is allotted to keep up with the growing population and meet federal rape prevention requirements, among other needs.

    Decarceration of juvenile prisons in Texas has been a major success story of the last decade, and this news doesn't mitigate that. A 15 percent increase following a 80 percent reduction still amounts to perhaps 150 kids, so that doesn't explain a $170 million budget request, much of which likely stems from facility upgrades and other changes to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

    Indeed, given this unsettling news, compliance with PREA seems more important than ever for TJJD, so maybe the Lege should consider getting up off resources to help them make that happen.

    So far, this hasn't blown up the way Blakeslee's story did back in the day, One wonders if the episode was uncovered because of reforms implemented after that 2007 upheaval that made it easier for youth to complain and more likely the agency would react when they did? It'd be interesting to see a comparison of the post-'07 reforms and the details of this case to see where changes either a) helped identify and remove the wrongdoer or b) failed to prevent his alleged misconduct as was hoped. Certainly hiring the guy after he left TDCJ under a cloud of accusations, which TJJD knew about, raises some red flags, which Brandi's story ably articulates.

    The fact that the TYC transition went on for years and was such a mess for so long probably contributes to public officials' reticence to jump down the agency's throat, as happened ten years ago almost instantly when news of sexual abuse of kids arose near the beginning of session. Nobody wants to relive that leap-before-you-look fiasco (your correspondent included), which took years to resolve itself, so I'd expect state leaders to move more deliberately this time around. Still, it's pretty obvious such situations haven't been eliminated, so clearly more must be done.

    RELATED: From the Dallas News editorial board.


    Sexual Abuse Allegations, Suicide Attempts follow jump in Juvenile Offender Population

    Written By Brandi Grissom, Austin Bureau Chief

    AUSTIN Officials at the state youth prison agency are investigating a suspected serial sexual predator among corrections officers at a juvenile lockup in Gainesville.

    Samuel Wright was arrested last month in Cooke County on charges of sexually assaulting a youth at the secure facility. Wright began working there in 2014, and investigators since the arrest have uncovered several allegations of abuse starting as early as December 2015, said Debbie Unruh, the independent ombudsman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    Wright, a former corrections officer who oversaw adult prisoners at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, continued working at the agency even after officials there discovered he had a history of disciplinary infractions at his previous job, she said.

    "We are still interviewing kids and making sure the kids are safe," Unruh said. "I would like to see a more thorough investigation to see if there are more victims."

    Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the juvenile justice department, said he could not comment on the continuing investigation. But he said the officer was moved away from contact with youths as soon as allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.

    Agency officials are also investigating two suicide attempts at the Ron Jackson Unit, which houses young women. One day before Wright's arrest in September, two girls from that unit were taken to a hospital after attempting suicide. Both were found with makeshift nooses around their necks.

    The suicide attempts and sexual abuse allegations come as the Texas Juvenile Justice Department is experiencing an unexpected rise in population. The number of youths in state custody had dropped precipitously after years of reforms prompted by a sexual abuse scandal that roiled the agency in 2007.

    State lawmakers implemented policies designed to keep youths closer to their homes and out of remote rural juvenile lockups. The number of secure state facilities fell from 12 to five as the number of youths in custody dropped from more than 5,000 in 2007 to fewer than 1,000 in 2015.

    As the agency's population and facilities shrunk, so did the budget that lawmakers approved. But the population has begun to increase, and on Thursday the agency reported that it is housing 15.5 percent more youths than it has the budget to serve. Unruh said three of the five secure state facilities are short-staffed.

    "They have beds, but they don't necessarily have the staff and all the other stuff that goes along with housing," Unruh said.

    To top it off, lawmakers have asked the juvenile department, along with most other state agencies, to trim the budget even more as they expect a significant drop in state revenue in the 2017 legislative session.

    While lawmakers told the agency to cut nearly $17 million from its budget for the 2018-19 biennium, the agency has said it needs nearly $170 million more than it is allotted to keep up with the growing population and meet federal rape prevention requirements, among other needs.

    Meanwhile, the investigation of abuse allegations and suicide attempts continues. Unruh said she expects to unearth "many more" allegations of sexual abuse at the Gainesville unit.

    Before going to work with youths, Wright worked with adult inmates as a corrections officer at the Ware prison unit in Colorado City from January through December 2013, according to a TDCJ spokesman. He resigned after he was caught on video leaving a pastry on an inmate's bunk.

    "We initiated an investigation, and he subsequently resigned," Jason Clark, a spokesman for the criminal justice department, said in an email.

    Wright was also disciplined for other minor infractions that were not sexual in nature. Those records, along with forms indicating he was under investigation when he left the department, were faxed to the juvenile justice agency in September 2014, Clark said.

    Hurley, the juvenile justice department spokesman, said he could not discuss details of the investigation of sexual abuse. But he said the agency thoroughly vets candidates before hiring them.

    "It's no secret we have a fairly high turnover among [correctional officers]. It's a very demanding job, and it's not something everybody's cut out to do," he said. "But we do not take any shortcuts when it comes to hiring."

    And he said officers do their best to oversee and protect the youths in state facilities.

    "We have some kids with very serious problems, and that's part of the reason they're here," he said. "Our staff, in large part, is very professional.

    They know how to react, and they do it and they do it well."

    Juvenile justice advocates said they are concerned that the agency is rushing to hire workers who may not be qualified and struggling to adequately supervise vulnerable youths. State lawmakers, they said, must do more to ensure that youths are sent to state facilities only as a last resort.

    "It's tremendously disappointing," said Deborah Fowler, executive director of Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates for juvenile justice. "To see them short-cut and make decisions like these, and to see consequences like these is just heartbreaking."

    The Gainesville unit is among the juvenile facilities housing more youths than it has the budget to handle. The facility is budgeted to serve 186 youths but has 226.

    The Ron Jackson unit, where the two girls attempted suicide, is also over capacity. The agency was budgeted to house 96 youths but has 105.

    "It's a poor model, and frankly it's getting worse," Fowler said. "The more kids you commit to these facilities, the worse it's going to get."

    Rather than putting more money into the state juvenile facilities in rural outposts where it is difficult to find qualified staff, advocates said lawmakers should put more funding into local programs that keep youths out of the troublesome lockups and closer to family and support systems in their homes. And they should hold local officials accountable for ensuring that programs effectively serve juveniles so they don't wind up in state custody.

    "It will guarantee that very few kids go into state facilities at all and that those few kids can have the resources they need to be successful and, most importantly, be safe," said Elizabeth Henneke, a policy attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for juvenile justice reforms.


    School Discipline In Texas: Past, Present, And Future

    In this new report for the Center for Effective Justice, policy analyst Dianna Muldrow examines school discipline practices in Texas, arguing that despite recent improvementssuch as decriminalizing truancythe state should continue to improve the process by examining mandatory discipline, and considering alternative methods such as restorative justice.

    Click Here to review Report

    JULY 08, 2016

    Kids in the "Box: Solitary Confinement Is Just Government-Sanctioned Child Abuse

    Posted by Juvenile Law Center

    A child has been locked in a cement cell for days on end, with a concrete slab for a bed. The cell has no windows, and is so small the child can almost touch both walls with his outstretched arms. He is denied personal possessions, including books, clothing, bedding, or a mattress. Except for the person who stops outside the solid steel door to deliver food, he is cut off from all human interaction. He is given just one hour for recreation or exercise. He receives no mental health services or educational services or materials.

    Every day, children across the U.S. are held in solitary confinement in juvenile and adult correctional facilities. They are confined to a small cell for 22 to 24 hours a day and are often held in total isolation for weeks or even months at a time. Children in solitary are regularly denied education, counseling, and other services they need for healthy growth and development.

    You can learn more about solitary confinement of our youth and experience the size and feel of a solitary cell as part of an installation at the Free Library of Philadelphia beginning July 21st. Juvenile Law Center, InLiquid, and photographer Richard Ross, present Juvenile In Justice: End Solitary Confinement, a collaborative, multi-site exhibition of photographs, audio recordings of detained youth, and a replica of a solitary confinement cell at the Free Library.

    Why are kids sent to solitary?

    In January 2016, President Obama issued a ban on solitary confinement of youth in federal facilities and highlighted the physical, emotional, and social harms solitary confinement inflicts on children. The Presidents ban strengthens a growing national movement to immediately end the practice nationwide, in state and local correctional facilities as well as federal prisons.

    Youth are placed in solitary for a variety of reasons -- as a punishment for breaking rules, for administrative reasons, or to protect the child from his own self-harming behavior or violence from others in the facility. Solitary confinement is also frequently used purely as a convenience to staff during shift changes. However, using solitary confinement does not reduce the levels of violence in facilities. And regardless of the reason for their isolation, youth in solitary are often denied visits from their families, recreation or time outdoors, educational programming, and mental health treatment.

    State-Sanctioned Abuse

    Solitary confinement causes permanent, irreversible psychological and developmental damage to children, many of whom are often already suffering from mental health issues, including PTSD from childhood trauma. Indeed, solitary confinement exacerbates the trauma already at the center of so many of these childrens lives. We dont allow parents to lock their children in windowless, empty rooms; we shouldnt allow the state to do so either.

    Youth in solitary confinement report experiencing feelings of abandonment, hopelessness, extreme loneliness, and fear.

    Many describe having hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

    A report issued by the Attorney Generals National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence noted that, among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the juveniles were in solitary at the time of their suicide. In one instance, a juvenile requested crisis counseling after experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations and suicidal thoughts while in solitary confinement. Instead of providing treatment or ending the youths confinement, the staff told him the request would only justify keeping him in isolation longer.

    Join us on July 21st for the opening reception of Juvenile In Justice: End Solitary Confinement

    An opening reception and panel discussion will take place on July 21 at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Panelists include: photographer Richard Ross; Juvenile Law Center Deputy Director and Chief Counsel, Marsha Levick; and Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project advocate, Johnny Perez.

    Please join us and be a part of the national movement to end the solitary confinement of children!

    The main exhibit at the Free Library of Philadelphia opens July 21 and will run through September 6, 2016. Satellite installations are on display at Eastern State Penitentiary, UPenn Law, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Visit www.jlc.org/events for more details.

    Juvenile In Justice: End Solitary Confinement
    Opening Reception and Panel Discussion
    When: July 1, 2016, 5:30-9:00 pm
    Where: Free Library of Philadelphia's Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street


    March 16, 2015

    Current Juvenile Justice System Designed to Erode Humanity

    When Nell Bernstein, the editor of a youth newspaper, looked at her staff, she saw bright young people at work. But in those years, the 1990s, some looked at those same faces and saw little more than a threat and began to react with force.

    Read More HERE.

    Jailer Caught On Video Punching Two Underage Inmates

    February 2, 2015
    By Kristian Hernandez

    A juvenile correctional officer at Evins Regional Juvenile Center was caught on video assaulting two youths that were in his care last fall, according to court records.

    Jose Jimenez, 32, is facing charges of official oppression for allegedly punching two incarcerated youths after they stole a remote control. Jimenez was booked Friday at the Hidalgo County Jail after his arraignment before Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza who set his bond at $3,000.

    The Texas Juvenile Justice Departments Office of the Inspector General found out about the allegations after another jailer reported the late September incident last month. Jimenez and the other jailer were assigned to supervise the dormitories inside Evins when Jimenez noticed that a remote control was missing, records show.

    Jimenez singled out two youths, both 17 years old, and asked them if they had taken the remote. When they admitted to stealing it, Jimenez punched each of them two to three times in the chest in front of the reporting jailer and other youths in the dormitory.

    After the other jailer came forward, investigators found surveillance footage that showed the assault and questioned Jimenez who eventually confessed to doing it, according to records.

    Jimenez, who is currently suspended without pay, has been a jailer at Evins since 2005.

    If convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, he could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

    Jimenez is the second Evins jailer in less than a year to be charged with official oppression. In November, Julian Rey Fuentes was sentenced to one year probation after investigators revealed that he used excessive force on more than 20 youths incarcerated at Evins.

    Surveillance footage in that case was erased by the centers former director of security Pete Vega Martinez, who pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two years probation last month.

    Jailer Caught On Video Punching Two Underage Inmates

    JANUARY 20, 2015

    New Juvenile Justice Committee In Texas House; Other Rules Changes

    Grits For Breakfast finally had a moment to go through this session's rules for the Texas House of Representatives, as approved in HR 4.

    (Read them Here for yourself.)

    Here are some changes which may interest readers:

    Juvenile justice was taken out of the Corrections Committee's domain and given its own committee: Juvenile Justice and Family Matters, which will have seven members. (Chairs and members haven't been named yet.) As a practical matter this was probably a good move: The Corrections Committee has a big enough task with oversight of the adult system to delve into juvenile stuff in depth during the brief 140 day session. But there may also be a political angle to the division given that Sen. John Whitmire and Tony Fabelo are openly talking about shuttering more youth prisons. The appointment of the chairman may tell a lot about whether the Speaker agrees with Whitmire regarding further downsizing at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    Read the whole entry Here

    JANUARY 08, 2015

    Are Texas Youth Prisons Now Small Enough To Drown In A Bath Tub?

    Grover Norquist famously suggested he wanted government downsized to the point where it could be drowned in the bath tub. Remarkably, that may end up being exactly what happens at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    At the Houston Chronicle, Mike Ward reported (Jan. 7) from the Texas Public Policy Foundation legislative conference this week that, "After years of reforms in Texas' juvenile justice system, officials now appear headed toward the next big step: further downsizing the system of state-run lockups or even junking it altogether." The suggestion is to double down on the trend since 2007 of punishing and/or rehabilitating more juvenile felons at the local level. Notably, juvenile crime dropped precipitously during this period while the juvenile incarceration rate plummeted, calling into question any direct link between incarcerating juveniles and reducing the crime rate:

    Even as Texas was reforming its juvenile justice system in recent years, the number of youths targeted for probation programs and incarceration has declined by 31 percent in six years, officials said. Fabelo said that is part of a national trend: Florida's juvenile offender numbers have declined by 35 percent, California by 48 percent.

    While the state-run youth corrections system held more than 4,200 offenders seven years ago, the number is now down to about 1,000 in five lockups.

    That California and Florida saw even bigger juvenile crime drops tells you this is a result of larger crime reduction trends, not necessarily any specific Texas policies. But it does present an opportunity to shutter more and perhaps even all the state's youth prisons.

    "That's where it's heading, yes, to counties keeping more youths in local programs, even some of the ones who are in state custody now, and to more outcome-based programs," said Tony Fabelo, a national criminal justice expert overseeing the national study by the Council of State Governments.

    Citing statistics from the soon-to-be-released report that tracked more than 220,000 juvenile offenders for up to five years, Fabelo said Texas spent nearly $134,000 a year per youth held in a state juvenile lockup in 2012.

    "In 2014, the 800 youth who were committed to (state lockups) cost $162 million, enough to educate almost 20,000 students for a year," he said, noting that statistics show 85 percent of the incarcerated youths are arrested again within five years - and 54 percent of those are sent to adult prisons.

    "Fifty-seven percent of the population (in state youth lockups) are adults" aged 17 or 18, most of them locked up for serious felony crimes, he said. "That says a lot about why changes are needed."

    Grits cautiously supports further downsizing, especially if the money follows the kids downstream. Long-time readers will recall that a "blue-ribbon panel" created by the Legislature after the 2007 sex scandals recommended (pdf) "using a regionalized system of care that supports the use of small facilities, that admits youth to TYC using research-based risk assessment and classification, and that provides specialized treatment for youth and families." If that's where this ends up, then better late than never.

    One caution: I for one don't have a good sense of what exactly is happening with kids diverted from state facilities in recent years and there don't seem to be good benchmarks to let us know whether the locals are generating better outcomes than the state on education, recidivism, protecting kids from predators (whether staff or other inmates), etc.. For example, there's no independent entity comparable to the TJJD Ombudsman to whom kids in county detention can bring problems or from whom they can seek redress.

    There's a chance that the big-picture juvenile crime decline - which again, I don't think was caused by Texas-specific policies - could be masking poor outcomes. State institutions have been studied nigh unto death - and perhaps Fabelo's new study will be the fatal blow - but it's not clear to me we can say that the county-run lockups are superior, just that they're a) cheaper and b) out of sight, out of mind.


    JANUARY 03, 2015

    More Than Check-Box Form Needed To Certify Juvenile Defendants As Adults

    More from the SA Express-News (Jan. 2) on recent Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rulings requiring the state to better justify decisions to certify juvenile defendants to be tried as adults. The story opened:

    For the first time, Texas appeals courts have overturned the convictions of two teenagers tried as adults, ruling that the juvenile courts did not provide enough evidence to explain why the youths were certified as adult defendants.

    Juvenile justice advocates and some lawmakers say the two cases, both from Harris County, show that its past time to examine how the state pushes defendants under 17 into the adult criminal justice system. Critics say this practice, known as certification, follows a pro-forma, rubber-stamp process. Basically Harris County was using a check-box form that allowed the judge to avoid making findings specific to the individual:

    the decisions noted the Harris County juvenile court did not give sufficient evidence as to why the youths in question should stand trial as adults. Instead, it relied on a form order process that allows judges to check off boxes and fill in the blanks for each certification, rather than give a detailed explanation for why a defendant was mature enough, and how a crime was egregious enough, to warrant trial in the adult criminal justice system. And here are a few data from the story on adult certification:

    The number of juvenile certifications statewide has dropped in recent years, from 248 in 2008 to 209 five years later. Harris County experienced one of the biggest drops from 78 to 29 over that same period a shift some chalk up to a combination of increased pressure on the three juvenile judges and a greater emphasis by some to take more time on certification cases.

    Smaller counties in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere on the Texas-Mexico border have seen a recent increase. Where Harris Countys certification rate stood at 7.4 for every 100,000 juveniles in 2013, the rates in Val Verde and Starr Counties were more than 200 times that.



    JUNE 19, 2014

    Juvenile Crime Plummeted After Texas De-Incarcerated Youth Prisons

    Another fascinating tidbit from the tracking report: Despite having reduced the population of Texas youth prisons by nearly 80 percent after the 2007 sex-assault scandals and closed most of them, the average daily population of juveniles on probation statewide declined by 30 percent in Texas over the last five years, from 35,645 in 2008 to 24,896 in 2013. Referrals to probation fell over the same period, from 97,584 in 2009 to 68,386 in 2013, according to the report. And in schools, the number of Mandatory Attendance Days at Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs) also went down, from 110,189 in the '08-09 school year to 73,227 in 2012-13. And that's despite the Legislature mandating that school police write fewer Class C tickets to students who misbehave.

    Since juvenile incarceration fell almost 80% from its height after the Legislature first reformed, then disbanded, the Texas Youth Commission, what caused juvenile referrals (read: new offenses) to decline so rapidly in the years that followed? Many people associate incarceration with crime reduction, assuming prison keeps us safe from predators who would harm us if they were out.

    So how does the tuff-on-crime crowd explain such a radical reduction in juvenile incarceration corresponding to a 30-percent drop in juvenile crime over the last several years period?

    Grits finds the rapid but inexplicable drop in juvenile crime one of the most remarkable, yet little-remarked stories in Texas criminal justice. A tremendous achievement. Too bad nobody knows what caused it nor how if at all it related to government policies, so it can't be readily replicated.


    Local Juvenile Probation GED Program Shows Higher Success Rate

    May 3, 2014

    Staff photo Jerry Larson
    Students work on computers inside the Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center on Friday.

    McLennan County students who stay at the Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center for longer than 90 days have a higher chance of graduating with a GED or earning high school credit than the majority of incarcerated students across the country, according to a Southern Education Foundation report.

    The study, released in April, found 9 percent of juvenile students nationwide or fewer than one in 10 enlisted in a detention facility for 90 days or longer earned their GEDs or high school diplomas.

    McLennan Countys Juvenile Probation Department is slightly higher with 15 percent of long-term students earning their GEDs through an in-house program designed specifically for at-risk students.

    Not all students who stay long-term at the Logue center are eligible for the program.

    The GED program is offered to students who are at least 16 and so far behind it would be impossible for them to catch up enough to graduate high school before aging out.

    The (students) who are 16 years of age and probably in the seventh grade, we know theyre not going to stay in high school and we know theyre not going to graduate. So, what we try to do is get them through the GED program, said Bobby Campos, McLennan County Juvenile Probation Department director.

    In 2013, five boys enrolled in the program and four of them passed. One girl also enrolled in 2013 and passed.

    Theyre so proud when they get that certificate because they have never gotten positive reinforcement, Campos said.

    The probation department only works with students up to age 17 and doesnt track the number of high school diplomas earned after students are released.

    It was unclear from the report whether students across the country must meet the same requirements to enter the program.

    Reading Levels

    The struggle to increase graduation rates began about 20 years ago when Campos and his staff realized many of the students passing through the facility couldnt read.

    The average reading level of students who enter the Logue center is third grade, said Teri Merlino, Juvenile Probation Department assistant director. Its a lot easier to act out in class and get sent to detention than admit you cant read, Campos said.

    The center formed an in-house reading program, but it wasnt until the probation department added staff and received judicial support in 2007 that the GED program started.

    Since the programs inception, 45 students have enrolled in the program and 38, or 80 percent, have passed the GED test.

    The Logue center has 98 beds 18 used for post-adjudication and 80 used for pre-adjudication stays.

    Staff limitations only allow the center to keep 16 long-term students at a time.

    Students who remain after adjudication enter the Court Ordered Residential Program Services, where they are required to take classes as a part of their release requirements.

    The average stay for a student after adjudication is eight months. There were 10 long-term students at the center as of Friday. The centers education coordinator, Bryan Sedberry, said when students enter CORPS they are given psychological evaluations, along with educational tests such as a reading comprehension exam to evaluate where the student is academically.

    All of the Logue centers curriculum is computer-based and adjusted to meet the childs needs, said Toni Tresdale, lead teacher at Bill Logue.

    Each student also receives one-on-one tutoring and therapy based on emotional or mental disabilities the child has, Sedberry said.

    Merlino said if students in CORPS stay at least six months they increase their reading level by an average of two grades.

    Lack of Distractions

    Campos said the success comes from a lack of distractions and added structure to the students lives.

    Many of the students are behind simply because they havent gone to school consistently and their parents dont take responsibility for them or make them go, he said. But when they come to CORPS, every moment of the day is accounted for and classes must be attended.

    Its amazing. Some of these kids, because of the distractions they had when they were free, (werent) able to focus on their school studies, Campos said. So whats happened, when they get back in the CORPS program, theyre not on drugs, (theyre) in a structured environment and they can really apply themselves.

    Local Juvenile Probation GED Program Shows Higher Success Rate

    Against the Grain of Justice
    Committee hears testimony on treatment of young offenders

    MAR. 25

    Since 1918, Texas law has required that every 17-year-old charged with a crime be processed through the adult criminal justice system through the adult courts and, potentially, into the adult jail or adult prison population.

    Regardless of the severity of the crime, every 17-year-old whether popped for marijuana possession or for capital murder is processed this way. For many veteran stakeholders of the state's juvenile justice system, this one-size-fits-all approach doesn't make sense. "I don't think they're mature; I don't think it's right to treat a 17-year-old as an adult," Judge Jeanne Meurer, who spent more that 20 years handling Travis County juvenile cases before retiring to senior judge status in 2008, told members of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Tuesday. Seventeen-year-olds are in no other arena considered adults, she noted. "The only way you can be an adult is to commit a crime." That, she said, goes "against the grain" of common sense and of justice.

    As part of their interim charges Texas lawmakers are considering whether the state should change the nearly 100-year-old law, raising to 18 the age at which a person is considered an adult when it comes to crime and punishment. According to witnesses invited to testify before the committee, there are good reasons to do just that.

    Youthful offenders jailed under the adult system are far more likely to commit additional crimes in the future, said attorney Michele Deitch, who teaches criminal justice policy at UT-Austins LBJ School of Public Policy, and youthful offenders housed in adults correctional facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system. And the vast majority of 17-year-olds in the system are there on misdemeanor, non-violent offenses most often for larceny/theft, followed by marijuana possession, she said.

    Changing the age to 18 would not change much about the ability to hold a youthful offender responsible for criminal acts a prosecutor could still seek to certify as an adult any juvenile charged with a felony offense (that happens roughly 200 times each year in Texas) but would place a new financial burden on county and state juvenile justice systems, she said.

    According to numbers provided to lawmakers, there are currently, roughly 5,000 17-year-olds involved with the Texas criminal justice system, including up to an estimated 3,100 in county jails and 135 in state prison facilities. There are currently 32 17-year-olds being housed by the Travis County Sheriff, TCSO spokesman Roger Wade wrote in an email.

    Counties would certainly see increased juvenile court dockets, and would likely need to increase resources in juvenile probation departments. Similarly, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (formerly known as the Texas Youth Commission), would need to expand its capacity to some extent though not nearly as much: 98% of youthful offenders are dealt with in local juvenile justice programs; just 2% ever end up in TJJD's "secured programming," said Mike Griffiths, TJJD executive director.

    Nevertheless, keeping 17-year-olds in the adult system carries with it its own set of challenges including significant financial burdens placed on county jails by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which went into effect in 2012. The Act requires that youthful offenders be physically separated at all times from adults in jail and prison facilities, without confining them to de facto isolation. While the law doesn't include an enforcement mechanism, not complying with its provisions does open jail and prison operators up to serious liability issues, stakeholders told the committee. Moreover, segregating jail operations to comply with the provisions, as does Dallas County, said Sheriff Lupe Valdez, costs lots of money. In Travis County, youthful offenders are housed together in "direct supervision units" where they remain out of their cells and are watched by corrections officers. The county is currently in the process of doing a study to figure out how to house the juveniles in their own unit while still keeping them in their proper risk classification level, Wade wrote.

    Not every witness supported the proposed change. Nueces County D.A. Mark Skurka told the committee that his "informal" survey of people in his jurisdiction reveals little support for the change. Regardless what science says about a 17-year-old brain not being fully developed, Skurka said the crimes these youthful offenders commit are real. They're not making "silly mistakes," he said. "I don't care what you say, they're doing adult crimes."

    But the majority of the witnesses including veteran jurists, juvenile defenders, and probation officials appeared to agree that the change should be made though carefully, with a methodical implementation period, so as not to create any weighty unfunded mandate for counties.

    Ultimately, the question is "how do we want to treat our children?" asked Randy Turner, chief juvenile probation officer for Tarrant County. "How do we address the needs of the children of Texas?" These questions, he said, "merit serious review."

    Against the Grain of Justice

    Report: Many Youths Still Detained for Minor Infractions

    By Aamena Ahmed
    March 20, 2014

    While the number of youths in confinement for noncriminal offenses has dropped by 52 percent nationally in the past decade, thousands, including many young Texans, remain in detention for minor misbehavior like truancy and curfew violations, according to a report released this week by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

    Though weve seen progress in reducing reliance on incarceration for these behaviors, far too many youth are placed in secure detention for crimes that pose no threat to public safety, Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the foundation and co-author of the report, said in a statement.

    The report suggests that a greater focus on intervention by the community where families, schools and churches can act as sources of support and strengthen social ties is a better way to handle youths who have committed minor offenses. That could be addressed in part by Senate Bill 1114, passed last year by the Legislature, which allows for more intervention and corrective measures from a school in certain cases rather than having to use the criminal justice system.

    In recent years, Texas has seen a sharp decline in the number of students confined in county detention centers away from their communities. In 2005, the number was around 5,000, Levin said. It has dropped 74 percent since then.

    Still, Texas accounts for more than 15 percent of the confinements nationally, with 1,300 juveniles being held in detention facilities for status offenses, which are nonviolent misbehaviors, such as causing disruption in schools, running away from home or consuming tobacco or alcohol, Levin said.

    Many status offenders are children from troubled homes who have faced traumatic childhoods, or who have mental health and special education needs.

    Incarceration is the last place where many of these youth should be, Levin said in the statement. This punishment not only fails to fit the crime, it increases the likelihood that teens will grow up to be serious offenders.

    While confinement can help in certain situations, such as when a family cannot properly look after the child, according to the report, removing students from their friends and family and placing them in an environment where they are surrounded by juvenile offenders can put them at a higher risk for developing behaviors of higher-risk youth, such as anti-social perspectives and gang affiliation.

    Its important to ensure that kids who have committed status offenses are mixing with regular kids, too, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director at Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for juvenile justice reform.

    Confining students away from their communities can also make it harder for them to re-enter society, increasing their likelihood of being detained again, the report stated.

    Status offenders in Texas can be confined in a state or county detention facility for a maximum of 24 hours, with one provision violation of a valid court order by the youth allowing for the possibility of a 72-hour detention, according to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. But in Texas, truancy is considered a criminal offense, not just a status violation. Students accused of truancy have to be tried in juvenile courts and can be subject to stricter confinement, resulting in a period of 10 to 15 days a period that is subject to further extension by the court.

    We are ridiculously out of step in the way we handle truancy, Fowler said. Those kids should be receiving other services doing the things that kids should be doing, rather than being locked up in a facility with juveniles who commit real criminal offenses.

    Lance White, the juvenile program manager in the criminal justice division at the office of the governor, said some county detention centers "are not well-versed on the law in status offenses" and have mistakenly held youths charged with status offenses longer than they are legally allowed.

    Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said if the department finds out about such cases, it will investigate and work with the county or other jurisdiction to address the issue.

    Whenever there are any changes in the law, we try to compile them and educate the counties and other entities that confine students for status offenses, Hurley said.

    TJJD facilities do not take in any students for confinement on status offenses, Hurley said. They only detain students who are sent to them by a juvenile court for having committed a felony. Students confined for status offenses are held at the county level.

    Texas is also one of 33 states that allow judges to order that a youth be confined for violating a court order. The law allows for a status offense to turn into a criminal offense if the juvenile does not follow the original court order.

    Report: Many Youths Still Detained for Minor Infractions

    MARCH 11, 2014

    Should Texas Raise The Age At Which Youth Are Criminally Liable As Adults?

    The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 25 will hold a Public Hearing on an important and potentially contentious topic from their list of interim charges: "Study the classification of 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system of Texas."

    The issue arises frequently because the feds don't categorize youth as adults until they're 18, which has caused disjunctures, for example, regarding capital sentencing and various other topics.

    Also, advancements in brain science call into question whether 17 or even 18 year olds have fully developed cognitive functions that make them as accountable as, say, someone in their 20s - as a practical matter, if not a legal one.

    Juvenile Justice

    Closing a troubled symbol of Texas Juvenile Justice

    Ebb and flow of policy reflected in long, disturbing history at Corsicana
    By Maurice Chammah
    February 12, 2014

    The Corsicana State Home Bob Belcher/Corsicana Daily Sun

    When the Texas Juvenile Justice Department released a report in June 2013 recommending the closure of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Facility, the authors presented an arresting image. The campus in Corsicana, Texas, they wrote, continues to pose a risk to the vulnerable youth population it serves as hazardous debris and glass are continually unearthed after rain or strong winds. The roughly 90 youths at the facility, most of whom had been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses and who had committed crimes, were using the glass and debris to "harm themselves." Many of the buildings, the authors noted, "warrant complete replacement."

    When Corsicana was finally emptied by the Texas Legislature in December 2013, many in the world of juvenile justice reform already viewed the facility as dangerous and unsalvageable. A federal Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that in 2008, 23 percent of Corsicana inmates reported having had sexual relations with staff. Violence was up as well; in 2012, the facility was responsible for 32 percent of all violent incidents in the juvenile justice agency, despite housing only 10 percent of the agencys youths.

    About this story, click Here.
    This story was reported by Maurice Chammah for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


    Dec. 11, 2013

    Watch the Trailer for New Movie "Kids for Cash," Featuring Juvenile Law Center's Marsha Levick and Bob Schwartz!

    We are excited to share with you the newly released movie trailer for "Kids for Cash," featuring Juvenile Law Center's own Marsha Levick and Bob Schwartz. This critically acclaimed film will be premiering in theaters in February 2014.

    The film chronicles the infamous Luzerne County, PA "kids-for-cash" case and is a powerful indictment of America's love affair with zero tolerance policies, our destructive school-to-prison pipeline and misuse of the juvenile justice system.

    A Day With A Texas Juvenile Probation Officer

    In 2010, there were 1,809 certified juvenile
    probation officers in Texas, each of whom
    processed an average of 18 cases

    By Jessica Priest
    Victoria Advocate

    VICTORIA, Texas You can only walk a few steps inside the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center before your eyes fall onto one of the many black-framed motivational posters on display.

    "Destiny," one poster near the entrance reads in turquoise, capital letters, "is not a matter of chance but a matter of choices."

    Juvenile probation officer Jennifer Zeplin and her colleagues ascribe to that ideal.

    This week is North America Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision week, which is observed annually to recognize people, like Zeplin, who work in these fields.

    On Monday morning during a staff meeting, Zeplin and her coworkers pored over their calendars.

    In a way, the planning was futile.

    Zeplin's plans unraveled almost as quickly as she formed them. A distraught mother called around 10 a.m.

    Her 17-year-old son, who was charged with assault, missed curfew. She thinks he may be drinking again.

    "I should have called you before now," the woman said.

    "You did the right thing," Zeplin replied in a soothing voice as her fingers skim through a large file cabinet nearby.

    Seconds later, a manila folder landed with a thud on her desk.

    Zeplin didn't foresee handcuffing the boy when he arrived later that day for a regularly-scheduled interview. And frankly, she didn't want to, but she upholds the rules of the court, which mandates he must be home by a designated time and drug- and alcohol-free.

    Zeplin hoped that whatever was in that file - along with a court-ordered, 10-day stay in the detention facility behind her office - will help her turn his life around.

    In 2010, there were 1,809 certified juvenile probation officers in Texas, each of whom processed an average of 18 cases, according to the state's Juvenile Justice Department.

    Victoria County, meanwhile, has eight field juvenile probation officers and three administrative juvenile probation officers, including the Chief Pama Hencerling, Assistant Chief Paul Zuniga and Juvenile Probation Supervisor Suzanne Tristan.

    They work with anywhere from 100-200 juveniles, Zeplin said.

    The job is often believed to be a thankless one, Hencerling said.

    "One, it takes a special person to work with a juvenile at all," she said, "but you can imagine adding kids that have problems in their lives, whether it be criminal problems, substance abuse problems or whatever along with the maturing process, and it gets really complicated."

    Zeplin, who already is raising two children, works with seven kids, but at one point as many as 29 were under her watchful eye.

    "The first thing I'll tell my kiddos is, 'I'm going to be like your mama, you know? I'm gonna be right there. You do something, believe me, I'm going to find out. And if I have to find out from somebody else that you did something wrong, then we're going to have problems,'" she said.

    And like any proud mama, she boasts about their accomplishments, especially because a disheartening 50 percent of the kids drop out of school.

    On hard days, Zeplin likes to fish out a green thank-you card from the belly of her wooden desk. The bubbly handwriting on the card belongs to a 16-year-old girl, the same girl who used to fling not only obscenities but also fists at Zeplin.

    "Thank you for everything and not giving up on me, like almost everybody around me has," the girl, who was charged with possession of marijuana, wrote.

    Also, in March, another strange but uplifting thing happened. One of Zeplin's 12-year-old juveniles hopped on a freight train and then walked from the Caterpillar plant to the detention facility at 97 Foster Field Drive.

    He rang the detention center's gate bell again and again until a surprised juvenile supervision officer agreed to call "Mrs. Jennifer," even though it was already the middle of the night.

    "Mrs. Jennifer listens," the boy said, simply.

    "Usually, the kids want to get out, not in," Zeplin said Monday, chuckling. "Stuff like that makes your job worthwhile."

    McClatchy-Tribune News Service

    A day with a Texas juvenile probation officer

    Watch Video Here

    July 1, 2013

    Parole Officers, Youth-Prison Workers Busted In Separate Crackdowns

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    Four Texas parole officers were jailed in Houston on Monday as authorities began the first arrests in a continuing, year-long federal and state investigation into allegations that the officers took payoffs to ignore drug-trafficking and other illegal activity by recently freed convicts.

    The news came as officials with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department announced that three employees at its troubled South Texas lockup, the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, on charges of official oppression and tampering with records over allegations that youths were abused by guards.

    In Houston, U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson said the indictments allege that the four arrested parole officers took took bribes averaging $1,000 to allow them to continue dealing drugs. On one occasion, the payoff was $3,000.

    The arrested officers identified as April L. Carson, 35, of Missouri City, and Crystal M. Washington, 52; Darlene J. Muhammad, 42, and Ernie Rogers, 56, all of Houston were to be arraigned on federal charges, according to authorities.

    They said bond was not immediately set.

    Officials said the investigation is continuing, hinting that other arrests are likely.

    Federal authorities said the four officers worked at two Houston parole offices, where allegations of bribery and exchange of sexual favors had been under investigation for some time.

    If convicted, Magidson said each defendant faces up to 20 years imprisonment and a possible $250,000 fine.

    Bruce Toney, inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said is agency worked with four other agencies on the case, including the FBI, Houston Police and the Texas Rangers.

    The allegation is the officers accepted money for not doing their jobs, and thats against the law, he said, noting that the investigation began with a tip from the office of state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that oversees the state prisons and parole programs.

    We are committed to rooting out this type of corruption.

    Brad Livingston, executive director of the criminal justice agency that supervises parolees, said his agency fully support (authorities) efforts to investigate, arrest and ultimately prosecute employees that are suspected of breaking the law.

    Whitmire said Monday evening his office was tipped by an inmate who said he was being shaken down for money and sex They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Zero tolerance.

    In a separate case, juvenile-justice system director Mike Griffiths today announced the arrests of three employees at the Evins lockup, including security director Pete Martinez. The other two employees were identified as Juan Tamez and Julian Fuentes, both correctional officers.

    The Evins lockup has been plagued by gang violence and assaults by youths on staff and other youths for nearly two years.

    Griffiths said Tamez and Fuentes, both alleged to have used excessive force on teen-aged lawbreakers incarcerated at the lockup, face official oppression charges, and Martinez is accused of falsifying records concerning the abuse.

    He said that three youths who were identified as victims did not sustain serious injuries.

    In addition to the three employees who face criminal charges, seven other Evins staff members have been suspended for having knowledge of the alleged abuse but failing to report it, according to Griffiths.

    Griffiths said one of the abuse cases was reported to his agency by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    These allegations are abhorrent and we will pursue all criminal and administrative remedies to the fullest extent, Griffiths said.

    Parole Officers, Youth-Prison Workers Busted In Separate Crackdowns

    June 15

    Senate OKs Life With Parole for 17-Year-Old Murderers

    The Senate on Friday approved a measure that would require judges and juries to sentence 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder to life in prison with the chance of parole after 40 years.

    Gov. Rick Perry expanded the agenda of the special session to include legislation establishing a mandatory sentence of life with parole for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder. Prosecutors have said they need lawmakers to address sentencing options for those criminals after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that juveniles could not be sentenced to mandatory life without parole.

    The measure that senators passed Friday in a 27-0 vote - Senate Bill 23, by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place - now goes to the House.

    In Texas, 17-year-olds have faced the same sentencing options as adults convicted of capital murder: the death penalty and life without parole. In 2005, the Supreme Court prohibited the death penalty for anyone younger than 18, deciding that the less-developed brains of juveniles render them less culpable for their behavior. That left only the possibility of life without parole as punishment for 17-year-olds found guilty of capital crimes.

    After last year's Miller v. Alabama ruling, prosecutors said they were left with no sentencing options for 17-year-old killers. Under SB 23, judges and juries would be required to hand down a sentence of life with the chance of parole after 40 years.

    Some senators raised concerns that SB 23 doesn't solve the constitutional problems presented in the Miller case, though. They say the court wanted judges and juries to have more options when they consider sentences for juveniles. "If what they were getting at was the 1-size-fits all, do you think this gets us back in court," state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked Huffman during debate on the Senate floor.

    Huffman, a former prosecutor and state criminal judge, said the bill addressed Texas' historic policy of being tough on "the more heinous offenders" while still addressing the court's concerns.

    "I do not think we're violating Miller by passing this legislation," she said.

    Huffman said there are 12 pending cases in Harris County involving 17-year-olds accused of murder. State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said that there are 27 juveniles currently serving sentences of life without the possibility parole and that SB 23 would allow Perry to commute those sentences to life with parole eligibility after 40 years.

    (source: Texas Tribune)

    Mental Illness Rates Rise In Youth Facilities

    By The Associated Press
    Published February 14, 2013

    A criminal justice expert has told lawmakers that rates of mental illness exceed gang affiliation among juveniles in Texas jails.

    The 2013 figures presented on Thursday show that 56 percent of young offenders have a diagnosed mental illness, compared to 39 percent in 2007.

    Michael Griffiths, the director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, says those rates now surpass the 54 percent rate of confirmed gang membership. The numbers reflect a shifting challenge for the agency, which admitted 1,073 youths into six secure facilities in 2012.

    Lawmakers are reviewing the rise of mental illness in a juvenile justice system that has been overhauled to shift the burden of early intervention onto local officials. Juvenile offenders in local lockups rose from 20 percent in 2007 to 37 percent last year.

    Read More

    FEBRUARY 10, 2013

    Texas High Court To Consider Whether SCOTUS' Miller Ruling On JUVIE LWOP Is Retroactive

    The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week agreed to hear arguments in Ex Parte Terrell to determine whether the Supreme Court's Miller v. Alabama - a case which banned life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles if lesser options weren't offered - applies retroactively in Texas. As I understand it, there were around 28 Texas prisoners convicted of capital murder at age 17 between 2005, when LWOP was made a sentencing option for adults, and 2009 when the Legislature eliminated life without parole for juveniles 16 and under. Currently, juveniles sentenced to capital life are eligible for parole after 40 years.

    For 17-year olds, though, who are tried as adults, there is presently no legal sentence available under Texas law. A 2005 statute made the death penalty and LWOP the only available sentences for adults convicted of capital murder, and for purposes of trying to kill them or incarcerate them for life, at least, Texas treats 17 year olds as adults. Or it did until the Supreme Court said that, for the most extreme sentencing purposes, they belonged in the juvenile category. The SCOTUS ruling prompted state courts, now including Texas, to reconsider their old juvie LWOP sentences, and the results have been all over the map. In Texas, this will be a case of first impression.

    Grits may try to carve out time to go hear oral arguments on this one, depending on when they are. I'm interested to hear how they handle this condundrum where Texas law and SCOTUS rulings have combined to leave no legal sentence available on the books for 17-year old capital murderers.

    As noted before, state Sen. Joan Huffman has filed legislation to address this question in a way that maximizes the most punitive sentencing options. SB 187 would make the only two sentencing options for juveniles convicted of capital murder "life" or "life without parole." That gives prosecutors an incredible plea bargaining hammer, just as the Lege did in 2005 by making LWOP the only alternative to a death sentence in capital cases. But prosecutors already have plenty of leverage to secure convictions. While I agree the law must change, Huffman's suggested fix needlessly expands the already growing and increasingly expensive bubble of prisoners serving life and LWOP sentences at TDCJ, part of a trend of the Calfornication of Texas prison sentences.

    Make me philosopher king and I'd just eliminate capital charges for both 17-year olds and juveniles charged as adults and see them all charged under regular murder statutes. Juries could still authorize a life sentence and decades down the line the parole board could assess their dangerousness. But eliminating the LWOP option would avoid the state having to revisit the statute again and again as SCOTUS fills out its Eighth Amendment jurisprudence on these questions. When SCOTUS eliminated all the available punishments for juveniles under Texas' capital statute, it should have made legislators reconsider these harsher-than-thou approaches.

    Life without parole for juveniles is inappropriately harsh and the cost-benefit analysis of lifetime incarceration beginning at 15, 16, or 17 makes no sense.

    Texas High Court To Consider Whether SCOTUS' Miller Ruling On JUVIE LWOP Is Retroactive

    Building Their Future: Youth Offenders Learn Woodworking, Life Skills In Lockup

    Friday January 11, 2013

    A teen at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department
    lockup in Mart works with a dual bevel sliding
    compound miter saw in the woodworking shop.
    Jerry Larson / Waco Tribune-Herald

    Two teenagers at the Texas Juvenile Justice
    Department lockup in Mart work on a childs
    chair in the woodworking shop.
    Jerry Larson / Waco Tribune-Herald

    Jesse Watkins, who runs the class, wants to
    partner with organizations in the community
    to get more scrap wood and project ideas
    the teens can complete and then donate.
    Jerry Larson / Waco Tribune-Herald

    In a small shop building at the state youth lockup in Mart, teenage boys who have gotten into trouble with the law are learning woodworking skills that officials hope can be put to good use for the community.

    Jesse Watkins, a former Waco Independent School District teacher and administrator who has enjoyed woodworking as a hobby for 25 years, is trying to reinvigorate the program at the Mart facility.

    He hopes to partner with organizations in the community to procure more scrap wood and gather ideas for projects the boys can complete and then donate.

    Learning woodworking has the potential to teach the boys vocational skills that eventually could help them land a job, Watkins said.

    But, more importantly, they learn virtues such as patience, perseverance and teamwork as they see a project through from start to finish, he said.

    They feel better about themselves because even though they are in a rough situation, they can still learn some good things, something that will help them in the future, Watkins said. It gives them confidence.

    Looking For Partners

    The program is looking for nonprofit organizations that would like items made by the boys, Watkins said.

    That could include wooden signs, small pieces of furniture, clocks or decorative items such as photo frames, he said.

    The facility, which is operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, also is interested in partnering with local businesses willing to donate scrap wood, Watkins said.

    Although the state provides some money for purchasing materials for the woodworking shop, the youths could tackle more and bigger projects if supplies are donated, he said.

    Between 20 to 30 boys participate in woodworking each semester, Watkins said. To be eligible for the class, they must have good grades and behavior.

    Many of the youths never have tried their hand at woodworking before. They start by learning basic skills, including how to safely use different types of equipment, Watkins said.

    After that, they begin experimenting with their skills and eventually work up to completing projects. The most recent round involved Christmas presents for their families.

    Several students completed small rocking chairs for younger relatives, Watkins said. Others made signs with their family names or created other decorative items.

    One student, an 18-year-old from Dallas, made a miniature stable to house his familys Nativity display. His mother already had Nativity figures but was excited to get something to put them in, he said.

    I like being creative, said the youth, whom the Tribune-Herald is not naming to comply with state privacy laws governing youth lockups.

    Another student taking the class this semester, a 16-year-old from Waco, crafted a sign with his familys last name. He said his mother loved the Christmas present.

    Shes excited Im doing something other than acting a fool in here, the boy said, adding that he is considering a career where he could put his woodworking skills to use.

    Building their future: Youth offenders learn woodworking, life skills in lockup

    Jan. 6, 2013


    Juvenile-Justice Corrections Program Trains dogs, Youths
    Brownwood girls benefit from one-of-a-kind project in a state lockup.

    Ronald W. Erdrich/Abilene Reporter-News
    A student walks her dog to her room Dec. 21, 2012
    at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional
    Complex in Brownwood. Select students can enroll
    in a program that matches them up with canines from
    Corinne T. Smith Animal Shelter which they train
    for adoption.

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    Brownwood At age 13, Jacqueline firmly tells Simply, a dachshund-Chihuahua mix, to heel, stay, then pray. The tan-colored little hound follows each command, then gives her young trainer a high five.

    Simply gets a treat.

    Jacqueline Gets A Lesson About Life.

    Shes taught me how not to give up on myself, said the girl, serving time for manslaughter. She has served 15 months and is to be out by May. Simplys taught me how to set goals, how to achieve goals.

    Dog and girl are part of a little-known pet adoption program that celebrates its third anniversary this month. PAWS, or Pairing Achievement with Service, operates entirely within the tall security fences at the Ron Jackson Juvenile Corrections Complex in this West Texas city.

    Officials say the program, the only one like it in the Texas Juvenile Justice Departments six lockups, so far has helped turn around the lives of 41 lawbreaking teen girls and saved 67 dogs from a likely fate of being euthanized.

    In all, eight offenders of the 97 at the states only lockup for girls participate in the 12-week therapeutic program that April Jameson, the facilitys interim superintendent, said has the lowest rates for misbehavior of any type. We really dont have any problems in the PAWS dorm, she said.

    Holli Fenton, a dog lover (she has six) who is the dorm supervisor and overseer of the program, said both the girls and the dogs are carefully screened for compatibility before they can participate. The dogs live in cages in each girls cell-like room, and the girls are responsible for feeding, grooming, exercising and training the canines for adoption. They even do a re-entry plan for their dog, Fenton said.

    If the girls successfully complete the initial training program, they can ask to stay on as mentors to other girls.

    Were able to use a canine as an example for the girls, she said. They have to have teamwork to accomplish things with the dog. They learn patience when they train it. They learn how to organize and redirect themselves.

    The girls have to chart everything: when the dogs are fed, watered and trained as well as when they receive treats and are exercised. The dogs come from a local animal shelter. Costs are covered through donations, officials said.

    Full names of the girls are kept secret by state law because they are minors.

    Details of their crimes arent available for the same reason.

    On a recent afternoon, in a day room adorned with youth paintings of dogs that have come through the program, Jacqueline and two other girls put their dogs through the paces, showing assorted tricks and skills they have learned.

    Looney, a blue tick heeler mix, demonstrated how to stay, speak and gimme some skin a doggie version of a high-five. Junior, a border collie mix, falls down and rolls over at a bang command. Simply performed heel and other commands on a leash, including a short-legged high-five.

    Jacqueline has trained three dogs.

    Sierra, 17, who has been at Brownwood seven months, has trained five dogs so far. She is serving an indeterminate sentence for violating her probation for making a terroristic threat.

    I was very skittish when I first came in, she explained. This program has showed me how hard I have to work to accomplish a goal. Now, I want to become a Marine MP and work with canines.

    Holly, 14, who has been here more than a year and a half for a crime she declines to discuss, has trained 12 canines.

    The program, said Holly, has taught her how to cope with my frustrations. It has taught me patience. When she gets out, Holly wants to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

    This is a program where the girls can learn life skills through training these dogs, said Mike Griffiths, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Its a small program that pays big dividends for the girls and the dogs.

    The dividends include allowing the dogs to be trained to erase their bad habits, or to at least teach them how to manage their problems and keep their actions in check, so they might be adopted into new homes, he said.

    And for the girls? Its much the same, Griffiths said.

    He points to a hand-painted sign on one wall, next to the dogs, that reads:
    Growing Great Girls.

    BROWNWOOD LOCKUP: At a glance
    Name: Ron Jackson State Juvenile Corrections Complex
    Population: 97 girls
    Capacity: 284
    Opened: 1969 as Brownwood State School
    History: Originally a state juvenile facility for girls. Became co-ed in the 1990s, but was downsized to hold only girls again about two years ago.

    Juvenile-Justice Corrections Program Trains dogs, Youths


    LHN - Special - Alcalde Kids in Cages
    Published on Nov 13, 2012 by longhornnetwork


    UT lecturer and juvenile justice reformer Michele Deitch, whose class was recently voted the most valuable in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, says Texas prisons are no place for kids. Now she and her students are changing laws and saving lives.

    Parents' Lawsuit Spreads Blame In Jailed Teen's Alleged Rape

    Danny Hall and his wife, Michelle, have sued the Harris County
    Juvenile Justice Center, contending jailers at the facility covered
    for Robert Emerson Robinson, when he would visit their 15-year-old
    daughter. He is charged in the girl's assault.
    Photo: Billy Smith II, Staff/Houston Chronicle

    By Anita Hassan
    November 30

    Robert Emerson Robinson, 28,
    was charged and fired.
    Photo: Harris County Sheriff's Office/HC

    For months, no one stopped or questioned Robert Emerson Robinson for leaving his post as a jailer on the boys unit at the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center and going to the girls' floor. Instead, many of the jailer's co-workers covered for him when he did leave.

    These allegations are outlined in a civil lawsuit by the parents of the 15-year-old girl, who was housed at the juvenile detention center and allegedly sexually assaulted by Robinson in May.

    The teen told authorities Robinson lured her into sexual acts by providing her with candy while she was housed in the facility at 1200 Congress.

    Officials fired the 28-year-old jailer about two months before he was charged with sexual assault of a child in October.

    Danny and Michelle Hall, the girl's parents, said they filed the suit this week because they are concerned that proper procedures are not being implemented at the juvenile detention center regarding interaction between male jailers and juvenile girls. They want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else's child.

    "The fact that Harris County allowed this predator to wander around the juvenile detention center unsupervised, we can only suspect that there are more victims not only from this gentleman, but potentially from other people," said Keith Lapeze, the Halls' attorney.

    Officials with the juvenile probation department had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment, said spokeswoman Kendall Mayfield. She did not return calls for comment regarding whether any other jailers or employees were fired or disciplined or about results of any internal investigations.

    Harris County Juvenile Judge Michael Schneider, who is on the county's juvenile board, said he believed the department launched an investigation into the incident and was open about bringing it to the board. "We're more focused on trying to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.

    Caught On Camera

    According to court documents, the teen told police investigators Robinson entered her cell and sexually assaulted her May 23, the night before she was transferred to a state-operated facility. Cameras at the detention center show Robinson visiting the girl after the lights were turned off inside her cell that day.

    When he was interviewed by authorities, Robinson, who worked as a jailer for nearly six years, said he made a mistake, confessed to the sexual activity and admitted the teen was truthful, court records state.

    Robinson was fired Aug. 7. He was charged with sexual assault of a child under 17 and released from jail on $30,000 bail. His criminal defense attorney, Edward Chernoff, could not be reached for comment.

    The lawsuit was brought against Robinson, Thomas Brooks, executive director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, and Harris County. It alleges that the jailer visited the Halls' daughter at least three times a week for about two months, offering her candy and food to manipulate her into performing sexual acts.

    Challenging Policies

    Each time Robinson, assigned as a corrections officer on the boys' unit, "had no trouble accessing the girls unit or having fellow colleagues cover for him when he decided to pay 'special visits,' to the (teen)," the lawsuit stated.

    According to the department's operating procedures, opposite gender supervision is not allowed when detainees are showering, being physically searched, disrobing or when personal hygiene practices require the presence of a jailer.

    The portion of the procedures given to the Houston Chronicle by the department do not appear to specify any other policies regarding opposite gender supervision.

    "One would think that you wouldn't allow adult males access to minor females, if that's not a procedure or policy, that should be in our mind," Lapeze said.

    The Halls are shocked that their daughter could be harmed while she was in the care of a county facility. "I thought she would go in there and be just fine," Danny Hall said. "It got worse."

    Parents' Lawsuit Spreads Blame In Jailed Teen's Alleged Rape

    Oct. 26, 2012

    Melee at youth lockup underscores stubborn problems at juvenile agency

    By Mike Ward
    American-Statesman Staff

    On Oct. 8, groups of rock-throwing youths broke windows, climbed onto the roofs of dorms and had to be pepper-sprayed to be brought under control at the Gainesville State School after they gained access to two security control panels and unlocked doors at the juvenile facility.

    The two-hour disturbance caused thousands of dollars in damage at the North Texas lockup but was reported to legislative leaders just three days ago, weeks after it occurred, sparking new questions about whether violence and gang-related troubles at Texas six youth correctional centers are even close to being fixed.

    On Friday, facing new legislative pressure to curb such disruptions, officials with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department confirmed that they are bringing in a team from the adult prison system to help them beef up security systemwide. They said they also have hired a new security chief and are considering a policy change to group older youths together at one lockup to better control troublemakers.

    Obviously, what happened is not acceptable, said Mike Griffiths, the agencys executive director since August. Our responsibility is safety and security. We are changing things for the better, but we cant just flip a switch and say its fixed right now.

    Instead, legislative and agency leaders said, the episode highlights deeper problems: high staff turnover that has put less seasoned guards on the front lines much sooner than previously; difficulty retaining and hiring staffers because of talk among legislative leaders about further downsizing; and an older, more violent population of incarcerated youths who are harder to control.

    A copy of an incident report obtained by the American-Statesman shows that 13 youths gained access to a control room at Gainesville, unlocked doors for other youths and climbed onto the roofs of three dorms. The youths used rocks off the roof, breaking windows on dorm and the security van front windshield, the report states.

    Several attempts were made to get them to comply with the request to come down, youth refused, the report says. After pepper spray was deployed, the youths surrendered.

    Youth caused considerable damage, vandalizing several rooms and breaking so many dorm windows at least 70 that officials estimated it would take 80 hours to replace the glass.

    Citing surveillance video footage, the report details how youths had unfettered access to hallways inside at least one dorm before the disturbance began, even though one guard was occasionally present; how one youth used a plastic spoon to open the locked door to a room containing a security panel that controls door locks; and how youths involved in the incident were not wearing required uniforms.

    The report and another internal memo obtained by the American-Statesman blamed poor supervision by guards and a lack of training. The memo also said that too many members of the same gang were housed in the same dorm with their leader and that a number of related teens were housed together at the same unit, generally a no-no in corrections.

    Griffiths and other officials said youths involved in the episode have been disciplined; one was moved to a high-security lockup for troublemakers called the Phoenix Program. But the officials said they did not know how many employees have been fired or disciplined.

    The disturbance at Gainesville is similar to those cited last spring after an investigation of chronic drug and gang activity at the Giddings State School and other state-run juvenile lockups. Such problems have been cited repeatedly over the past five years as the department has undergone repeated reorganizations and a merger after a sex-abuse scandal in 2007 brought sweeping reforms by the Legislature.

    The state now runs just six lockups, half as many as five years ago. The lockups hold about 1,100 youths, down from nearly 5,000.

    Griffiths acknowledged the problems at Gainesville, saying much of the staff has worked there less than a year. He said it is hard to hire, train and retain employees when the agency faces possible further downsizing by the Legislature next spring as part of a continuing shift of youth corrections to community-based programs.

    Griffiths noted that Gainesville is the states largest remaining youth lockup, housing 270 teenagers, many of them 17- and 18-year-olds. There are fewer places to put youths from the same urban gangs, so theres going to be more of them together, he said, adding that officials are considering moving older youths to one lockup.

    House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, an architect of the reforms at the agency, said the Gainesville disturbance is disconcerting, especially since the youth took over two control rooms.

    Even so, Im convinced we have the right person in there to get this agency fixed once and for all, Madden said of Griffiths, a former Dallas County juvenile probation chief.

    Melee at youth lockup underscores stubborn problems at juvenile agency

    Report: Local Youth Programs Need More Funds, Oversight

    By Brandi Grissom
    October 17, 2012

    Local juvenile probation departments are doing a better job and spending less money than state lockups when it comes to treating and rehabilitating troubled youths, according to a report released Wednesday by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. But the reports authors say that counties need more money and more oversight from the state to ensure the progress continues.

    These county programs are doing a lot of really innovative things, said Benet Magnuson, policy attorney at the criminal justice coalition. They are doing it on shoestring budgets, and they are really finding ways to connect kids to community resources.

    In 2007, following reports of physical and sexual abuse at some of the states secure youth facilities, lawmakers began overhauling the juvenile justice system. In the years since, legislators have continued the reforms with the goal of keeping more youths in community programs close to their homes instead of sending them to far-flung state facilities. The population at state facilities has dropped precipitously, from about 5,000 in 2006 to fewer than 1,200 now. The state shuttered facilities, and now only six of the original 15 institutions remain open.

    As reports of renewed troubles at the remaining state facilities this time violence perpetrated by youths on one another and on staff have developed in the last year, advocates expect lawmakers to continue efforts to keep juveniles away from state lockups. To maintain effectiveness, though, the report warns that funding for county programs, and particularly for mental health treatment, must increase.

    We have to get more funds to these community programs, and we have to increase oversight to protect youth in facilities, Magnuson said in a news release. If we do that, well have the best juvenile justice system in the country.

    The counties implemented a variety of alternatives to detention programs that kept youths out of facilities and saved millions of dollars.

    Commitments to state secure facilities fell in Harris County from 630 youths in 2006 to only 96 youths in 2011. In Dallas County, commitments dropped from 320 youths to only 100 youths during the same period, according to the report.

    At the same time, the report said, the average daily population in Harris Countys secure detention decreased from 257 in 2007 to 194 in 2011. In Dallas, the daily detention population fell from 308 to 215 during that time.

    Vikrant Reddy, a policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative Austin think tank, said the report echoes findings from a study his group did last year, which found that the crime rate among youths declined along with the incarceration rate.

    In August 2011, the TPPF reported, 9.1 percent fewer criminal cases were pending against youths compared with August 2007, and the juvenile arrest rate dropped significantly from 2007 to 2009.

    Programs for juveniles are better handled at the local level than the state level, Reddy said. They do all of it while spending less money.

    While county programs are improving the outcome for many youths, the criminal justice coalition reported serious concerns about the prevalence of mental health issues and trauma among youths.

    A third of youths supervised by county probation departments have a confirmed mental illness, according to the report, and more than half of youths in the juvenile justice system have experienced significant trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse.

    County juvenile probation chiefs ranked mental health services as the highest need for increased funding at their departments, according to the report.

    I dont think anybody who even has a cursory awareness of who these kids are and who their families are would say there isnt a high prevalence of mental health issues, said David Reilly, chief probation officer at the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department.

    As legislators have moved to keep more youths in their home counties, they have also provided money to care for them. Reilly said he and other probation chiefs fear that the pendulum will swing the other direction and funds will begin to dry up.

    We hope that sense would prevail, that its something we need to keep growing, not reducing, he said.

    The report also urged state policymakers to implement more oversight of county probation departments.

    Some counties are doing a great job, which shows it is possible, Magnuson said. And theres a great opportunity for [the Texas Juvenile Justice Department] to provide guidance to make sure all counties are operating at that level.

    In county juvenile facilities, according to the report, Texas youths were physically restrained 5,333 times and placed in seclusion 37,071 times in 2011. The coalition also found wide variation among the counties policies regarding the use of seclusions and restraints, which can be particularly problematic for youths with mental illness and trauma. But Magnuson said the current auditing system does not adequately ensure accountability.

    It makes a lot of sense to keep strong oversight of them, Magnuson said. No facility is perfect.

    State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, an architect of the juvenile justice reforms, said its a no-brainer to continue and even expand county programs that are working. And he said the states existing policy of allowing the funds to follow the youths, whether they are sent to the state or to a local facility, is likely to continue.

    As for calls for additional oversight of county facilities, Whitmire said, the status quo is fine.

    Theres plenty of overview and accountability by the state, he said. It sounds like theyre just looking for an issue.

    When lawmakers come back to the Capitol in January, Whitmire said he hopes to see the trend of keeping youths in their home counties continue. Juveniles who enter the justice system mostly come from urban areas, where they have better access to the mental and physical health and educational resources they need to get and stay out of trouble, he said.

    In fact, Whitmire said, the population at state facilities has dwindled so far that three of the remaining six lockups could likely be shuttered. Dozens of beds in those facilities are currently unused because counties are doing a better job with the youths under their supervision.

    Its just nuts that were currently running facilities way short of capacity for the sole purpose of continuing the economic impact of those facilities, he said.

    Report: Local Youth Programs Need More Funds, Oversight

    Rights Groups: Ban Solitary Confinement of Youths

    Two of the nation's leading advocates for prisoners' rights
    said state governments should abolish the use of solitary
    confinement for offenders under 18, whether as a punitive
    or protective measure.
    (AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, James D. DeCamp)

    AP National Writer
    October 10, 2012 (AP)

    State governments should abolish the use of solitary confinement for offenders under 18, whether as a punitive or protective measure, two of America's leading advocates for prisoners' rights said in report Wednesday.

    Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said brief periods of isolation may be needed as a security measure. However, they contend that longer spans of solitary confinement can cause serious psychological and physical harm to young people, including heightened risk of suicide.

    Solitary confinement of adults also can be harmful, the report said. "But the potential damage to young people, who do not have the maturity of an adult and are at a particularly vulnerable, formative stage of life, is much greater."

    The report, "Growing Up Locked Down," said lack of detailed state data made it impossible to estimate the number of juveniles subjected to solitary confinement and other forms of isolation at any given time. But it described the practice as widespread, notably among juveniles held in adult facilities.

    The report cited psychiatric studies and medical experts warning of the risks that solitary confinement could pose to juveniles. It included input from 49 people who spent time in jails or prisons as minors and described spending at least a month in solitary before turning 18.

    "The only thing left to do is go crazy just sit and talk to the walls," a youth confined in Florida was quoted as saying. "Screaming, throwing stuff around I feel like I am alone, like no one cares about me. Sometimes I feel like, why am I even living?"

    The report's author, human rights researcher Ian Kysel, acknowledged that young people can present serious challenges for corrections officials both as potential rule-breakers and as potential victims of older inmates.

    "Officials may need to use limited periods of segregation and isolation to protect young people from other inmates or even from themselves," he said. "But the extremely stark conditions of solitary confinement that we found across the country, isolation for 22-24 hours a day, often for weeks or months, harm young people in ways that are different than if they were adults."

    His report says youths shouldn't be serving time in adult jails and prisons, and instead should be at juvenile facilities where staff trained to deal with young people could find alternative ways to address disciplinary and security problems.

    "Punitive schemes can be reorganized to stress immediate and proportionate interventions and to strictly limit and regulate any short-term isolation as a rare exception," the report says.

    For now, however, many state and local corrections agencies do house some juveniles in adult facilities, and options for dealing with problems may be limited by lack of space and resources.

    Daron Hall, president of the American Correctional Association, is also county sheriff in Nashville, Tenn., and oversees a 4,000-bed jail system that only has 20 beds set aside for juveniles.

    "When you have fights, you're limited in your ability to separate people without putting them in what you'd call isolation," he said. "You can't move them into adult unit, so you start running out of options."

    Once in isolation in the Nashville system, the offender gets more attention from the staff, not less including visits from chaplains and mental health professionals, Hall said. He traced that hands-on approach to a suicide of a young prisoner about 15 years ago who apparently was distraught being placed in solitary confinement.

    "It better be important enough to separate someone, because you're going to spend more time and money on them," said Hall. "We need to be sure they're not harming themselves."

    Hall acknowledged, however, that some corrections agencies, for example in rural areas, might lack the resources to take this hands-on approach.

    Martin Horn, executive director of New York State Sentencing Commission and formerly the top corrections official in New York City and in Pennsylvania, said he opposed any sort of "throw them in the hole" policies that involve rigid isolation and sensory deprivation.

    "But we have to be very careful not to deprive officials of necessary tools," he said. "There are and always will be predatory individuals in custody, including youngsters, who can prey on other youngsters. Sometimes physical separation may be the only resort."

    He said any decision to isolate a minor in custody should entail extra efforts to "keep them connected to the world, to their family, to social and intellectual stimulation."

    Michelle Mason, an attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said states should move aggressively to stop placing any juveniles in adult facilities, even if they are charged with adult crimes. This step would make it easier to find alternatives to the use of isolation, she said.

    "A tremendous number of these youths have mental problems," she said. "They're already a very fragile population, and doing something that makes them more at risk is ludicrous."

    According to the new report, New York City was among the jurisdictions making extensive use of punitive segregation for juveniles held at its Rikers Island jail complex.

    On Wednesday, Corrections Commissioner Dora Schriro said her department was adopting a new strategy of short-term "time outs" also known as temporary cell restriction that should dramatically decrease the use of solitary confinement.

    The report by Kysel is the latest in a series of appeals for a halt to solitary confinement of minors.

    Last year, the United Nations' investigator on torture, Juan Mendez, urged a complete ban on the practice. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry endorsed that position in April, and said any youth confined in isolation for more than 24 hours should be evaluated by a mental health professional.

    Several states have been grappling with controversies and lawsuits related to solitary confinement of juveniles.

    Earlier this year, Mississippi authorities settled a 2010 lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center with an agreement to stop placing minors in solitary confinement for more than 20 hours at a time.

    The ACLU also sued in Montana in 2009 over the treatment of a mentally ill 17-year-old boy placed in solitary confinement at the Montana State Prison. A settlement was reached in April regulating the amount of time juveniles can be placed in isolation without a top-level review of the case.

    West Virginia's Division of Juvenile Services has partially settled a lawsuit over the treatment of juvenile offenders. Under the terms, the agency agreed that young offenders should not be isolated as often and should be quickly assessed by a counselor.

    In Illinois, authorities trying to fend off an ACLU lawsuit said they would cut back on the practice of long-term solitary confinement for juveniles. According to the suit, some youths were being kept in solitary for up to three months.

    Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/
    ACLU: http://www.aclu.org/
    American Corrections Association: http://www.aca.org/

    David Crary can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

    Rights Groups: Ban Solitary Confinement of Youths

    Juvenile officer jailed for alleged beating of inmate

    October 5, 2012

    A local juvenile corrections officer faces charges after state investigators allege he beat a 17-year-old Mart inmate, punching him at least 12 times in the head, according to court documents.

    Bryant J. Davis, 20, was charged with official oppression and booked into the McLennan County Jail on Wednesday.

    He was released after posting a $2,000 bond.

    According to an arrest warrant affidavit, an investigator with the Office of Inspector General launched an inquiry into the alleged incident at the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart after the youth complained he was assaulted by Davis on Saturday.

    Surveillance video of the incident shows Davis hitting the youth at least 12 times about the head and facial area with clenched fists in one of the dorms, according to court documents.

    The youth, who attempted to defend himself by covering his head with his arms, later was treated by a nurse for a laceration to his eye, according to the affidavit.

    Court documents state that Davis, of Marlin, confessed to striking the boy in an interview Tuesday.

    A warrant was issued for his arrest Wednesday.

    Davis, who was hired in April, has been suspended pending the termination, said Jim Hurley, spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    This was handled quickly and appropriately, Hurley said.

    Additional details, including the circumstances leading up to the alleged beating, were not available Thursday.

    Juvenile officer jailed for alleged beating of inmate

    Texas Juvenile Justice Department Employee Nominated for State Award

    October 01, 2012
    Written by News Release

    A Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex employee, Holli Fenton, has been nominated for a state award, Outstanding Women in Texas Government. Fenton was nominated in the area of Outstanding Contribution. According to The Governors Commission for Women: Women and Government website: The Outstanding Women in Texas Government Awards were created by the State Agency Council in 1984 to honor women who work in State government, who do not hold elected or appointed positions, and who have helped shape Texas by contributing their talents and skills to state service.

    Fenton began her career at Ron Jackson as a case manager in 2004. In 2008, a group of case managers, including Ms. Fenton, started taking approved TJJD (formerly Texas Youth Commission) students to the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center for community service. Ms. Fenton, a long-time volunteer with the Center, fostering canines and serving on the board, conceived the idea of a dormitory at Ron Jackson that would pair canines with student trainers enhancing the canines chances for successful adoptions. The benefits to the students would be a developed sense of responsibility, empathy, patience and an increase of self-esteem.

    After 2 years of careful planning and hard work on the part of many, the PAWS program opened its doors to 5 youth and 5 dogs on Pride Dormitory in January 2010. The preparation included: developing a program, training staff, screening and selecting students based on strict criteria, and generating interest from state and community stakeholders.

    The students train their canines for 12 weeks and are responsible for feeding, watering, grooming, training and socializing their dog. The goal is for the canine to pass the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test and become a certified Canine Good Citizen. To date, there have been 37 students and 62 canines graduate. The dogs have found homes in the community and the students continue training other canines and mentoring new students in the program.

    I am so honored to have been nominated for this award. I truly enjoy working with the students, staff and canines in this program. The PAWS program positively changes the lives of the students, Fenton said. The campus administrators have been incredibly supportive. I have a great staff; the PAWS program would not run without them. I would like to thank Dr. Joe Speck, DVM and Ag-Mart who have donated time, goods and services to this program from the beginning and continue to be loyal friends and supports of the program. Another huge thank you goes to the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center for partnering with us to the benefit of both the students and the canines.

    Texas Juvenile Justice Department Employee Nominated for State Award

    Juvenile Offenders in Limbo under Outdated State Laws

    Written by: Maggie Lee and Oliver Ortega
    Sep 25, 2012

    More than two years after U.S. Supreme Court decisions started throwing out mandatory death and life sentences for minors, judges in Washington, Illinois and dozens of other states still lack guidance on what to do with juveniles past and present convicted of murder and some other serious felonies.

    Courts are uncomfortable in trying to figure out what life means in terms of years, said Kimberly Ambrose, senior law lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. She represented Guadalupe Solis-Diaz at the states Court of Appeals, arguing against a 92-year sentence hes serving for six counts of first-degree assault and other charges for his role in a drive-by shooting. The then 16-year-old Solis-Diaz fired into a crowd in Centralia, Wash., in 2007, though did not injure his target or anyone else.

    Its not clear in Washington if those 92 years are equivalent to what the U.S. Supreme Court calls life sentences. The federal high court has definitively thrown out state sentencing laws that mandate life without parole for juveniles.

    Beginning with the 2005 Roper v. Simmons case and more recently with Graham v. Florida in 2010 and Miller v. Alabama in 2012, the court says that juveniles are not yet fully mentally developed, are less culpable and more capable of reform. Therefore, lower court judges must consider those and other mitigating factors when sentencing juveniles for both homicide and non-homicide offenses.

    Solis-Diaz counsel at his original sentencing failed to mention that U.S. Supreme Court trend. That omission, said the state appeals court, was one of several mistakes that contributed to their decision this month to throw out Solis-Diaz 92 years, on grounds of ineffective counsel.

    This is the first life-equivalent case to come before a Washington appellate court, said Ambrose, speaking of non-homicide offenses.

    But the court also noted it would not opine on any other sentence for Solis-Diaz.

    The legislature is the appropriate body to define crimes and fix punishments. To the extent that Graham suggests that an opportunity for parole must be available for juvenile offenders convicted of non-homicide offenses, only the Legislature has the authority to amend the SRA [Sentencing Reform Act] to allow for such remedy, the opinion reads.

    They remanded the case for resentencing.

    Many judges are grappling with how to amend their current laws to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on juvenile sentences. Some state legislatures have yet to update laws to comply with the two-year-old Graham case. And most state legislatures have been closed since the June, 2012 Miller decision, so have had no chance to start thinking about it. Thus judges dealing with juveniles convicted of murder must figure out if it would apply to juvenile offenders sentenced before it, and how to handle appeals, all without legislative guidelines.

    Theres lot of people trying to figure out what to do and how to proceed, and if it [Miller] would apply retroactively, said Randolph Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago.

    The answers so far vary by state.

    More than 100 people have been sentenced to life without chance of parole in Illinois for crimes committed as minors, according to a 2010 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nationally, there are more than 2,500 juvenile offenders who have received this sentence in the states that did or do allow it, according to The Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group.

    Does each of those people get a new hearing? If so, what sort of sentence will they be facing? Stone asked.

    He argued that because the Miller decision was bundled with one out of Arkansas, which relieved a defendant convicted for a crime he committed in 1999, juvenile offenders nationwide who had already been sentenced before the decision should have a chance for a new trial and sentencing.

    Its a question of whether it will be decided on a case-by-case basis or a broad remedy that can be fashioned to deal with them all at the same time he said. I think its pretty clear that it does [apply retroactively], although the prosecutors are saying that it doesnt.

    Michigans Supreme Court declined to settle retroactivity in its state this month. Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the Court to rule out retroactivity on the life sentence of a man convicted of participating in an armed robbery as a 16-year-old. Instead, the court remanded the case for resentencing.

    One prosecutor whos agreed to applying Miller to one existing conviction is New Hampshires Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin. Steven Spader was 17 when he hacked to death a woman in her home. In 2010, he was given his states mandatory sentence: life in prison. The court also added 76 years on other charges.

    Spader is the only defendant who has filed anything in court. We have agreed that he will be resentenced in light of the Miller decision, said Strelzin.

    Four other defendants have indicated they may contest the applicability of Miller to their cases. However, none have filed any motions in court yet asking for a new sentencing hearing, he said.

    Spaders case was still on appeal when Miller was published. Pennsylvanias Supreme Court is hearing a similar case.

    If the definition of life sentences varies by state, so does the definition of juvenile. In Illinois, 17-year-olds facing felony charges are tried as adults, and children ages 15 and older charged with first- degree murder and other felonies, such as robbery at gun-point, are automatically transferred to adult court.

    And an accountability statue in Illinois often leads courts to treat accomplices with the same degree of culpability as the shooter.

    Illinois has to wrangle with a decade-old ruling by its state Supreme Court that foretold the later U.S. ruling, but may also preclude it being retroactive.

    The court shot down a mandatory life sentence for a 15-year-old who had served as a lookout for two people convicted of homicide. The court wrote that under the states automatic transfer, accountability, and sentencing statutes, a court never considers the actual facts of the crime, including the defendants age at the time of the crime or his or her individual level of culpability.

    Matt Jones, of the states Attorneys Appellate Prosecutors office, said that mandatory sentencing for juveniles was already shot down in Illinois with this decision, and that courts had abstained from the practice since then, except in the case of 17-year-olds, who were still tried as adults.

    But he also said the ruling made it clear that it shouldnt be applied retroactively, and that he doesnt think the Supreme Courts decision in June will be applied retroactively either.

    Stone argues the opposite, that the Illinois Supreme Courts decision only applied to that specific case, and that courts throughout Illinois still maintained mandatory sentencing for minors convicted of homicide. He said that a new bill or amendment to the Illinois Code of Corrections must be made to comply with the Supreme Courts ruling.

    The U.S. Supreme Court rulings do not talk about such details. But juvenile rights advocates hail the principle.

    These [mandatory sentencing] laws make it difficult for judges, said Shobha Mahadev, a Northwestern University law professor. The decision is taken out of the judges hand. We have to change the way we treat children and change these laws.

    The Illinois Legislature may take the question up when it reconvenes in November. Ambrose expects it to be an issue in Washington as well. Pennsylvania legislators have already held hearings on a rewrite.

    Juvenile Offenders in Limbo under Outdated State Laws

    Appeals court upholds a Dallas attorneys award for blowing the whistle on state judges

    By DIANE JENNINGS Staff Writer
    Published: 11 September 2012

    An appellate court has upheld a judgment now totaling about $1 million awarded to Dallas attorney Chris Koustoubardis after he was fired for blowing the whistle on fellow judges at the Texas Youth Commission four years ago.

    Koustoubardis said hes pleased by the affirmation from the 5th Court of Appeals but wonders when hell see the money. Officials at the agency, now known as the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, have indicated they may appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court. In addition to Koustoubardis case, several scandals have plagued the TYC in recent years, including allegations of sexual abuse and official cover-ups.

    They cleaned house, Koustoubardis said. So I cant understand why they dont make it right with me now.

    Linda Brooke, director of external affairs and communications for the Juvenile Justice Department, declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation. Koustoubardis, 58, was fired in 2008 after working as an administrative law judge for the agency for six years.

    He filed suit under the state whistle-blowers act claiming he was terminated because he told authorities he witnessed a judge trying to influence a police officers testimony. He said the same judge instructed Koustoubardis to rule a certain way, which he did not do.

    A few months later, he helped the TYCs ombudsmans office investigate a complaint about a second judge suspected of tampering with a government record.

    Koustoubardis cooperated and was terminated a few weeks later.

    In 2010, a jury agreed Koustoubardis had been fired for reporting the judges activity and awarded him almost $700,000.

    The amount rose when the trial judge added money Koustoubardis would have received in pay had he not been fired. With accruing interest, the award now amounts to about $1 million, said Koustoubardis attorney, Don Tittle.

    They retaliated against Chris in firing him in the first place and now theyve held off on paying him for at least two years, Tittle said. I cant think of any legitimate grounds to appeal it but I dont think that will stop them. Koustoubardis said he suffers from poor health and has struggled to find work since being forced out of the agency.

    He said he doesnt regret speaking up but didnt realize it would cost so much.

    You know, he said, it doesnt pay to do the right thing.

    Appeals court upholds a Dallas attorneys award for blowing the whistle on state judges

    Juvenile agency chief to rescind pay raises, reduce management ranks

    By Mike Ward
    Published: Sept. 11, 2012

    Continuing a shakeup of top management at Texas' troubled juvenile justice agency, the new executive director moved Tuesday to rescind pay raises awarded last spring that left legislative leaders fuming.

    In addition, Mike Griffiths put the top two levels of managers at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department on notice that he plans to streamline the agency's governance and asked managers to detail their continued value at the agency. One lawmaker said he expected a 20 percent reduction in the agency's executive ranks.

    "We've got a culture to turn around here and we're going to do it," Griffiths told the American-Statesman in a phone interview.

    Griffiths said he will make public his new organization chart for the agency that runs Texas' youth corrections programs, perhaps as soon as today. And he said he plans to quickly begin filling the jobs.

    As for the raises, Griffiths was clear: "I'm going to make sure the salaries at this agency are in line with legislative directives."

    Griffiths briefed the agency's Austin headquarters staff on those details during an afternoon staff meeting on Tuesday, and top managers were given a two-page form to select their "preferred leadership roles" in the remade agency.

    The form listed 16 jobs. Agency officials said about two dozen executive-level officials were asked to complete the novel, at least for state government, writing assignment.

    On the form, they were asked to list the two leadership roles they would like to fill. They were then asked to list the top three action steps to take those jobs or divisions "to the next higher level of achievement."

    Griffiths provided a copy of the form to the American-Statesman, unusual for an agency that has spent much of the past five years withholding details of its problems from the media and lawmakers.

    "We are going to be transparent as we move forward," Griffiths pledged.

    "I've got thick skin. I'm hardheaded, and I will work just as hard as anyone can to turn this agency around."

    Griffiths is touring the agency's lockups and briefed legislative leaders on details of the shakeup.

    Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he believes Griffiths plans to cut perhaps as much as 20 percent of the senior staff as part of his reorganization.

    Griffiths said the details of his plan will emerge clearly in coming days.

    Whitmire and House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, applauded the moves.

    Last week, both were angry about the pay raises handed out by former Executive Director Cherie Townsend last April to 11 top officials at a time when other agencies were laying off workers and cutting their budgets, and the juvenile corrections program was awash in growing violence and disruptions that had left youths and staffers seriously injured.

    The raises ranged from $3,500 to more than $14,000 a year. On Monday, Griffiths removed youth services director James Smith, who received a $543-a-month raise on his annual salary of $118,493, and Robin McKeever, the deputy executive director.

    "He is off to a good start," Madden said after meeting with Griffiths at the Capitol about the reorganization.

    "He has a difficult job ahead. But he's worked in and run lockups and probation programs. He knows the system."

    Madden and Whitmire, whose committees oversee the agency, have been frequent critics of continued management missteps and chronic controversies since sweeping reforms were enacted after a 2007 sex-abuse and cover-up scandal. They were the architects of those reforms.

    In 2011, with Whitmire and Madden leading the charge, the Legislature merged juvenile corrections and probation programs into the new agency.

    "He's doing now exactly what we envisioned when we approved the merger downsizing the management staff to a lean system that works," Whitmire said. "I'm pretty impressed so far."

    Contact Mike Ward 
at 474-2791 
Twitter: @statesmanmike

    Juvenile agency chief to rescind pay raises, reduce management ranks

    Michael Griffiths: The TT Interview

    By Maurice Chammah
    September 6, 2012

    Michael Griffiths never really retired after 15 years as head of juvenile services for the Dallas County Juvenile Department. He taught online courses at his alma mater, Sam Houston State University, and consulted on juvenile issues, and he even handed out programs at Texas Rangers games.

    On Monday, Griffiths will become the new executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The 13-member board voted 7-6 to hire him to replace Jay Kimbrough, who has temporarily led the department since the retirement of Cherie Townsend in May.

    The lack of a permanent director is a small part of larger issues that have plagued the agency since it replaced the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission last year. In 2007, reports of sexual and physical abuse at commission facilities led to an overhauling of the system, and the number of youths locked up dropped from 4,000 to roughly 1,100.

    The juvenile system still faced challenges as reports of youth-on-youth assaults, especially at the Giddings facility, continued to rise, sparking outrage among lawmakers and Townsends departure.

    Kimbrough oversaw a set of a reforms, including the Phoenix Program, which administers intensive counseling to serious offenders. But an escape attempt in July highlighted continuing problems for the new agency, and Kimbrough sent inspectors out to make unannounced visits to facilities.

    Although the director position technically demanded no corrections experience, the TJJD board picked Griffiths over Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood, a former PepsiCo and Sam's Club executive, in a 7-6 vote.

    Griffiths has spent his entire career in corrections, and most of it in the juvenile field. He grew up in Dallas and got a job in the 1970s on the floor of a juvenile detention center in Tarrant County. He then worked as a probation officer, a program manager, the supervisor of a community program and as a chief juvenile probation officer before he was tapped for the Dallas job. In an interview with The Texas Tribune in Cedar Hill, he said the challenges he faced in Dallas have prepared him for the fraught situation he is about to enter.

    The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

    TT: What was it like when you first started as director in Dallas?

    Griffiths: It was real turbulent times for the agency, and a lot of it had to be the lack of continuity at the top. There was chaos in the probation system. The juvenile judges and prosecutors and defense bar really didnt trust the agency at the time. I came aboard and we just started creating a foundation of good prudent personnel rules and regulations. I did a reorganization of the agency immediately, which I plan to do with the TJJD.

    I may be the catalyst, but Im not nave; its the team you put around you. Establishing a really strong team is job No. 1 for me. From there, you just build your credibility. You walk your talk. Im a very hands-on administrator. That agency [in Dallas] had 1,000 employees. This agency has 2,200. We went through drastic budget cuts and maintained our services through it. Were in the same mindset with the state, doing more with less.

    TT: Over the last year it seemed like there was a gap between what we were hearing about violence at Giddings and the escape attempt in Waco and TJJD administrators saying that there wasnt much going on. Why do you think there was this divide?

    Griffiths: I dont know the exact answer. I know that Ive gone to the facilities since January and met some talented and wonderful people. Im not casting blame on the folks in those facilities. I think if you always look at a problem the same way, youll never look at a solution. I think having fresh eyes come in is important, a different perspective on how things can happen. You cant escape the report that was done by office of the independent ombudsman [Debbie Unruh]. She hit the nail on the head. If there was any debate between the media and administrators, Debbie was right on target. That gave me credence that there are problems.

    The Phoenix Program, that type of program is necessary right now, with this level of discord that was going on. Ideally, we work our way out of using a program like that. We have to make sure that each of the facilities is safe and secure.

    TT: Theres also been talk about closing some of the rural facilities to bring kids back into their home counties.

    Griffiths: I support the movement. Itll be a challenge to do it, but the mandate is clear from policymakers that closer is better. We have to fight the "not in my backyard" syndrome that a lot of communities have about this level of youth near their home, but I think its possible. To develop small unique programs near Houston, Dallas, San Antonio will also take capital.

    The other layer is training. We have to make sure that employees on the front line are getting the training they need to do their job. We can look at programs, and those can be altered, but basically we need to make sure that every employee feels comfortable to do their job.

    TT: What are some of your other priorities?

    Griffiths: Youve got to maintain the safety and security of the facilities. You cant do treatment unless there is that foundation of safety and security. Mr. Kimbrough has done a wonderful job. Hes created security teams in the facilities. Their main focus is, are things under control, separate and aside from the JCOs [juvenile correctional officers] on the floor.

    I hate to use the phrase "get tough," but we have to maintain that safety. Ill be very honest. Ive been with institutional programs most of my career, and Ive never seen the level of chaos that was prevalent before Mr. Kimbrough. Its just unheard of to have those things going on. We need cameras, security, those things: It is correctional. The youth are there for a reason.

    If we want to continue to see that kids are developing, we need to find dollars to provide them behavioral health services, making sure on the other end that youth are ready to come home. We need to establish benchmarks that arent there now. You cant manage what you dont measure. Were not measuring the right things now. Lets get a common definition of recidivism. Lets get a common definition of positive outcomes. We need to look at it properly over several years. That gives us a baseline. That way well know what works and what doesnt work.

    TT:What was it like when you were on the frontline?

    Griffiths: It was tough. This was in 1976, and you had no standards then. It was pretty common that youd have an area of 24 youth. Not 1 to 12 or 1 to 8. The main recreational activity at the time was pool, so they had pool sticks and pool balls.

    It all gets down to the relationship the officer has with the people he or she are in charge of.

    TT: How did you go about developing that good relationship?

    Griffiths: The same way you do with employees; youre fair, youre consistent, you give immediate feedback. Everyone needs structure. The young people in our programs need structure. They relish it. Ive really seen that if theyre busy and theyre doing constructive things, then misbehavior goes down. A child has to be life-ready when they leave facilities.

    Michael Griffiths: The TT Interview

    August 9, 2012


    (County juvenile probation departments say mental health services, alternatives to secure detention, and family involvement programs need increased funding most)

    AUSTIN - Three quarters of county juvenile probation departments in Texas say their current funding is insufficient or very insufficient, according to a recent survey by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC). Benet Magnuson, a policy attorney with TCJC, says the funding gap raises significant concerns for public safety and the future of youth in the system.

    "Many counties have great programs that reduce childhood recidivism, but they're dangerously underfunded," Magnuson said. "One county in the survey told us funding cuts had forced them to lay off critical staff and shrink a successful program that had brought their recidivism rate down to nearly zero."

    Texas enacted sweeping juvenile justice reforms in 2011, designed to keep as many youth as possible in their home counties. That legislation abolished the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, and created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to oversee the reforms. Legislators were guided by research showing that rehabilitation is more successful when delinquent youth receive treatment in their home communities.

    "It's a win-win-win strategy for kids, public safety, and taxpayers," Dr. Ana Yez-Correa, TCJC Executive Director, said. "But we have to make sure we're funding these programs at the right level. Let's not lose a dollar to save a penny here."

    The survey findings are based on responses from 73 county juvenile probation departments statewide, including urban, rural, and medium-sized counties. These departments identified mental health services, community-based alternatives to secure detention, and family involvement programs as most in need of increased funding.

    Those three issues play a large role in the successes and failures of the Texas juvenile justice system. A third of youth under the supervision of probation departments in Texas have a confirmed mental illness, and the vast majority do not receive mental health services. Alternatives to secure detention are similarly crucial because research shows that time spent in secure facilities impedes rehabilitation for most youth. And family involvement programs have likewise been shown to improve rehabilitation, safety, and education for youth.

    In the face of continuing funding cuts, community members in many counties have stepped up to help their juvenile probation programs. Thirty percent of the surveyed counties reported receiving hundreds or thousands of volunteer hours each year.

    For most departments, however, state and county funding remain the lifeblood. Seventy percent of the counties reported receiving less than $10,000 annually from sources outside of state and county governments.

    "These counties do an incredible amount on shoestring budgets, and they deserve more support," Jennifer Carreon, a researcher at TCJC, said. "More importantly, the youth and our communities deserve more. The reforms last year gave us a proven strategy for juvenile justice in Texas - now we need to make sure it has the funding to succeed."

    The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition identifies and advances real solutions to the problems facing Texas' juvenile and criminal justice systems. We conduct policy research and analysis, form effective partnerships, and educate key stakeholders to promote effective management, accountability, and best practices that increase public safety, save taxpayer dollars, and preserve human and civil rights.

    Dr. Ana Yez-Correa,
    (c) 512-587-7010,
    Benet Magnuson,
    (w) 512.441.8123 Ext. 105,
    (c) 785.760.4454,

    Texas confronts broken Juvenile Justice System, again

    By Mike Ward
    Published: July 28, 2012

    GIDDINGS When 14 youths at the Giddings State School refused to go to bed at 10 p.m. July 21, then became unruly and began tearing up their dorm, guards doused them with pepper spray and hauled them off to a detention area.

    Last Monday, two youths already in detention at Giddings beat up a caseworker, who was rushed to a hospital for evaluation. They were marched back to their rooms and by Thursday were headed to a recently opened, higher security lockup near Waco.

    Just a few months ago, those same youths might have cooled their heels in a detention cell for a short period, then gone back to their dorms with minimal restrictions, staff members said.

    The two incidents highlight how top officials at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department are toughening their stance to curb continuing violence and unrest in the six state-run lockups. They are trying to fix a system that by most accounts is foundering for the second time in five years, despite sweeping reforms enacted in 2007 and the direct involvement of top aides to Gov. Rick Perry.

    With the new get-tough policy comes a growing debate: how best to stop the assaults and repair the troubled system without implementing punitive measures that could land more teenagers behind bars in adult prisons when rehabilitation was supposed to be the goal.

    "The state has to understand the difference between discipline and punishment," said Michele Deitch, a criminal justice policy expert at the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs who has followed the state's juvenile corrections system for several years.

    "There has to be an appropriate balance," she said. "We need to learn from our mistakes in the past and use a scalpel, not a hatchet, to repair what is broken."

    On Friday, the agency will face that issue at a public hearing in Austin to discuss the newly opened facility in Mart, near Waco, intended to house the most violent and chronic troublemakers.

    The change has left advocates for youths and even some members of the agency's governing board questioning whether that's a good idea.

    The initiative, called the "Phoenix Program," opened earlier this month in a maximum-security wing of the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart.

    It could eventually hold 28 youths. Last week, there were six.

    The Juvenile Justice Department's interim executive director, Jay Kimbrough, said the goal is safer lockups "so programs can work. If the facilities are not secure, there is no rehabilitation."

    Behind the public debate are private discussions among state officials and legislative leaders: whether to further shrink the size of Texas' juvenile justice agency from six lockups to three already down from 12 four years ago and perhaps outsource one lockup to a private vendor, as a trial.

    "I'd support closing more facilities," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who was an architect of the reforms five years ago and is now one of the agency's harshest critics. "And I'd support any program that will be implemented properly and works properly, which many of the agency's programs have not so far.

    "Texas has been tougher on kids breaking rules in schools than it has on the kids in (state lockups). It's nuts that it's taken us five years just to go from one broken system to another."

    In early 2007, allegations surfaced that teenage boys were being sexually abused by staff members at the agency, then named the Texas Youth Commission, and that top officials did nothing to stop it. Angry lawmakers forced the agency into a form of receivership. Most top agency officials were fired, and operations were changed to improve security and rehabilitation programs and to increase prosecution of crimes that occurred inside the youth lockups.

    As officials contemplate their next move, they are keenly aware of how even the best reforms can go awry. During the 2007 scandal, most of the rehabilitation and treatment programs were tossed out and replaced with new programs that some top officials now say have not worked or were never fully implemented.

    Both sets of programs stressed rehabilitation and treatment to change youths' behavior in different ways. The old programs included a discipline component that drew criticism, while the new program relied more on counseling in a therapeutic setting, according to longtime staff members and employees.

    Whitmire and others concede that many of the reforms came undone, partly because "we didn't stay on top of the agency like we probably should have" and partly because the agency did not isolate violent youths from the others.

    In addition, the emphasis on counseling came as the agency downsized, from housing about 4,000 youths to about 1,100 of the most incorrigible.

    Kimbrough served as conservator of the scandal-ridden agency for a time in 2007, as the reforms started to take effect.

    He returned in May, at the request of Perry, and hinted that he was surprised that some of the reforms were not operating as they should.

    Even so, some experts suggest that the current problems might also indicate that Texas tried to fix its problems without fully understanding what was truly broken or how the fixes that were made came undone.

    Consider the following:

    ■ For at least three years, state law has required the agency to report crimes against incarcerated youths to a law enforcement agency, a change enacted to stop sexual abuse. But only a relatively small number of such cases have been pursued by local prosecutors, and critics now say more vigilant enforcement could have helped curb the violence months ago.

    ■ While incarcerated youths who assaulted other youths or staffers were supposed to face detention hearings after the reforms, many never did. Last week Kimbrough ordered hearings in all cases involving assault.

    ■ While the state lockups were dotted with $18 million worth of surveillance cameras designed to watch every corner and hall, officials now say they never were monitored around the clock, as intended. Kimbrough has ordered beefed-up monitoring of the cameras.

    ■ While officials moved five years ago to place off-duty cops at entry gates of the lockups to improve security, that practice stopped after a few months.

    Whitmire said Kimbrough has said he intends to renew that policy.

    State officials in recent weeks have begun exploring how other states handle violent youths and have discovered that other states are not facing the escalating assaults that Texas has.

    Other states suggest that a lack of discipline and consequences for troublemaking youths might be part of the problem.

    In Missouri, touted as a model for successful juvenile corrections for its low cost and low recidivism rate, officials said they stress treatment in small group homes, not large lockups. Violent behavior by youths is rare, officials say, and brings clear and certain sanctions.

    In New York City, officials with the 4-year-old Blue Sky program which keeps youthful offenders in their homes while they take part in treatment and rehabilitation programs employs a similar approach that has reduced recidivism and incarceration of teenagers.

    "Texas wanted to get it right, but the programs never worked like they should have," said Kyra Phillips of Houston, whose son was released from the juvenile system in 2010, only to soon face new aggravated kidnapping charges, which landed him a 15-year sentence in an adult prison.

    "He only got worse. The kids were in charge, and they knew it. There were no consequences. That was the problem."

    During his time with the agency, Phillips said, her son was involved in five "beat-downs" on staffers and other youths, including at least one incident at Giddings. He also joined a gang.

    "Something needs to change," she said.

    Other experts and House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who wrote many of the reforms with Whitmire, said that change must start with proper security and meaningful programs.

    "Clearly, there has been a breakdown in our system," Madden said. "Either we didn't do it right or the programs weren't implemented correctly. Other states don't think twice about consequences for violent behavior, and our policies need to ensure security and consequences for violent behavior as priorities, which I don't think they have been in the past."

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Texas confronts broken juvenile justice system, again

    Juvenile Life Sentence Ruling Is Wise
    Editorial Board

    Published: June 25, 2012

    Sentencing children to die in prison is cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional.

    So said the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday when it ruled that state laws mandating that defendants younger than 18 who are convicted of murder be sentenced to life in prison without parole violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

    It's a decision that reflects an ongoing evolution in our understanding of the juvenile brain and an appreciation for limits on juvenile justice. Mandating life without parole for juveniles takes away a court's discretion, can lead to punishment that is not proportional to a defendant's role in a crime and fails to account for the profound differences between adolescents and adults.

    Texas legislators wisely banned life without parole of juvenile defendants in 2009, but the state's law failed to make the prohibition retroactive.

    Thus, 27 juveniles who were convicted of capital murder as adults between 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juveniles, and the passage of the new 2009 law are sitting in prison without any chance for parole.

    Monday's ruling should lead to new punishment hearings for these individuals.

    The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision didn't rule out the possibility of a juvenile defendant receiving life without parole, but justices in the majority want such a decision to be up to a court's discretion, not mandated by a state legislature. Even in juvenile cases, there will be rare instances that justify a harsh punishment.

    Two cases prompted Monday's decision. The first, Miller v. Alabama, concerned Evan Miller, who was 14 years old when he beat a 52-year-old neighbor named Cole Cannon with a baseball bat and then, with the help of a 16-year-old friend, set Cannon's house on fire. Cannon had been doing drugs and drinking with the boys and had attacked them first when he caught the boys trying to steal from him.

    Miller's friend testified for the prosecution and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

    Miller's life was a nightmare: a series of foster homes, an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother, and a physically abusive stepfather. He had tried to kill himself four times, the first when he was only 6.

    In the other case, Jackson v. Arkansas, Kuntrell Jackson was 14 when he and two friends tried to rob a video store. The store's clerk was killed during the botched robbery.

    Jackson was not on a good track he had a record of shoplifting and car theft but he was unarmed and did not shoot the clerk. Nonetheless, he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

    This is the third significant Supreme Court case regarding harsh penalties for juveniles.

    The court declared the death penalty for juveniles unconstitutional in 2005. In 2010, the court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole for non-homicide crimes violated the Eighth Amendment.

    The Supreme Court's decisions regarding juvenile defendants follow science's deeper understanding of the differences between juvenile and adult brains.

    Juveniles are not as culpable as adults. They are impulsive, reckless and often fail to think through the consequences.

    A harsh sentence fails to consider a teenager's immaturity, the role of peer pressure and family background, and cuts short the possibility of change and redemption.

    For decades, state laws have acknowledged the differences between juveniles and adults when setting age limits for drinking or driving.

    All states should have acknowledged the same differences when punishing young offenders. Monday's Supreme Court ruling forces them to do so.

    Miller and Jackson are two of 79 juvenile defendants in America who were sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed when they were 14 or younger.

    In Texas, 10 inmates were younger than 16 at the time they committed their crimes.

    Overall, Monday's decision affects about 2,500 people who were convicted of murder and sentenced to life without before parole before they turned 18.

    The vast majority are in prison for life because of legislatively mandated sentences.

    Although Texas no longer allows life without parole for juveniles, a defendant as young as 14 who stands trial as an adult for capital murder can receive a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

    If other states adopt similar measures, it's possible the Supreme Court someday will have to consider at what decade in a juvenile's sentence parole can be offered, and when a sentence of life with the possibility of parole has become indistinguishable from a sentence of life without parole.

    As the court again recognized Monday, youth matters in criminal justice.

    Prison keys should be pocketed for juvenile offenders, not thrown away.

    Except for the rarest of cases, juvenile defendants must be allowed hope for redemption to see hope for a life beyond death in prison.

    Juvenile Life Sentence Ruling Is Wise

    Eighth Amendment Prohibits Mandatory Life Without Parole For Juveniles

    Reported By; Tejinder Singh
    Posted - June 25th, 2012

    Justice Kagan announced the opinion for the Court in Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, holding, in a five-to-four vote, that the Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. The Court has previously shown leniency to juveniles, holding in Roper v. Simmons (2005), that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death, and in Graham v. Florida (2010), that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses. This case continues that trend.

    Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson were each convicted of capital murder. At the time of the relevant offenses, they were fourteen years old. Neither committed his offense alone. In Millers case, he and another boy beat and robbed a neighbor, who died after they lit his house on fire; in Jacksons case, he and two others robbed a video store, and one of the others shot and killed the store clerk. Both were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole, under sentencing regimes (in Alabama and Arkansas) that render such sentences mandatory, without consideration of the offenders age or mitigating circumstances. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, which represented both Miller and Jackson before the Court, there presently are approximately seventy-nine individuals currently serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed at age thirteen or fourteen. The Court further explains that approximately 2500 people are serving life without parole for crimes they committed before they were eighteen.

    The Courts opinion brings together two strands of precedent to hold that a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment. The first strand holds that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits punishments that enact a mismatch between the culpability of a class of offenders and the severity of the penalty. Citing, among cases, Roper and Graham, the Court explains that juveniles have always been regarded as less culpable because the distinctive attributes of youth diminish the penological justifications for imposing the harshest penalties on juvenile offenders, even when they commit severe crimes. The second line of precedent holds that life without parole shares key characteristics with the death penalty, and thus raises similar Eighth Amendment concerns, most notably that defendants are entitled to individualized consideration when facing such a severe sanction.

    Weaving these two lines of precedent together, the Court held that mandatory life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment. Such sentencing regimes, the court explained, preclude a sentence from taking account of an offenders age and the wealth of characteristics and circumstances attendant to it, including immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences, as well as the juveniles family and home environment, and the circumstances of the offense, including the extent of his participation in the conduct and the way familial and peer pressures may have affected him. By eliding these key factors, mandatory life without parole poses too great a risk of disproportionate punishment. The Court did not reach the broader question of whether life without parole could ever be justified for a juvenile convicted of murder.

    Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor joined the majority opinion in full. Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Sotomayor, concurred separately to argue that on remand, if the state continues to seek life without parole for Jackson, it will have to determine whether he individually killed or intended to kill the victim in his case.

    The decision also provoked three separate dissenting opinions, by the Chief Justice, by Justice Thomas, and by Justice Alito, who read his opinion from the bench. The theme of the dissents is that the Court should have been more deferential to the moral judgments enacted by state legislatures, who are in a better position to determine the seriousness of crimes and to calibrate penalties appropriately. The dissents also expressed the view that the Courts Eighth Amendment jurisprudence has become unmoored from objective standards, and that decisions like Graham and the decisions today continue that trend.

    Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory life without parole for juveniles

    JUNE 19, 2012

    Adult Prison Model Wrong Approach For Juvenile Offenders At TJJD

    Finally, we're seeing corrections professionals standing up to some of the misguided policy suggestions from the media and legislators regarding application of adult corrections models to juvenile offenders at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. This is a battle between reason and emotion, the frontal cortex vs. the amygdala, and regrettably in the modern media, appeals to the latter predominate.

    Still, an op ed yesterday in the Austin Statesman by former TDCJ monitor and LBJ school academic Michele Deitch and former TDCJ chief Gary Johnson gave it the ol' college try, criticizing the application of adult prison techniques to juvenile offenders and the newspaper's "caricatured" portrayal of the issue.

    "Readers have been presented with stark contrasts between a caricatured mollycoddling philosophy that supposedly characterizes the former Texas Youth Commission facilities, and the severe discipline, harsh physical conditions and solitary confinement options for juveniles that are endemic in the adult prison system," they wrote. The writers emphasized that maintaining discipline is critical to the agency's mission, but declared that:

    discipline does not mean and should not mean in the juvenile context use of physical force or brutality, use of pepper spray, use of long-term solitary confinement or denial of programming. Not only are such measures banned under the terms of federal court orders that govern the state's juvenile justice agency, they are counterproductive strategies that worsen outcomes for the youths and put us all at risk when they are ultimately released from confinement.

    I'm glad they mentioned the federal court orders; Grits has wondered if there's been so much turnover at the agency, remaining officials just forgot about them.

    The op-ed writers describe how juvenile offenders are treated in TDCJ, noting that "administrators and staffers there will be the first to say that these youths do not belong in adult facilities." And they adumbrated national research and standards critical of using adult prison facilities and methods with juvenile offenders:

    National research shows that juveniles who are housed in adult prisons have vastly higher rates of suicide, mental illness, and sexual and physical assaults than their counterparts in juvenile facilities. They also have much worse outcomes, despite the (surprising) similarities in demographics and criminal offense history. One nationally reported study found that juveniles who spend at least a year in adult prisons and jails have a 100 percent greater risk of violent recidivism than those in juvenile facilities.

    A few years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appointed a task force to evaluate all available research on this subject. The task force concluded that the evidence is overwhelming that transferring youths to the adult system is counterproductive as a strategy for controlling or preventing violence; it actually makes youths worse. The CDC called on policymakers to immediately reverse policies that allow youths to be placed in the adult criminal justice system.

    For these reasons and others, every major professional corrections organization including the American Correctional Association, the American Bar Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Association of Juvenile Correctional Administrators disapproves of the notion of keeping juveniles in adult prisons and jails.

    Finally, the authors point out that some of TJJD/TYC's programming - particularly their capital offenders program and their sex-offender regimen, "are far more successful in working with violent youths than any program the adult corrections system has to offer," encouraging lawmakers not to "throw the baby out with the bathwater."

    Adult Prison Model Wrong Approach For Juvenile Offenders At TJJD

    June 6, 2012

    Is the TDCJ Youthful Offender Program really an Alternative for TYC?

    By Max Rodriguez
    Backgate Website

    The TDCJ Youthful Offender Program, or YOP for short, was established in 1995 after the Legislature realized it had no where to send those under the age of 18 when they were certified to stand trial and sentenced as adults. The Clemens unit located in far South Brazoria county, was built in 1893 when plantations were still scattered across the landscape and private citizens could rent out prison labor for next to nothing. The unit sits on 8,000 acres of farmland, were it produces crops and has a swine finishing facility. Austin American Statesman reporter Mike Ward recently went on a walking tour of the facility with some of the TDCJ brass in preparation for his story regarding the Texas Youth Commission and how it operates as opposed to the TDCJ -YOP program. The attention is said to be connected to the Sunset Committee hearings held Tuesday June 5th in Austin, and centers around the possibility of TYC being absorbed by the TDCJ.

    What Mike Ward didn't get is input from some of the 300 plus employees assigned there regarding the program. Several Correctional Officers sent us input on the program, and how it works. The employees don't bad mouth the administration, and are generally satisfied with the support they get from the admin there. The objections from line staff centered more around the structure of the program itself, and the fact that it was centered on the Clemens unit to begin with.

    Through open records, and from Correctional Officers assigned there, we have learned the following. Some of which is contrary to what Mr. Ward presented in his story.

    1. The Clemens unit is #1 in the state this month for discovery of contraband items, to include cell phones.

    2. The Clemens unit, built in 1893, and the add on housing areas in 1972, is basically falling apart from the inside out in the South Texas salt air. Violent YOP offenders are housed in cells that frequently come open on their own due to being outdated and un-repairable, and staff as well as other offenders have been assaulted as a result.

    3. YOP offenders must be kept separate from other offenders, and the design of the facility makes it nearly impossible to accomplish that feat on a daily basis.

    4. YOP offenders are not assigned jobs, and therefore do not work in outdoor hoe squads or garden squads as stated by Mike Ward. But maybe some labor wouldn't hurt.

    5. The program itself is poorly constructed and doesn't take into account that many of these teens have long (40+) year sentences and are housed with offenders serving 5 years or less. Any teen will succumb to peer pressure. The teens come from the streets, many are prone to violence and have no concept of the programs content. Many are continuing disciplinary problems, but cannot be sent anywhere else in the state due to the nature of the program.

    These are just some of the issues raised in the emails we received over the past week. Another wrote that two youth counselors were allegedly disciplined and terminated after what was described by the agency as "inappropriate behavior" with the youths. One female counselor was confirmed through the agencies open records policy as having attempted to initiate a relationship with a 17 yr old male Youthful Offender. That employee was terminated but not charged with a crime. Our opinion on the matter is that this program needs to be revamped to include manual labor, and school studies and more closely monitored.

    They will try to enter the working world where many companies don't hire felons.

    So manual labor training may be what gets them through. That facility is obviously not set up for that type of offender. The program should be moved to a newer, more secure 2250 pod style unit where they can be better monitored and appropriately housed. We are told, and then confirmed that the Clemens unit houses Youthful Offender offenders that have been placed in administrative segregation, but records show that the facility has not housed that type of offender there since 1997 when the cells were modified to exclude administrative segregation.

    That would mean they are being housed in regular cells not fitted with extra wire and other safety features for staff. We are happy to hear that the employees we spoke to were very satisfied with the current administration at the facility and applauded there efforts in making the unit safe and we understand that the they don't have a say in how the program works or where its located The program itself is not under the direction of the unit administration per se, It's overseen by a program administrator who conducts the daily business and makes program changes as needed through the office of Madeline Ortiz in Huntsville.

    In 2006, the programs director brought Houston based rappers Trae and Slim Thug to perform inside the unit for just the Youthful Offenders. At the time, at least one of those rappers was allegedly tied to the gang life in Houston and many of his songs glamorized violence and crime. Not the perfect role models for incarcerated youth it seems.(see another related video at link below)


    So you be the judge, is the TDCJ really a better alternative then the TYC itself ?

    Is the TDCJ Youthful Offender Program really an alternative for TYC ?

    Behind Bars, Teenagers Become Prey

    By T.J. Parsell, a human rights activist dedicated to ending sexual violence in detention,
    is the author of "Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison."

    JUNE 5, 2012

    In early 2003, I testified on Capitol Hill with Linda Bruntmyer, a mother from Texas whose 17-year-old son was incarcerated after setting a trash bin on fire.

    In prison, he was raped repeatedly. He later hanged himself inside his cell. I felt a special bond with Linda, because I too had been raped in prison at 17. It could have easily been my mother standing there, urging Congress to end the travesty of sending juveniles to adult jails and prisons.

    Most juveniles who serve time are eventually released. They will either be traumatized from sexual assault or hyper-violent from having learned to fend off the threat.

    What happened to Lindas son and me was far from unpredictable. Congressional findings in the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 posited that juveniles were five times as likely to be sexually assaulted in adult rather than in juvenile facilities often within their first 48 hours of incarceration. Youth advocacy groups report that juveniles housed in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide.

    At the time I was sent to prison, for robbing a Fotomat with a toy gun, I was still a boy physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally and ill equipped to respond to the sexualized coercion of older, more experienced convicts. On my first day, I was drugged, gang raped and turned into sexual chattel.

    Youth held in adult prisons are the hardest hit and easiest prey for sexual abuse. Placing juveniles in adult facilities has devastating consequences not only for the youth but also for the communities from which they came. Eighty percent are released before their 21st birthday, and 95 percent are released before they turn 25. Theyre coming back into society indelibly marked by what theyve experienced either traumatized by sexual assault, or hyper-violent from having learned to fend off the threat.

    The Centers for Disease Control reports that youth who are transferred to the adult system are approximately 34 percent more likely than youth retained in the juvenile court system to be rearrested for a felony. When research has shown young people kept in the juvenile system are less likely to re-offend, why do we keep making the same mistake?

    There has been some progress. The standards that the Justice Department released last month, in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, prevent juveniles from being housed with adult inmates or having unsupervised contact with adult inmates in common spaces. The measures also recommend against solitary confinement as a means of protecting young inmates. But the standards stop far short of prohibiting the placement of minors in adult prisons, and largely ignore teenagers over 17.

    There are an estimated 250,000 youth who are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults each year. Crime rates in the U.S. have gone down, but our prison populations have steadily climbed. Part of the solution is to do something different with the next generation of youthful offenders.

    Behind Bars, Teenagers Become Prey

    Juvenile Agency To Reopen Mart Lockup

    This youth facility in Mart, near Waco, was mothballed more than a year ago. Now, officials at the Texas Juvenile Justice
    Department are planning to reopen the cellblock-style lockup.

    By Mike Ward
    June 1, 2012

    After months of debate and public criticism, state officials said Friday that they are moving forward with plans to reopen part of a mothballed lockup near Waco to hold the most incorrigible teenage offenders.

    That puts Texas one step closer to opening its first separate cellblock-style lockup to house juvenile offenders, rather than softer, campuslike centers used for years.

    In a memo to legislative leaders dated May 25, Cherie Townsend, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said the agency is developing plans for a 24-bed "secure intensive behavior intervention program" at the facility near Mart, about 10 miles from Waco.

    Eight beds might open by the end of June, with the rest by Aug. 1, according to the memo obtained by the American-Statesman.

    The memo also reveals that officials are developing a program "to serve the approximately 10 percent of commitments and recommitments who are responsible for the majority of assaultive behavior" in the agency's lockups.

    Another building at Mart would be the site of that 32-bed program, for which Townsend said she intends to seek approval at a late June meeting of the agency's governing board.

    For months, legislative leaders and several top officials inside the agency have advocated opening the lockup in Mart as a place for offenders who have committed violent acts at the agency's six other lockups.

    Jim Hurley, an agency spokesman, said Friday that specifics of the new program are still under discussion.

    "It would be a place where we could move youth who are assaultive," he said.

    The Mart facility was mothballed more than a year ago after the number of youths incarcerated in the agency's lockups declined from more than 4,000 to just over 1,100, with the rest diverted into community-based rehabilitation and treatment programs. The downsizing was the result of changes in state law after a sex abuse scandal and cover-up rocked the agency in 2007.

    State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, applauded the decision but said it is long overdue.

    "They should have done it a week ago, a month ago, several months ago," he said. "They need a place to separate the worst of the worst, and they've been dragging their feet in doing that because they didn't want to disrupt the school and programs for the youths who would go there."

    Meanwhile, new details were made public Friday about disturbances at two of the agency's lockups, underscoring that unrest and security issues inside the newly reformed juvenile justice system are not resolved.

    A report on a disturbance at Giddings State School on May 26 says that six youths "began vandalizing and destroying the dorm" after they refused requests from the staff to go to bed. After breaking a mop handle and strewing trash throughout Dorm 9B, they broke mirrors and fire alarm lights and "threw books off the bookshelf," the report states.

    When security staffers arrived, the youths barricaded themselves in a kitchen storage closet that should have been locked but was open. Staffers tried several times unsuccessfully to force their way into the closet, using pepper spray three times to try to get the youths out.

    By using plastic bags and towels inside the closet, the youths were able to negate the pepper spray. Authorities at one point drilled a hole in the door to get pepper spray in, but that did not work either.

    Finally, after removing a window and firing more pepper spray inside, officials were able to take the youths into custody. No injuries were reported, and Hurley said Friday that all six students remain in security in a separate dorm away from the other youths at Giddings as an investigation into the incident continues.

    Giddings has been plagued by violence since last fall, when a correctional officer was repeatedly stabbed by a pen-wielding youth. At least two significant disturbances have occurred since then, but assaults and gang activity have continued despite attempts by Austin officials to stem the violence.

    A second report on Friday provided the first details about a "major disruption" Wednesday night at the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg. Agency insiders had been warning for weeks that a disturbance fueled by gang rivalries was imminent.

    According to the report, a fight involving 15 youths broke out between classes. "One youth assaulted another youth, and then every youth in the hall began to assault each other, the result of a gang-related issue," the report states.

    Guards used pepper spray to break up the fight. No major injuries were reported, according to the report.

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Juvenile Agency To Reopen Mart Lockup

    Life On the List

    A single mistake when he was 12 landed Josh Gravens on Texas sex offender list. Hes been paying for it ever since.

    Published on: May 31, 2012


    WHEN JOSH GRAVENS WAS 12 YEARS OLD, he made a terrible mistake. He and his sister, who was 8, had sexual contact, twice. Like, where my body part touched her body part, he says. It was never penetrative.

    Obviously, it couldnt have been what they call consensual, but it was playing.

    Joshs sister told their mother, who was alarmed. She wanted to ensure that, even if Joshs intentions were only curious, he learned appropriate behavior right away. She called a Christian counseling center near their home in Abilene and described what happened. She was informed that, by law, the center had to report Josh to the police for sexual assault of a child.

    The next day, Josh was arrested and sent into Texas juvenile justice system. He wouldnt get out for three and a half years.

    My family didnt want to press charges, he says. The state took up the case and pressed charges. Josh and I met earlier this year at his older sisters house in Plano, where he lives with his soft-spoken wife Nicole and their four children, two from Nicoles first marriage and a toddler and infant with Josh. The three-bedroom house is neat but crowded, full of happy kids, two big dogs and a couple of turtles in terrariums.

    There was quite a bit of shock, Josh says of his arrest. My mother didnt understand at the time that if the counselor felt there was a chance it could happen again or there was something going on, she was obligated to report it.

    That phone call, and the childs choice that prompted it, unalterably changed the course of Joshs life.

    Today he is 25. He and his family are living with his older sister and her husband while Josh looks for work. He estimates that hes applied for 250 positions since January, when the checks from his job at a Christmas tree lot started to bounce. He stays upbeat, though finding work is harder for him than for other people. Because of what he did when he was 12, Josh is a registered sex offender. Hell remain on the list until hes 31.

    Unlike some states, Texas lists juveniles, and adults who committed their crimes as juveniles, on its public sex offender registry, a searchable website run by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The registry lists each offenders name, birth date, current home address, current employer and work address, and any school being attended or occupational license held. Also listed are the offenders sex, race, ethnicity, height, weight, hair color, eye color, shoe size and shoe width. The website keeps an up-to-date color photo of each offender. If Josh gets a haircut or grows a beard, hes supposed to go back to the local DPS office and re-register to keep his image current.

    The day before I first met Josh, two officers from the Plano Police Department had dropped by unannounced to make sure Josh really lives where his registration says he does. They also wanted to see his blue card, an ID card registered offenders are required to carry at all times. I asked Josh if he felt harassed by that. You could, he says, if you werent used to it.

    Not only does Texas list juveniles, but it has no lower limit on the age of registerable children. Right now, Texas lists a 12-year-old. Twelve is too young to have a Facebook account, but with a quick search I can find this boys home address in a small town in Central Texas. He has brown hair and blue eyes, is 5 feet 2 inches and 102 pounds. His photograph shows flushed cheeks and a worried brow. No school is listed, perhaps because he is prohibited from attending school, as many sex offenders are. He moved here from North Carolina, where he was adjudicated for indecent liberties between children. Hell be on the list until 2021.

    Josh admitted what had happened with his younger sister from the beginning and was adjudicated for one count of aggravated sexual assault. (Any sexual assault against a child under 14 is considered aggravated.) In error, though, his DPS page also lists his youngest sister, age 6, as a second victim. Josh and his mother say Child Protective Services listed the second child on its original complaint, but the judge found the allegation lacked merit and struck it out.

    Josh says there was no such assault, he wasnt adjudicated for it, never pled to it, but hasnt had the money to petition to have it removed. (Despite all the public information about Josh available on the Internet, his court records, being those of a juvenile, are sealed. Joshs story here is based on extensive interviews with him and his wife. Major points have been corroborated by family members.)

    Josh says he never considered denying the abuse. I thought it was so important that I never call my sister a liar, he says, which is what happens in a lot of cases, and [the victim] has to deal with it later on. I never wanted that to happen to my sister. I did value telling the truth more than freedom, I guess, because whats the point of freedom when you have to live a lie?

    Josh understood the destructive power of secrets because he had one of his own.

    Between the ages of 6 and 8, Josh says he was repeatedly raped by three neighborhood high schoolersa babysitter and her two male friends. They said they would kill my sisters and my parents if I ever said anything, Josh says. And I held them true to that, because they were big into hunting, big gun people. Every Saturday they were out shooting. I went on with my life and kept that in the back of my head, but obviously it messed me up.

    Everything that I did with my sister came directly from the things I had experienced in the abuse, he says. I was sexually confused, and it started to play out with my sister.

    Josh was imprisoned in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), where he says he was bullied for his age and crime. I was only 13, by far the youngest, he says. Id be marching in line when we were going building to building, and Id have to endure the person behind me punching me square in the kidney the entire time. You could hear it. The guard would look, but he wouldnt see anything.

    He never told anyone that he had been abused. I was so embarrassed by it that I only started talking about it last summer. [In TYC] I never felt safe enough to talk about what had happened to me in childhood, he says, especially since theyre looking for any possible reason you might re-offend.

    One little-realized fact of sexual abuse is that more than a third of sex offenses against children are committed by other children. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice published a comprehensive bulletin about child-on-child sex abuse that analyzed multiple studies. It found that about half of juvenile sex offenders are between 15 and 17, the age people might expect offenders to be. But many are much younger. More than a third are between 12 and 14, like Josh was, and one in 20 is younger than 9.

    These children are also not generally being convicted of the crimes people associate with sex offenders, like rape. Almost two-thirds of offenses were for fondling or non-forcible offenses like sharing pornography. But they all are sex offenders under the law.

    Dr. Paul Andrews is a forensic psychologist who works with juvenile sex offenders in Smith County. He said labeling children sex offenders is becoming more frequentand the offenders are getting younger. Here in the last couple of years, were seeing kids as young as 10 being adjudicated for their sexual misconduct, Andrews said. But he speculates that this is because of increased prosecution of young children, rather than increased misbehavior.

    Children Joshs age and younger are usually exploratory, curious, he said. They do not have any kind of predatory tendencies, usually. Theyre not budding sexual molesters. Theyre kids who are curious and sometimes not well-supervised, having been exposed in places to sexual material. Without good sex educationDont do this, this is going to get you in troublethey sometimes cross that line and suddenly theyre in the criminal system.

    Josh was transferred to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield in November 2000. The Clayton unit housed younger offenders and had a specialized sex offender treatment program. Josh says the treatment involved things like coping skills, like how to handle an erection when youre around a child.

    Thats an interesting topic, because that was never the case. A pedophile is a person whos attracted to the prepubescent male or female form. In a lot of our cases, we were curious about sex, and a sibling was nearby, and we werent necessarily attracted to them, but they were there. Thats not to justify it, but very seldom was it someone who went and attacked some stranger. We didnt want 8-year-old girlfriends or anything like that.

    The Justice Department study confirms Joshs observations about juvenile sex offenders. It found that less than 3 percent of victims were strangers to their assailants, while a quarter were family members.

    The conventional wisdom about sex offenders is that if they do it once, theyll do it again. Thats the whole logic behind having a registry. But statistically, sex offenders are less likely to re-offend than other kinds of criminals, and juvenile recidivism is even lower. A 2006 study of 300 registered sex offenders in Texas who were juveniles at the time of their first offense found that just 4.3 percent were arrested as adults for another sex crime.

    Yet youths like Josh, with a very low chance of re-offense, are listed publicly alongside dangerous predators. As of March, Texas listed 4,784 offenders who were 16 or younger at the time of their offense. Twenty-eight of those on the sex offender registry are still children. And unlike their peers who commit assault or even murder, these adolescents crimes will follow them into adulthood.

    JOSH WAS 16 when he got out of TYC. Thats when his photographs began to appear on the DPS website, leading many who research him to think he was older when he offended. Josh was released into his parents home, with his sisters, but had to have alarms on his doors and windows that would beep in his parents room when opened. He smiles. I didnt mind; I was out [of TYC].

    Josh attended the local high school, where he quickly made up for lost time. He joined the math and science University Interscholastic League teams, the Academic Challenge, and the prom committee. At the house in Plano, he leads me to the kitchen table and opens a folder fat with certificates and commendations.

    There are awards for calculus and desktop publishing, a contest-winning speech for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and notifications of scholarships from a local power company and Southwestern Bell. His classmates voted him Friendliest Boy.

    But two weeks before graduation, everything changed. The local paper ran a story about sex offenders. Usually, your life is pretty peaceful, Josh says, until something comes out in the newspaper about sex offenders. Then everybody gets up in arms and they go on the DPS website and check their ZIP code. Emails start passing around, Oh, do you know whos on the list? Josh didnt see the article, but I felt like something was up. I didnt know what it was. Out of the blue, people started asking what my middle name was.

    Soon everyone knew. He lost friends; people started ignoring or avoiding him, including teachers. I just couldnt wait for graduation, he says. I love school. Ive always liked to learn and read. But the last two weeks were horrible. I couldnt wait to get out of there.

    Josh graduated seventh in his class and attended Texas Tech University for political science, his tuition fully covered by scholarships and grants. He took 19 hours his first semester, which together with the Advanced Placement credit hed acquired in high school, made him a sophomore by his second semester. He also worked for the National Ranching Heritage Center, taking care of old buildings, and served on the residence hall senate. But his peace was short-lived.

    A local TV station broadcast a story on sex offenders and included a picture of Josh. I wasnt contacted about it. Obviously its public information so they just went ahead and ran the story. But thats when the death threats started.

    First, an anonymous handwritten note appeared under his door telling him to leave the school or be killed. Josh didnt report it because that would have called attention to his registry status. He was still hoping few people knew.

    But the word was out. It was a Friday night, probably 11 p.m., he says. I was in the parking lot and this truck drove by and started throwing beer bottles at me. I had to run inside. They yelled, Get out of our school, you child molester! I wish I could kill you!’

    While meant to be a resource for parents, the sex offender registry can also be a resource for vigilantes. In 2004, Lawrence Trant of New Hampshire tried to kill several registered sex offenders, stabbing one and setting fire to two apartment buildings where seven offenders lived. From prison, Trant told the Boston Globe, I hope Ive done a service to the community. In 2006, Canadian Stephen Marshall flew to Maine, wrote down addresses for 29 of the 34 sex offenders on the state registry and went on a murderous road trip, visiting the homes of six offenders, killing two.

    After being chased by the truck, Josh was so afraid that he stopped leaving his dorm except for classes. Finally, he dropped out.

    SEX OFFENDER REGISTRIES are a fairly new law enforcement tool. In 1994, a 7-year-old girl in New Jersey, Megan Kanka, was raped and murdered by a neighbor who had previously been convicted of child molesting. Within days of Megans death, her parents began lobbying for residents to be notified when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood. Only a month after the murder, the state Legislature rushed to pass a set of bills to register and track offenders, and notify the community when one moves in nearby.

    Id rather err on the side of potential victims, Steven Corodemus, a Republican in the New Jersey General Assembly, said at the time. We can lock away these animals and take out of our minds the doubts that our children will be the next victims.

    But research hasnt shown that to be true. Most victims of sex crimes know their assailant, and most assailants are first-time offenders, who wouldnt be registered. But even concerning convicted, registered sex offenders, the most thorough study of Megans Law, as the community notification statute was called, concluded that it simply didnt work.

    In 2008, a study sponsored by the Justice Department looked at crime in New Jersey during the 10 years before and 10 years after Megans Law was passed. Its findings include: Megans Law has no effect on community tenure (i.e., time to first re-arrest); Megans Law showed no demonstrable effect in reducing sexual re-offenses; Megans Law has no effect on the type of sexual re-offense or first-time sexual offense; Megans Law has no effect on reducing the number of victims involved in sexual offenses. The study concludes, Given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megans Law on sexual offenses, the growing costs may not be justifiable.

    Efficacy aside, the sex offender registry and notification laws are intuitively appealing in a way that likely makes them permanent. Many people want to know when a sex offender moves in nearby. In that case, critics argue the registry should be reserved for only the very dangerous, those who are likely to re-offend.

    As of May, Texas sex offender registry lists more than 70,000 people. Critics contend that the sheer size of the list is counter-productive, because it shields the truly dangerous sex offenders in a crowd of people who will likely never commit another crime.

    Torie Camp is deputy director for the victims rights group Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Shes one of many who say the size of the registry makes it less useful and less fair. The registry currently treats every single sex offender like they were all the same type of offender, she said, and with 70,000 people on that list, theyre not. There are some very dangerous people on that list and there are some people who arent very dangerous and dont need to be listed. I would say that includes juveniles. From the research weve seen, juvenile sex offenders are the best target group for rehabilitation, and they do not necessarily pose a threat to the same extent as adult sex offenders. I would even argue that there are many adult sex offenders that, having them on the list just scares people in a community. It doesnt make them any safer.

    Camp added another common criticism, which is that the registry creates a false sense of security. Our research shows that 18 percent of sexual assault survivors actually make a report to law enforcement, she said. Far fewer than that result in a conviction, so Camp said while the Texas list is enormous, most people who have committed a sexual assault arent on it. Everybody has sex offenders living in their neighborhood, she said. Just some of them are on the registry and some are not.

    But instead of refining the list, sex offender laws keep expanding it. Less than a month after New Jersey passed Megans Law, the U.S. Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, mandating that each state keep a registry of violent sex offenders against children accessible by police. In 1996, the Megans Law amendment to the Wetterling Act made these registries public and required community notification when sex offenders moved in. In 2003, another bill created a federal sex offender registry that comprises all 50 state listings. Meanwhile, most municipalities have established child safety zones, which are areas around schools, churches and parks where sex offenders cannot live.

    Many schools ban sex offenders, and property owners wont rent to them. Some states dont allow sex offenders to use the Internet, to prevent them from contacting minors. But this also means they cant search for jobs or pursue an online education.

    In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, the first part of which was the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The law broadens which crimes deserve registry and extends registration to children as young as 14. Sexual crimes against children are an automatic lifetime registry, so most juvenile offenders convicted under SORNA would be sentenced to the sex offender registry for the rest of their lives.

    The deadline to implement SORNA was July 2011. Many states balked at its implications for juveniles, and Texas was one of them. In an August letter to the Justice Department, Gov. Rick Perrys chief of staff wrote, In dealing with juvenile sex offenders, Texas law more appropriately provides for judges to determine whether registration would be beneficial to the community and the juvenile offender in a particular case.

    But Texas has harsher laws against juvenile sex offenders than many states, even without SORNA. Other states dont list juveniles, or they keep their juvenile lists accessible only to police, or they dont sentence juveniles to registration that extends past their 18th birthday, or they at least have a floor on how young a person can be publicly registered. Texas does none of this.

    Rather than rejecting SORNA out of concern for juvenile welfare, Perry probably objected to the federal mandate and to the price. A 2009 study estimated that it would cost Texas $38.8 million to fully implement SORNA. The penalty for non-compliance is the loss of 10 percent of a states federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. In Texas, thats about $1.4 million.

    When asked for comment on Texas policy of listing juvenile sex offenders, a spokesman for the DPS offered only the following: All 50 states have some form of a sex offender registry, and the Texas sex offender registry is an important public safety tool created by the Texas Legislature designed to provide awareness and specific information to the public as well as law enforcement about sex offenders, their crimes and their locations.

    Nicole Pittman is the Soros Senior Justice Advocacy Fellow at Human Rights Watch and a leading researcher on juvenile sex offenders. Pittman says the DPS spokesmans generic reply is typical. Seven years now, testifying in front of Congress and traveling to 34 states, I have never had anyone tell me that its a good idea when Im talking specifically about juvenile sex offender registration, she says. The problem, the reason were so deep into it, is that [laws] get extended to children and the biggest deal-breaker or career-breaker for a politician is to undo something. Theyre so afraid of that. Thats the way you lose votes. And juvenile offenders get caught up in that, even though I have not met a legislator yet who believes that a child should go on there.

    WHEN HE LEFT Texas Tech in 2006, Josh was 19. He got a job working at a construction company, but not for long. First, a man on the crew told a story about threatening a sex offender whod moved into his neighborhood. Josh says the man told the offender, Thats my house over there and those are my kids and if you ever come near my house, Im gonna blow your brains out. Within a month, Josh was called into the managers office and let gofor his own safety. Multiple people had said they planned on throwing me out of the tower, Josh says.

    He then got a job in the wind industry, traveling around the country putting up turbines. That went pretty good for about two years, and I did pretty well, Josh says. Then I messed up in Washington state.

    Though he was registered in his home county in Texas, Josh was also supposed to have registered in any county where he stayed more than a week, and hed been in Washington working for over a month. He was arrested and charged with a felony failure to register. He spent 13 days in jail, paid a $2,000 fine, and spent another $6,000 on a lawyer to help him get out with time served. He also lost his job. When I applied to the company, I didnt have to put that I was convicted of a felony because I wasnt, Josh says. I was a child and I was adjudicated. My parole officer had said I could leave that blank or put no. But thats not how his employers saw it. I lost my job and all my work contacts, all the friends I had. And then I had a felony conviction on my record. Joshs registration will eventually end, but his criminal record will remain.

    Josh moved back to Abilene and worked on a ranch, at a chemical company, and as a mover to make ends meet. Then he met his wife, Nicole, through mutual acquaintances. Josh had never really dated because, after TYC, he was afraid of being considered a predator. When I was introduced back into church, I felt guilty for looking at girls my own age, he says. What father of a 16-year-old girl is going to let their daughter date a 16-year-old sex offender? None.

    Nicole was 22 and Josh was 23 when they went on their first date, to Starbucks.

    It was only my second time in a Starbucks, Nicole says softly. They went for a walk and talked for hours. When I came home from our first date, Nicole says, I couldnt stop smiling. I thought he was very smart, and hes very nice and you knowI just fell in love.

    After dating for two weeks, Josh says, I sat her down. I said, I hope this doesnt change things. But I know that I need to go ahead and tell you. And I told her my story. So I said, If you want to continue this relationship, or if you want to end this relationship, if that scares you, I understand too. She kissed me. That was her answer.

    Nicole says, Being a single mom, you think no ones ever going to love you. I didnt let him meet the kids for a while because I didnt want him to run away. But they fell in love with him. Hes really good with them. Thats a good thing.

    Josh proposed three months later. He had started working at a pizza place in Wichita Falls, almost three hours from Abilene, commuting back and forth to see Nicole and keep his registration in Abilene. They didnt want to live together before marriage, but the distance was hard, so they got married in October.

    Nicole talked to me in her car as we waited for her second oldest to be released from kindergarten. Josh doesnt pick the kids up or attend any school functions because to do so, hed have to let the administration know hes a sex offender and ask for permission. Hes afraid of transferring any stigma to his children.

    Nicole says she would have married Josh regardless but admits she didnt know how much harder life would be because of his registration. I dont think its right that he has to do this, she says. Its hard for him to get a job. Its hard for him to stay in one place. I feel like theyre keeping him from living.

    During months of research for this story, I actively tried to find someone to make a case for how the sex offender registry is working and why juveniles should be on it. As researcher Nicole Pittman had predicted, I could not find that person. Even Liles Arnold, Chairman of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, couldnt throw his weight behind it. How well [the registry] works is still something thats subject to research, Arnold said. We dont have anything definitive that indicates that the sex offender registry has created a decline in sex offending. I think were still trying to fine-tune the process. As for registering juveniles, Arnold says in very rare cases, such as a 15- or 16-year-old committing a violent assault with a weapon, I think you could argue that registration serves a purpose. But for the overwhelming majority of juvenile offenses, I dont think registration is warranted.

    Multiple studies have shown that juvenile sex offenders have extremely low rates of recidivism. But could being on the registry be why they dont re-offend?

    Again, research says no. Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau is an associate professor of mental health at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and has conducted several studies on recidivism among juvenile sex offenders. Recently, she compared more than 100 pairs of youths who had committed the same sex offenseone person in each pair had been registered and one had not.

    Letourneau learned that being on the sex offender registry or having neighbors notified when a juvenile offender moves in had no effect on the likelihood that the youth would commit another violent or sexual offense. She also found that the existence of the registry didnt prevent first-time offenders. Juveniles are barely aware of their own behaviors, much less consequences down the line, Letourneau said.

    A month after his wedding to Nicole, Josh bought the pizzeria in Wichita Falls.

    It wasnt making a whole lot of money, but I started to feel like things were changing, he says. But Josh tried to preserve his new life as a father and businessman by keeping his registration in Abilene. He says, Being a business owner, especially with a family restaurant, the last thing you want is for people to Google you and see, oh, hes a sex offender. So I made the stupid decision not to register in Wichita Falls. I maintained my registry with Callahan County, and went back and forth for a while, trying to keep my residence there, but becauseand again, I didnt know thisbut any time you spend more than 48 hours in a month in one particular principality, you also have to register with the city of Wichita Falls. Next thing I know I have two detectives coming to my restaurant, asking why I hadnt registered there. So I picked up another felony in Wichita Falls for failure to register. I lost my restaurant. I had cashed in a 401(k), some gold coins, sold off everything I had saved trying to keep that restaurant. I lost everything.

    It could have been worse. Josh retained a lawyer friend to help with his case, but it didnt look good. The district attorney wanted to give Josh eight years in prison. They were scared. Nicole was pregnant with their first child.

    Through the years, Josh had stayed close to his parents and siblings, including the sister he abused. When she heard Josh might be going to jail, she wrote a letter to the judge.

    Dear Sirs and Madams of the Court,

    As the only victim of this crime, I feel my brother, Joshua Samuel Gravens, has paid his debt to society and to me for what he did. He was 13 years old at the time and has paid for it for 11 years so far. I have seen my brother work hard, try to pay his bills, take care of his family, get a little bit ahead, only to have the justice system come and take everything away time after time.

    For three and a half years he was totally incarcerated and then kept on parole until he was 21. He did well in school and work. Please release him from this penalty and let him go on to live his life. Let him de-register and give him the right to vote. He will be a good citizen. I have full confidence of this.

    Sincerely and gratefully yours,

    P.S. I am almost 19 years old.

    Joshs sister declined to be interviewed, and because shes a victim of a child sex crime, the Observer is withholding her name.

    Josh was released with probation and a $2,000 ticket for a child safety zone violation. He is almost finished paying off the ticket.

    ALL 50 STATES now have a group working to reform sex offender registries. Mary Sue Molnar founded Texas Voices in 2008, after her son was convicted of a sex offense.

    When this happened, she said, I started researching. And I found stories that were far more horrendous and heartbreaking than ours. Young kids and young men and dumb mistakes. I thought everybody who was on that registry was a dangerous, violent criminal who was waiting behind a tree to snatch up kids. I never realized.

    Texas Voices distributes email updates to about 500 members and holds occasional meetings in major Texas cities for sex offenders and their loved ones. During the last legislative session, the group successfully lobbied against a bill by state Rep. Tan Parker, a Republican from Flower Mound, that would have printed RSO on the back of a registered sex offenders drivers license or other state-issued ID. Molnar said it wasnt useful, just punitive. Police already know theyre on the registry and they already carry a blue card. So how does that protect the public?

    Texas Voices also works toward public education, using the experiences of its members. We have a lot of good stories that need to be told, Molnar said. When people read them, they understand a little bit more about how easy it is to be placed on the registry and that it could happen to them or someone they love very easily.

    Molnar said she supports the list, but echoes the criticism that its too big to be useful. Hello, not everybody on the list is dangerous, she said. “We know there are a few out there who are dangerous and who need to be monitored. We dont have a problem with that. But there are just so many. They are adding an average of 111 [registrants] a week. And hardly anybody gets off. So what do we do now and where do we go from here? What happens when we are at 100,000 and the ones who really need to be monitored, how closely are we going to be able to monitor them?

    The Texas Legislature has taken two small steps back from swelling the registry. Last year, lawmakers passed the so-called Romeo and Juliet bill, by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which retroactively de-registered offenders who were older than 17 and had consensual sex with a minor at least 15 years old and no more than four years their junior.

    In 2005, the Legislature passed two companion bills creating a process by which certain offenders could petition to be taken off the registry. The Council on Sex Offender Treatment spent years developing an evaluation tool and training a dozen specialists around the state to use it. The idea was for specialists to evaluate sex offenders who were of the lowest tier of offenses and had completed probation without another conviction, then make a recommendation to the offenders local court, which would have the final say in whether the offender was de-registered. The process officially kicked off July 1, 2011. Since then, theyve completed between 10 and 15 evaluations. Not one person has come off the list.

    State Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican from Richardson who chairs the House Corrections Committee and is serving his last term in office, says its difficult to remove names from the registryeven low-risk juvenilesbecause no one wants to get it wrong. Theres not enough knowledge about what that risk assessment is. The thing is, no matter how well you do it, once in a great while, youre going to miss. You dont want to let out the one thats going to go grab someones kid off the street. Thats the danger in all of this.

    While Madden calls the registry an absolute necessity, he says some juveniles shouldnt be listed. I think we need to know who the sex offenders are but realize also that juvenile brains are still developing. [M]any of them grow out of it. I think that there needs to be a very careful consideration of who we put on any list as a juvenile.

    JOSH AND HIS FAMILY moved to Sweetwater in July 2010 to work on a ranch.

    Nicole loved the country, but the job lasted only a year and a half. The woman there, the mother was sick and eventually passed away and her son needed to sell the house and move into something else, Josh says. And so we came out here to Plano. Moved in with my sister temporarily. The plan is to save some money and move into our own place here in Plano. The nice thing about Plano is, they have residency restrictions but they dont apply to people who were juveniles at the time of their offense. So I can pretty much move anywhere in Plano without fear of violating the child safety zone, which is nice. And this is the first town theres ever been any dignity in the registration process. The lady who does the registry here told me everything. Now I know whats expected of me on the registry.

    Josh briefly had two jobs in Plano, at a Christmas tree lot and, for the same people, doing pest control. But after four consecutive paychecks bounced, he quit. He looks for work in earnest, but he knows from experience that hell get hired only by people who can meet him, listen to his story, and decide to give him a chance. I have to go to mom-and-pop businesses because big corporations wont hire me, he says. He recently started food service training to become a waiter. Hes also exploring returning to college part-time to get his bachelors.

    Nicole Pittman, with Human Rights Watch, met Josh during a recent research trip to Texas. She interviewed him extensively and talked with his family. I asked her how unusual Joshs story is.

    He is an exceptional person, she said. But the only thing thats exceptional about his case is that they have an error on the record in terms of two victims versus one. But his case is classic, textbook of what Im seeing. When you look at the letter of the law, youre like, Okay, I can understand, we want to protect children. But Josh, as well as thousands and thousands of others, are also in that protected class. He was a child.

    Pittman is traveling around the country, interviewing juvenile sex offenders and their loved ones to learn about the impact registration has on their mental health. In many cases, she has only the family to interview, because the juvenile has committed suicide.

    Ive never had thoughts of suicide, Josh says. But if any person were weaker than me, mentally or whatnot, it would crush them. I had the benefit of having had a strong support from my family and a strong faith. I still believe humanity is good overall, even though Ive been through the wringer and Ive had death threats and society hasnt been very great to me. I still love my country, and I still love my state. The only thing I want to do is make sure kids dont go through what I went through. Punish them, if you have to. But dont put them on the registry.

    Life On The List

    MAY 29, 2012
    Townsend Out As TJJD Chief

    Cherie Townsend, head of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, announced today that she's retiring at the end of next month following harsh criticism from state Sen. John Whitmire, who accused her of having a "hug a thug" mentality for not utilizing solitary confinement.

    Until the Legislature fixes structural flaws, though, and adequately staffs facilities, the underlying problems aren't going away. Now that Townsend's on her way out, who will be the next scapegoat? Honestly I don't know who would want the top TJJD spot: It's a bit like the honor of being named Darth Vader's next lieutenant. Find Townsend's letter to employees announcing her retirement below the jump.

    Dear Staff,

    I want you to know that today I informed the TJJD Board of my intent to retire from state service effective June 30, 2012. Over the last two months, it has become clear that the focus on my values and principles related to best practices in juvenile justice are detracting from the mission and work of the agency.

    I have worked for over 40 years as a juvenile justice system practitioner and leader. It has been my privilege to serve in many capacities, to work with thousands of employees and community leaders, and to lead organizations at both the local and state level.

    Serving as your executive director was the culmination of all that work. As I look back, I am astounded by the accomplishments over the years by people working collaboratively to make certain that communities were safer and that youth had opportunities for change and success in their lives. That was especially true here in Texas.

    It took a lot of soul searching to reach this decision. I believe in the goals of this new agency. And, I have appreciated your support and commitment to accomplishing those goals as well as to doing all that you could to insure safe and secure facilities, to achieve better outcomes for youth and to support their families. You are an amazing group of individuals with great talent. And, I will miss you.

    I will be working through the end of June and hope to have the opportunity to speak with many of you personally during that time. Please know that you will always have my support, respect and admiration for the work that you do and your dedication to serve youth and the goals of this agency.

    I will always be thankful for the time we worked together.

    Best regards,

    Posted By; Grits For Breakfast

    Juvenile Justice Officials Disagree On Reopening Waco-Area Lockup

    By Mike Ward
    Published: May 24, 2012

    As state officials struggle to find a solution to the spiking violence inside Texas' state-run juvenile lockups, 32 mothballed bunks at a prisonlike facility near Waco have become the center of a policy stalemate that is being blamed for slowing a resolution for months, officials confirmed Thursday.

    At issue is whether to use the empty beds at the McLennan County Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart single-cell rooms with a higher level of security than most of the six campuslike facilities that hold most of Texas' 1,100 teenage offenders. Supporters say the cells could separate the troublemakers from other youths and reduce violence. But opponents, notably Texas Juvenile Justice Department Executive Director Cherie Townsend, say moving the offenders would disrupt their schoolwork and their treatment.

    The stalemate comes amid continuing reports of assaults and violence at agency facilities. On May 14, several people were reported injured as youths rioted at the Evins Regional Juvenile Justice Center in Edinburg. It was the second such uprising there in five months. On Monday, six youths at the Giddings State School broke down a door and climbed onto a dorm roof before guards subdued them with pepper spray.

    Two months ago, the disclosure of escalating violence, unchecked gang activity, extortion rings and general unrest at Giddings sparked a legislative inquiry.

    "We're two months into this, and people in Austin are still talking especially about Mart," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston. "They should already have opened that place for safety, for common sense. This boils down to a policy by some of hug a thug': If you just talk to the worst offenders enough, they'll be nice. That's crazy."

    Townsend could not be reached on Wednesday. But Jim Hurley, her spokesman, said the agency is "exploring options to move aggressively to improve safety." He acknowledged that using the empty lockup at Mart is among the options being discussed but said he could not provide details.

    Hurley said the 32 beds at Mart have been empty for more than a year, part of a series of closures that occurred as more youths were referred to community-based programs.

    The youths who remain housed in state lockups are mostly being held for violent crimes.

    Internal memos obtained by the American-Statesman show that Townsend and others oppose sending the troublemakers to a high-security lockup because it would disrupt their rehabilitation. Legislative leaders and some other top officials in Townsend's agency believe that violent youths need to be held in a more secure correctional environment to curb the violence. Some are even now suggesting that the most chronically violent should perhaps be sent to a young-offender lockup operated by the adult prison system, if the juvenile justice agency cannot safely house them.

    "Whatever the initial costs, such a cost would be offset via a more stringent behavior management program, if applied right, that would ultimately cut down the cost considerably regarding future assaults, disruptions ... not to mention the costs associated with high rates of assaults against staff and youth and the hospital bills associated with not having a solid and comprehensive behavior management plan," Michael Meade, a member of the juvenile-justice agency's governing board, wrote in a May 14 memo to Gov. Rick Perry's office.

    Two days later, after meeting with top agency officials and Jay Kimbrough, Perry's fix-it man who was assigned two weeks ago as a special envoy working for Townsend to curb the problems, Meade reported that most top officials at Giddings "are all on board with this concept."

    "I have discussed this with Cherie, and she is not in favor of opening the 32-bed special unit at this point. She stated to me that she would rather address behavior issues within the assigned facilities, utilizing some new strategies first before considering the Mart concept."

    Meade, who has been critical of the pace of the agency's action to curb the problems at Giddings, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Meade is a veteran juvenile corrections official in Fort Bend County, near Houston.

    Despite the ongoing talks on the latest problems that now involve top Perry aides and legislative leaders, reports of violence continue to surface. Hurley said six staff members have been injured in assaults statewide in the past month.

    A previously undisclosed report estimates the earlier riot at Evins caused $70,000 in damage.

    "The response to the problems by this agency so far is nuts," Whitmire said. "It appears they simply don't want to be tough on the violent ones the gang leaders and bullies. As a result they are exposing all the staff and other youth to violence on a daily basis. This must stop. Now."

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Juvenile Justice Officials Disagree On Reopening Waco-Area Lockup

    16 and Solitary: Texas Jails Isolate Children

    By Amy Fettig, National Prison Project & Matt Simpson, ACLU of Texas

    Imagine locking a teenager in a bathroom for an entire day, a week, a month, six months, a year, or longer. What would happen to that child? She would miss school. She wouldn't be able to exercise or burn off energy in a healthy way.

    She wouldn't be able to interact with other kids or adults. She would probably have a mental breakdown. She might even hurt herself. If a parent treated a child this way, most of us would agree that such actions would constitute child abuse. In Texas county jails and the majority of jails across the country such treatment is simply a matter of routine.

    An important new report, Conditions for Certified Juveniles in Texas County Jails, by researchers at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, exposes the terrible harms visited on children held in these facilities. The LBJ report finds that the majority of jails in its survey lock youth in isolation often with less than an hour a day out of their cells.

    For these youth, the average length of stay in solitary is six months to a year or longer. While in solitary, education is almost nonexistent and mental health care infrequent. Children in Texas jails spend incredibly long periods of time isolated and alone with no prospect of rehabilitation.

    While in solitary confinement, children's mental and physical health is severely compromised. The LBJ report notes the broad consensus among mental health experts that such long-term solitary confinement is psychologically harmful for adults. For children in solitary confinement, the impact is even more traumatic.

    Children experience time differently than adults, have a special need for social stimulation, and are damaged by forced isolation more quickly and severely than adults. It is also true that young people's brains are still developing, which places youth at a higher risk of psychological harm when healthy development is impeded. But the psychological harm is not limited to developmental issues it often means life or death. As the report notes, the risk of suicide and self-harm, including cutting and other acts of self-mutilation, increases exponentially for children in adult jails who are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in juvenile facilities.

    Reviewing the data, the LBJ report notes "the impact of prolonged isolation may have mental health consequences that will make it difficult for these youth to reintegrate, and may increase the likelihood that they will recidivate." Solitary confinement hurts children and ultimately undermines public safety.

    Given these obvious harms, why are jails in Texas and so many other states putting kids in solitary? The report notes that the practice of isolating youth arises from the fact that youth in adult facilities face the near-constant threat of physical and sexual assault by older prisoners. As a result, corrections officials place youth in isolation cells because they want to keep them safe and they have little choice because most facilities have few alternatives to protect youth other than solitary confinement. But we know solitary itself harms youth.

    The lesson here is that kids simply don't belong and can't be kept safe in adult facilities. Last year the Texas legislature took an important first step to deal with this problem by passing S.B. 1209, which gives jurisdictions the discretion to house kids accused of adult offenses in juvenile facilities while awaiting trial. Now that we have the concrete data from researchers at LBJ, it's clear that S.B. 1209 does not provide enough protection for youth confined in Texas jails. It's time for Texas to fill this gap and work to ensure that teenage offenders are kept in the juvenile justice system where they have a better chance of staying safe, returning home and becoming productive citizens. The rest of the country should then follow Texas's lead.

    16 and Solitary: Texas Jails Isolate Children

    Workers trace youth lockup's problems to soft discipline

    By Mike Ward
    May 12, 2012

    GIDDINGS Last year, as beatings and fights began engulfing the 300-bed state lockup for teenage offenders just outside town, staff members were not surprised.

    "The blood had been coming for more than a year," said one veteran employee of the Giddings State School, about 50 miles east of Austin. "Everyone here knew the population was getting a lot tougher. We knew the programs didn't work right. We knew the gangs were out of control, (that) the place was getting out of control. Everyone knew the clock was ticking."

    Everyone, it seems, except top officials at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, who have said that problems at the state lockups that began to surface publicly early this year were overblown and that the new juvenile justice system that was created in the wake of a 2007 sex abuse scandal was beginning to blossom.

    In fact, even as information about the latest scandal began to emerge, some reforms were working: The agency's independent ombudsman, a position created after the previous scandal, was the first to blow the whistle on the escalating violence at Giddings. And a member of the agency's reconstituted governing board alerted legislators after touring the facility, something that would have been unheard of five years ago.

    Still, despite years of reforms from shifting two-thirds of the incarcerated youths into community-based programs to reducing the number of lockups from 14 to six to increasing oversight through special investigators and the ombudsman one thing did not change: a management philosophy that stresses treatment and rehabilitation, oftentimes at the expense of security.

    And after 2009, with a new management team in place at agency headquarters in Austin, some of the more punitive aspects of life inside the lockups were relaxed.

    "The consequences for bad behavior were watered down or done away with. Without that, the system broke down again," said one Giddings correctional officer. "It's tough to just talk nice to kids who can kill you and expect any good result. The philosophy was wrong."

    The American-Statesman interviewed a dozen Giddings employees from correctional officers to program staffers about the violence, which included reports of drug use, gang activity and extortion, as well as assaults on youths and guards. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because agency rules bar them from talking publicly.

    Without exception, the workers blame the spike in violence on a series of policy changes implemented under Executive Director Cherie Townsend's command in the past two years that removed consequences for youths' bad behavior preventing officials from locking them in secure cells or removing credits for completing programs required before they are released.

    Townsend, a career juvenile justice official with experience in probation who is paid $147,000 a year, said that the violence is a result of the agency incarcerating a smaller, more violent group of teenage lawbreakers. More than half identify themselves as members of street gangs.

    "We're confident it's moving in the right direction," Townsend said of new directives to curb the spreading violence at the agency's six secure lockups.

    They include hiring more staffers, requiring them to wear uniforms and changing programs to hold youths more accountable for misdeeds.

    Others involved in Texas' juvenile justice system are not so sure. Three prominent children's advocacy groups warn that the problems have been building since 2009, when Townsend took over after a succession of leaders appointed by Gov. Rick Perry who stayed for only a few months as the agency haltingly worked its way through the aftermath of the 2007 scandal.

    "The ongoing safety concerns, and the agency's unwillingness or inability to successfully deal with them, pose a significant risk of unreasonable harm to the youth in the secure facilities," states a sternly worded letter to the agency's board from Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas and the Center for Public Representation. "That these problems have persisted over such a long period of time reflects deliberate indifference to the serious needs of confined youth."

    The letter says that the agency's key rehabilitation program, CoNEXTions, which is supposed to remold lawbreakers into law abiders, still has not been implemented in two of the six lockups four years after it was supposed to have been. In addition, two behavior modification programs designed to curb and de-escalate misbehavior and violence have not been implemented fully.

    "The list of programmatic failures spans almost the entire spectrum of treatment offered to youth during their stay in a secure facility," the letter continues. "In each case of a reported problem, the agency's response is similar a quick assurance that steps are being taken, additional training is being provided, new staff are being hired, safe housing plans reviewed, new curricula put into place to address gaps in services, and additional steps taken to hold youth accountable.'

    "Yet the same problems are reported over and over again."

    House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, an architect of the reforms starting in 2007, shakes his head at that.

    "We heard the same thing before in 2007," he said.

    In 2007, the agency had charge of more than 4,400 youths ranging in age from 12 to 20. Today, that number is down to slightly more than 1,100 about the size of an Austin middle school. The ones who are left are generally doing time for violent offenses, like most of those at Giddings. Top agency officials bristle at any comparison to the earlier scandal.

    "There are several factors that have caused this current situation: the disruption of merging two agencies into one last fall, that took attention out of the field, and left an uncertainty in leadership at what we now find out was a critical period," said Scott Fisher of Euless, chairman of the agency's governing board.

    "It was a perfect storm. ... We've now really begun to grab the bull by the horns, though."

    James Smith, the agency's associate deputy director, said youth-on-youth assaults began increasing last fall at Giddings.

    The total number of assaults at Giddings increased from 59 in December to 98 in January.

    Staff members from Austin dispatched to Giddings found a critical staff shortage because of a continuing high turnover rate, on-the-job injuries that left duty rosters threadbare and continuing problems with hiring new guards. Working short by a few guards per shift used to be less of a problem, but that wasn't the case with a tougher population that looked for every opportunity to fight and disrupt operations in lockups with open dorms and single-cell rooms where the doors are rarely locked, Giddings employees said.

    Many youths openly talked about their desire to go to an adult prison, where they could be with their fellow gang members. Exposing themselves to staff members became a daily activity for some youths.

    The lack of meaningful punishment emboldened the misbehaving youths, employees said.

    After a disturbance in November and a near-riot in December, Smith said, the agency began hiring correctional officers 30 so far and reassigned 16 guards from other lockups to cover all shifts.

    Still, violence continued to mushroom. Youth-on-youth and youth-on-staff assaults increased. Some of the other five lockups faced similar problems.

    "Staff were working 12-hour shifts. They were tired," Smith said. "We reduced the population from 298 to 272. We closed one dorm and moved staff to other areas. ... We started routine searches. We're taking a much stronger stance on youth when they misbehave."

    Smith oversaw the agency's six lockups until last week, when Townsend appointed Jay Kimbrough, a confidant of Perry who served as conservator of the troubled agency four years ago, to assume that job.

    Now, an action plan for Giddings lists among the solutions: "calming rooms" where youths can be taken to think about what they've done wrong, with beanbag chairs and Nerf balls where they take out their aggression; "walk and talk" sessions in which staffers can counsel youths after misbehavior; and new incentives or rewards to encourage them to behave, such as pizza parties and access to video games.

    While those steps have raised eyebrows among some legislative leaders, who suggest that violent, disruptive behavior should be met with a lockdown cell or new criminal charges, Townsend and other agency officials say that is not the answer in many cases. They say the youths are in the lockups not to be punished, like in the adult prison system, but to be rehabilitated. Townsend summed up her philosophy at a recent board meeting.

    "I try to treat them like they are my child," she said.

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Escalating violence: Assaults at Texas' six youth lockups
    Sept. 2011- Oct. 2011- Nov. 2011- Dec. 2011- Jan. 2012- Feb. 2012- March 2012- April 2012-* =Total

    Youth-on-staff assaults
    77+ 99+ 113+ 127+ 153+ 118+ 139+ 108+ =934

    Youth-on-youth assaults
    181+ 220+ 240+ 258+ 223+ 205+ 243+ 150+ =1,720

    Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department statistics
* Totals for April are for partial month

    Getting the story
    Mike Ward interviewed a dozen employees of the Giddings State School, as well as workers at several other juvenile lockups, for this report. Ward has reported on criminal justice and state prison issues for the American-Statesman since 1989.

    Workers trace youth lockup's problems to soft discipline

    Jay Kimbrough Returns to Youth Agency in Trouble

    By Brandi Grissom
    May 8, 2012

    Jay Kimbrough

    The man who has become Gov. Rick Perry's problem solver, Jay Kimbrough, is going back to the state's juvenile justice agency, which is facing a crisis again five years after the last time he helped bail the agency out of a major scandal.

    "I am pleased that Jay has agreed to help TJJD as we restore legislative, public and employee confidence that Texas is operating facilities that are safe for both employees and youth, Texas Juvenile Justice Department Executive Director Cherie Townsend said in a press statement on Tuesday.

    Kimbrough, who will be on loan from the Texas Department of Public Safety, where he serves as assistant director of homeland security, served as conservator of the Texas Youth Commission in 2007 after investigative news reports revealed horrendous sexual and physical abuse at juvenile lockups. He will act as special assistant for safety and security at TJJD.

    Lawmakers overhauled the agency in 2007, requiring counties to keep more youths closer to their homes for rehabilitation and treatment. Eight of the lockups were closed, and only the most troubled youth offenders remained in the six facilities left. Last year, the TYC merged with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to create the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

    But in recent months news stories and reports from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department's independent ombudsman have revealed a drastic increase in youth-on-youth violence and attacks on staff as well as troubling reports of youth ringleaders essentially controlling the state's largest juvenile detention facilities.

    Before joining DPS, Kimbrough was deputy chancellor at Perry's alma mater, Texas A&M University. He was fired by A&M Chancellor John Sharp and escorted off of the campus after he showed a knife to senior staff members.

    In addition to his work at the scandal-ridden youth agency, Kimbrough was previously dispatched by Perry to clean up the troubled Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Perry has called Kimbrough, a Vietnam War veteran, a happy warrior and a man who comes back time after time to serve.

    In this new role, Kimbrough will oversee safety and security at TJJD facilities and report to Townsend.

    Jay Kimbrough Returns to Youth Agency in Trouble

    Judge blasts Harris public defender over costs for juveniles' cases

    By Brian Rogers
    May 5, 2012
    Houston and Texas

    For years supporters and critics argued about creating a public defender's office in Harris County to deal with hundreds of indigent defendants who go through the criminal courthouse every year.

    The status quo, in which judges individually pick the attorneys who defend indigent juveniles, worked fine, opponents said.

    Advocates obtained a state grant for a four-year pilot program, and the Harris County's Public Defender's office opened for business in February 2011.

    Little more than a year later, a Houston judge wants to see the office ended after the grant that initially funded it runs out, at least for juveniles.

    "In short there is no evidence that a public defender's office can be of any benefit to the Harris County Juvenile Justice system," state District Judge John Phillips said last month in an open letter.

    Chief among Phillips' complaints is that the public defender system in the juvenile courts costs two and half times more than the system of appointments he uses, a number denied by those connected to the office.

    Phillips said the average cost per case is $649, compared to $264 for assigned lawyers.

    Alex Bunin, who oversees the public defender's office, said Phillips' numbers are wrong. He said the judge cited a preliminary feasibility study with estimates that were not accurate.

    "Those numbers are not meaningful," he said.

    Bunin said the costs are closer to actual public defender averages across the state. Established public defender offices in Texas average $406 per case against $540 for appointed attorneys.

    "The point is that the numbers are fairly comparable," Bunin said. "There's no support for 'two and half times the cost.' "

    Bunin said a comprehensive review has been commissioned and is expected in about six months.

    "We'll know things about the quality of our work, as well as the cost effectiveness of it," Bunin said. "When we get ready for midyear budget, we'll have something on paper."

    The new office began by working on appeals and misdemeanor cases involving mentally ill defendants. It has expanded to include juvenile and felony cases, as part of a four-year pilot program, partially funded by a state grant.

    Systemic Changes

    That expansion in to the juvenile courts has apparently chafed Phillips. He said early projections for the office overestimated the number of cases that would be handled and now the office is trying to drum up business.

    The public defender office is attempting to "intimidate Harris County judges into using or expanding their use of the (office)," the judge wrote.

    Phillips said reforms other than the public defender's office have lowered case loads. Those include systemic changes, such as a juvenile mental health care docket, an after-school resource center in southwest Houston and a diversion program for nonviolent juveniles convicted of misdemeanors.

    Those changes were recommendations by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization that serves disadvantaged children.

    In May 2010, county officials said the detention reforms were saving the county $700,000 a month, an estimate Phillips seized on.

    "The millions of dollars we have saved Harris County should continue to sustain and improve our reforms and should not be wasted on another bureaucracy," Phillips wrote.

    To start the public defender's office, the first year of the pilot program was funded by a $4.1 million grant. The second year, the grant paid 80 percent. For the next two years, the grant is expected to pay 20 percent, and the county will pay 80 percent. After four years, the county alone will be paying for the agency.

    Office Defended

    In response to Phillips' letter, two public defender board members wrote an open letter defending the office, saying Harris County has clung for too long on "an outdated system of crony appointments" by sitting judges.

    "Harris County has upgraded its criminal justice system by establishing a public defender's office," wrote Lawrence Finder and George "Mac" Secrest. "Now it's time for the bench and the bar to support that organization."

    Harris County has to pick up the tab for indigent defendants, whether it is a public defender's office or an appointment system. Both camps argue their side is more cost effective and provides better representation.

    Mike Schneider, another juvenile court judge, is on the board overseeing the public defender's office. He declined to comment on Phillips' letter but estimated the office handles about 20 percent of the cases in his court.

    "This is a pilot program and we're giving them a chance," Schneider said.


    Auditor finds pattern of cost overruns at juvenile justice agency

    By Mike Ward
    May 4, 2012

    During the past five years, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department relied heavily on change orders to pay for construction work that was not within the scope of the original contracts and failed to document the changes as required, a new audit revealed Friday.

    In addition, the internal audit found that in more than half of the files examined, change orders that required the approval of top agency officials had none.

    The audit does not provide detail on the contracts. Officials said Friday that those details were not immediately available.

    The agency and its predecessor had more than $35.3 million in construction projects under way or queued up during the period that the auditors reviewed.

    While they reviewed only nine contracts in detail, such samples are commonly used as an indicator of potentially larger problems.

    Robin McKeever, the agency's deputy executive director, who was previously chief financial officer with purview over contracts, said that eight of the nine contracts examined in the audit had change orders more than 30 orders, in all.

    On Friday, the agency's 13-member governing board approved new policies designed to curb those problems the latest issue to buffet a department facing a legislative investigation over safety and security lapses at the Giddings State School and other lockups.

    Five years ago, when it was known as the Texas Youth Commission, the agency had its top management replaced and underwent a sweeping overhaul in a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that, at one point, focused on mismanagement of contracts.

    According to the new audit, some problems were never fixed though officials at the time gave assurances that they were.

    "Our biggest concern was to make sure that no illegal or fraudulent activity occurred, and none did," said the Rev. Scott Fisher of Bedford, the board's chairman. "We found some documenting and procedural issues. This agency has been in significant transition for some time, and some of its policies needed to be improved upon."

    The audit, which reviewed agency contracts for the current agency and the Youth Commission from Sept. 1, 2007, until Aug. 31, 2011, found that in 43 percent of the projects looked at, the order called for work outside the scope of the original contract.

    That is not supposed to happen.

    In more than 57 percent of those projects, auditors found that documentation on the projects was lacking. In other cases, invoices from contractors for work done were dated before the change order was approved another no-no "making it impossible to determine that the work was approved prior to being completed."

    "None of the change orders that required the Conservator's, Commissioner's or Board approval had documentation of the approval on file," the report states.

    Board member Calvin Stephens of Dallas, who chairs a new committee that oversees contracts and other financial matters, said, "This was an area of responsibility that someone was hired to do, and it was not done."

    Executive Director Cherie Townsend said the agency's management already is implementing recommended changes, which include strict new guidelines on change orders and contracts, with board review and approval on large ones.

    "We had controls over contracts in place," McKeever said. "Over time, there are ways to enhance those. ... We asked for the audit."

    Agency officials said much the same in 2007, when, amid the sex abuse scandal, numerous contract irregularities including change orders that appeared to have never been approved drew the attention of investigators. Legislative leaders ordered the agency to correct the problems and were assured they had been.

    Word of the critical audit first surfaced on Thursday, at a committee meeting of the governing board. Though internal auditor Karin Hill read parts of the report during the public meeting, and board members discussed it, agency officials refused to make the report public as is customary at other state agencies.

    They said Fisher had directed that it be kept secret until after the full board discussed it at a Friday meeting. Fisher said he acted on the advice of the agency's general counsel.

    Aides to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and legislative leaders who were present at the committee meeting were also denied access to the report on Thursday, an unusual step for a state agency to take.

    At the same time the agency was keeping the 10-page document secret, several board members were making public statements during the meetings about how transparent the agency is. They also made public another draft document on the same committee agenda as the audit.

    On Friday, after the board discussed and approved the report in another public meeting, agency officials provided a copy of the draft to a reporter.

    Fisher insisted that draft audits can be withheld. Maybe so, said Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, who oversees enforcement of open records laws in Austin. Escamilla added that agencies generally make public items that go to public boards for discussion in public meetings.

    "Just because you can withhold something doesn't mean you should ... unless that's part of the culture," he said. "It seems like the question would be: Why are you so eager to hide things you just read to us and discussed in a public meeting?"

    House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, an author of the juvenile justice reforms after the 2007 scandal, said the Legislature made it clear at least three years ago that it wanted the contracting problems fixed. "We did. They didn't," he said.

    He also said the audit should not have been kept secret. "That's not transparency. That's a clear violation of something. That's very disturbing, and there's a lot of people unhappy about that, including me."

    Added Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire: "The current leadership of TJJD should be held accountable for this. The agency was broken. It's still broken. We need a major shake-up."

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Auditor finds pattern of cost overruns at juvenile justice agency

    Grant aims to uplift at-risk youths
    San Angelo program strives to change habits

    By Jennifer Rios
    Re-Posted May 02, 2012

    SAN ANGELO, Texas Rebecca Gutierrez knows adolescence is hard.

    In her role with San Angelo's Youth Advocate Program, she has watched teen offenders learn how to dress professionally for job interviews, get involved in the community's art and music scene and communicate with their families.

    During the program's six-month process, which connects high-risk youths with mentors to help them stay out of trouble, she has seen mothers pull it together for their teenagers and ask for help something she said is not an easy task.

    With a $154,000 grant awarded to the Tom Green County's Juvenile Justice Department, the youth program's process may speed up.

    "With this new program we hope to get kids there faster," Gutierrez said.

    In its first round of grant awards, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department gave $1.3 million to 23 county juvenile probation departments for projects addressing the needs of children ages 6 through 13.

    "A 6-year-old is more manageable; they haven't developed as many habits," Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Mark Williams said. "By teen years, if they've been running the household, it's harder to turn them around."

    Members connected to the Youth Advocate Program will begin meeting with school counselors and at-risk coordinators who will identify students for the program.

    Mentors, or what Gutierrez calls "life coaches," will go into homes and work with the family to teach them how to address problems.

    "Usually, if they're having problems in the community and at home, it overflows into the school," Williams said.

    Compared to existing mentoring programs, the new one will have a higher "intensity level," Williams said. During the first week of the program, for example, a youth advocate might be in a student's house up to 15 hours a week, watching family dynamics.

    People, typically Angelo State University students, are hired from within the community for the part-time advocacy positions. Gutierrez, the Youth Advocate Program's one full-time employee, said initially she would like to work with two elementary schools in San Angelo and others in Brady, Menard and Ballinger.

    Each of her two to three part-time employees works with four to five students at a time. With the grant, she plans to hire more and reach close to 40 students in 10 surrounding counties.

    Under the program, which has been in place for six years, students are expected to take what they learn at the center writing rsums, interviewing for jobs and dealing with conflicts and apply them in their lives.

    Gutierrez described the process as holistic because its purpose is affecting parents and siblings in the house, too.

    "When (parents) see someone who believes in their kids as much as they believe in their kids, that helps," Gutierrez said. "They think, 'I should be working as hard as you are.'"

    During the 2011 legislative session, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department was created to assume duties of the former Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. Part of that move meant focusing on prevention by using funds saved from combining the administrative services of the two agencies, Williams said.

    The grant will focus on children ages 6 to 13 who have not been referred to the Justice Department.

    "A lot of times, we have kids out there who have issues, but we can't start working with them until they're 10 and they violate the law," Williams said.

    Mentors will look at issues such as truancy, children coming to school dirty or malnourished, and those "acting out" or having behavioral problems.

    For the taxpayer, a noticeable difference may be seen by looking at the books, Williams said. On average, probation can cost $3 to $25 or $30 a day, he said. A stay at a residential placement, such as the West Texas Boys Ranch or Concho Valley Girls Home, ranges from $98 to $200 a day. A state institution costs about $300 a day.

    "We can save a ton of money if we can find these kids early on," Williams said. "It costs so much less to fix the problem from the front end than the back end."

    A single mom working several jobs may not be consistent in discipline and might allow her child to run the household, Williams said.

    By the time that child is 15, that mother has probably "been trying to change things for a long time."

    Behaviors are easier to curb if corrected earlier, he said.

    It's hard to measure how much "good" is done in prevention programs, Williams said, which makes it difficult to fund these type of projects.

    With this grant, Williams said, the Youth Advocate Program will work out ways to measure success by following truancy or decreases in behavior problems.

    Experts say recidivism among juvenile offenders is difficult to measure, but juveniles in the program appear to have a better chance of staying out of trouble than those in the general population. Kathy Geller Myers of the youth program's national office said 89 percent of discharged youths were not rearrested while in the program, and 84 percent of youths who go through the program were not arrested after their original discharge, based on tracking results for several thousand youths in August 2010.

    By comparison, a study out of Texas State University at San Marcos found that in a sample of 1,400 youths taken in 2008 in Texas, more than 48 percent were rearrested, more than 7 percent were rearrested for a violent offense, and 21 percent were reincarcerated.

    In 2011, 79 juveniles who had gone through the court system were placed after release from the Tom Green County JJC to facilities outside their homes, Williams said. Some of those placements included a three-day stay at River Crest Hospital; 23 went to a placement such as the North Texas State Hospital or Waco Center for Youth, which are paid for by state funding.

    Grant aims to uplift at-risk youths

    Reports of Violence Spur Call for Change at Youth Jails

    By Brandi Grissom
    April 30, 2012

    Five years after instituting a sweeping overhaul in the wake of sexual and physical abuse scandals at Texas youth lockups, a senior lawmaker is again calling the situation at the facilities a crisis that jeopardizes the safety of youths.

    Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who helped devise the overhaul in 2007, is upset with administrators of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, who say that they are making improvements.

    They are failing, and in this business they cant afford to fail, said Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

    Officials of the juvenile agency confirmed last week that they are investigating allegations of inappropriate cell phone communications between a juvenile offender and a former employee at the Giddings State School. A recently released report said that delinquent youths are essentially in control at Giddings, the states largest lockup, from which a staff member was taken to the emergency room last weekend after an altercation involving six youths. The schools recently fired superintendent filed suit against the agency last week, alleging that he had been terminated for voicing concerns about the conditions. And an internal audit this month found individual counseling sessions were lacking at 89 percent of the facilities surveyed.

    Whitmire said he wants administrators held accountable. And some advocates are urging lawmakers to consider closing more state youth institutions.

    These big facilities in remote locations are never going to be a good model, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for juvenile justice reforms.

    After reports of terrible abuse in 2007, lawmakers instituted policies that keep more young offenders close to home for rehabilitation and treatment. Population at the state institutions dropped to about 1,200 last year from about 3,000 in 2007. The agency closed 8 of its 14 secure facilities, and Texas has been praised nationally for the changes.

    In November 2010, though, an independent report on the reforms raised concerns about youth violence and gang activity at the institutions.

    A February report by The Texas Tribune that analyzed agency data showed the rate of confirmed assaults among youths more than tripled from 2007 to 2011.

    And this month, the independent ombudsman for the department said that ringleaders at the Giddings lockup had established a hierarchy in which the weakest offenders were bought and owned with drugs, cigarettes and money.

    Juvenile Justice Department administrators denied Whitmires allegations that they have tried to hide the troubles from lawmakers. They said they were working to improve staff training and to hold youths and staff accountable for improper and illegal behavior. Conditions, they said, were improving.

    The safety and well-being of all the youth in our care and of our staff are my highest priority and concern, said Cherie Townsend, the agencys executive director.

    Advocates of juvenile justice reform said that while the recent reports were troubling, they did not indicate that the overhaul had not worked. They said the state should continue the reforms by keeping even more youths in smaller, local facilities that are like group homes, where they can be closer to their families and to better rehabilitation and mental health care.

    Eventually, the large institutions could be closed and the states role could be limited to oversight of county care, advocates said.

    Results have improved in states like Missouri that have moved toward smaller facilities, said Bart Lubow, the director of the juvenile justice strategy group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a child advocacy group.

    If were going to deprive a youth of his or her liberty, Lubow said, we have a substantial responsibility to make sure were not making them worse.

    Reports of Violence Spur Call for Change at Youth Jails

    Sex Crimes By Juvenile Offenders Are On The Rise In Harris County

    By Cindy Horswell
    April 20, 2012

    Last fall, a Houston mother grew perplexed as to why her 8-year-old son was constantly crying and having trouble sleeping.

    Then she received a phone call from a Houston policeman, who informed her that a surveillance camera had captured her son being sexually assaulted by two 10-year-old classmates on the school bus. The two older boys are set for a hearing on the assault in May.

    Two more boys, ages 10 and 11, are also awaiting trial on accusations that they sexually assaulted an 8-year-old boy at a shelter for immigrant children in north Houston.

    Similarly, six juveniles including one middle school student were accused of being among the 20 boys and men who gang-raped an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland in 2010. Five of those juveniles have since admitted their guilt.

    In the last five years, the number of juveniles committing sexual assaults has increased 17 percent in Harris County while most other major juvenile crimes have shown significant declines, probation records show.

    Reasons not clear

    Sex offenses climbed from 121 to 142 during that period, while other violent juvenile crimes declined such as murder and robbery, dropping by 28 percent and 24 percent.

    Terrance Windham, chief of the juvenile division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office, is unsure what's provoking the rise in sex offenses.

    But in such a highly sexualized media world, where pornography is an Internet click away and MTV shows and music videos glamorize risky youth behaviors, Windham isn't surprised either.

    "When I was growing up, kids didn't have the kind of access to what they do now," he said.

    Two therapists certified to treat juvenile sex offenders in Harris County, Robert McLaughlin and Ramon Alvarez, say the vast majority of the youths they treat have been exposed to pornography at an early age - sometimes as young as 7 years old.

    Alvarez recalled treating one 7-year-old who was accidentally exposed to a porn star that popped up on the Internet when his mother typed in the word "Disney."

    "It stuck in his head and then he later, trying to copy it, got into trouble with wrongful touching while playing with a neighbor's child," Alvarez said. "These days you don't have to seek out porn. It seeks you."

    But since most juveniles will often have some exposure to porn, McLaughlin said it's difficult to show any clear linkage to sexual assaults because not everyone will react aggressively to it.

    Yet he and Alvarez believe some youths may be more vulnerable when exposed at a very early age, before puberty when their brain is still developing.

    "Those who act out sexually may have more trouble with impulse regulation or anticipating consequences. They want to experiment," McLaughlin said.

    'Real red flag'

    Harris County juvenile court judge Mike Schneider said the juvenile sex offenders who attack strangers are rare and that would be a "real red flag" of a predator type.

    "Usually, the perpetrator has had a relationship with the victim, such as a cousin, sibling or friend," he said.

    The U.S. Justice Department says 36 percent of sex crimes against children are committed by other children. Five percent of all sex offenders are younger than nine, and 16 percent are younger than 12, records show.

    One of the latest studies disputes the stereotype that juvenile sex offenders are like the typical young delinquent who comes from a broken home with a criminal history, poor attitude, lacking social skills and substance abuse problems.

    "Rather our review of thousands of cases found juveniles who committed sex crimes were overall much less anti-social than those committing other offenses," said Michael Seto, one of the foremost authorities on the adolescent sex offenders who coauthored the study.

    Seto, with the Royal Ottawa Healthy Care Group in Canada, found the average sex offender was generally a socially isolated individual who had developed an "atypical" interest in sex (from coercion to incest), been abused sexually and exposed early to pornography.

    "The single biggest surprise to me from this study was how incredibly young the first exposure was to porn. Now we're talking about hard-core porn with fetish content and unusual stuff being exposed to elementary students," he said, saying more research is needed into the role porn plays.

    The good news, according to therapists, is that early intervention is very effective with children.

    After treatment, the recidivism rate averages 14 percent nationally for adolescent sex offenders compared to 40 percent for similar adult offenders.


    Sex Crimes By Juvenile Offenders Are On The Rise In Harris County

    Lawmakers livid over reports of coercion, extortion at Giddings youth lockup

    By Mike Ward
    April 18, 2012

    Two legislative architects of Texas' sweeping reforms in juvenile justice after a sex-abuse scandal five years are fuming over a new report that questions security and safety at the Giddings State School.

    The report includes allegations that youths are being "bought and owned" by other youths for cigarettes, illicit drugs and money at the lockup about 50 miles east of Austin.

    The nine-page investigative report by Ombudsman Debbie Unruh that legislative leaders received on Tuesday lists an array of other issues: Youth ringleaders are "controlling the culture on this campus," staff have a lack of control over youths, youths have refused to leave security detention for fear of their safety, and bullying and extortion of food are common.

    In the report, agency officials said they have identified five ringleaders, including one youth who was caught on a security camera stealing food from another youth. Random drug tests and dorm searches have been initiated to curb contraband trafficking, the report states.

    Though officials with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department say they are actively addressing the serious issues raised in the report, Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire and House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden said stronger, more immediate action is warranted.

    "This situation is totally unacceptable and unbelievable, after everything we've been through with this agency," Whitmire said. "Youths are obviously in danger there, when you have a state report saying they are being bought and owned, bullied, are afraid at an agency that was supposed to have been cleaned up, that has gotten tens of millions of dollars in the past few years so things like this won't happen."

    Madden echoed that sentiment. "It doesn't appear we're controlling the youth there, that we're allowing the victimization of youth. That has to be stopped immediately."

    He and Whitmire were among the key authors of sweeping reform legislation that overhauled youth corrections programs in Texas starting in 2007.

    The Juvenile Justice Department is the months-old agency that replaced the Juvenile Probation Commission and the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission that operated Giddings. The former director of the Youth Commission, Cherie Townsend, now heads the department.

    Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the department, noted that the issue of youths being "bought and sold" at Giddings was never reported previously to authorities. He said the agency has a "zero-tolerance policy" for abuse of incarcerated youths and that leaders are confident that Giddings residents are "safe and secure."

    Even so, Whitmire said he plans to convene a public hearing of his committee in May to demand answers.

    Five years ago a sex-abuse scandal and cover-up at the former Texas Youth Commission sparked sweeping reforms that remade Texas' juvenile corrections system.

    The reforms included cutting by two-thirds the number of youths incarcerated in state-run lockups, shifting from a system of remote lockups to community-based rehabilitation programs closer to home, an independent ombudsman to monitor conditions, and the closure of six state lockups.

    "If the people who are running this agency can't stop this, then we need to get some people in there who can," Whitmire said. "We closed several other units where things like this were going on ... and if we can't fix Giddings, then we should board it up."

    Release of the report comes as the latest in a series of reported problems at the lockup from last September, when a youth offender stabbed a female correctional officer, to management issues that have kept top Austin officials at Giddings for months to a recent survey of more than 100 youths at Giddings by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition who reported their highest concern was being assaulted by other youths.

    Hurley did not specify the management issues that had been the focus of recent attention at Giddings.

    The Giddings lockup is the largest of the agency's six remaining juvenile prisons and holds some of the toughest offenders. Seven other lockups were shuttered by the Legislature after the sex-abuse scandal brought a shift to community-based rehabilitation programs.

    Hurley said the agency has been making progress in correcting the issues detailed in the report. Superintendent Stan DeGerolami retired in March and has been replaced by Alan Michel, previously the agency's director of community residential programs, Hurley said.

    Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791

    Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the new superintendent at Giddings State School. His name is Alan Michel.

    Lawmakers livid over reports of coercion, extortion at Giddings youth lockup

    Mental Health Issues Common Among Youth Prisoners

    By Will Weissert
    March 7, 2012

    More than half of the people in Texas' youth prisons have a moderate or high need for mental health care, and officials should improve their early intervention efforts to help those young people before they end up behind bars, the head of a new state agency told lawmakers Tuesday.

    Cherie Townsend, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said more than 52 percent of teens and other youngsters held at the state's six juvenile detention facilities have been diagnosed with at least moderate mental health problems.

    Including those with at least some kind of mental health care needs would make that tally much higher, she said.

    "The numbers are increasing, and the percentages are increasing," Townsend told members of the Texas House Corrections Committee, referring to the number of juvenile detainees who have mental health problems and their proportion of the state's total youth population at detention facilities.

    Townsend's department was created after the Legislature voted last year to merge the Texas Youth Commission, which had run the prison system for teens, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which had been in charge of county-run youth probation programs.

    Supporters said the merger could save Texas as much as $150 million in the first two years of the new department's existence, while also improving mental health and rehabilitation programs for troubled youth.

    Townsend, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry and was former head of the Texas Youth Commission, said the new agency's board has met four times since Dec. 1. It will transfer $1.5 million over the next six months into pilot programs designed to study the effectiveness of youth early intervention programs.

    Rep. Charles Perry suggested authorities might be classifying too many young people as having mental health problems.

    "I'm a little nervous about the discussion," said Perry, a Lubbock Republican, "because I know kids that act out that have no mental health issues, and just act out because they act out."

    Texas' youth corrections system has undergone major reforms since allegations of neglect and sexual abuse surfaced in 2007. Advocacy groups say they have anecdotal reports that youth-on-youth assaults have increased dramatically at juvenile detention facilities since the reforms began.

    But Jerry Madden, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, noted that the reforms reduced the youth population at detention centers statewide by 67 percent. A larger percentage of the total population are now youths convicted of felonies, who are more likely to be violent, he said.

    "We kept some of the tougher kids," he said. "We knew the percentages were going to go up based on who we kept in there."

    Mental health issues common among youth prisoners

    Texas Spent $247K on Medicine While Suing Drug Maker

    NBC 5 Investigation
    By Shane Allen
    Feb 28, 2012

    The state won a $158 million settlement last month [J & J Settles Suit With Texas0 from a pharmaceutical company that the Texas attorney general said promoted an antipsychotic drug for uses not yet approved by federal regulators.

    Attorney General Greg Abbott said Johnson & Johnson marketed Risperdal as the drug of choice for children and the elderly for schizophrenia and dementia even though the Food and Drug Administration had not approved its use in children or the elderly.

    Yet while the state was suing J&J, the Texas Youth Commission, one of the state's largest purchasers of pharmaceuticals, prescribed it nearly 3,000 times to youth in the Texas prison system, according to financial documents uncovered by NBC 5.

    The state's lawsuit, which was filed in 2006, said the state excessively paid pharmacies that dispensed prescriptions for Medicaid patients for a range of unapproved uses.

    "Johnson & Johnson's scheme to profit from the Medicaid program by overstating the safety and effectiveness of an expensive drug and improperly influencing officials ended up costing taxpayers millions of dollars," Abbott said in a statement after the settlement was reached.

    "As part of the agreed settlement with the state of Texas, we do not admit liability or fault," said Teresa Mueller, a spokeswoman for J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.

    In response to the attorney general's accusations that J&J schemed to profit from Medicaid, the company said it "is committed to ethical business practices and has policies in place to ensure its products are only promoted for their FDA-approved indications."

    In 2007, a year after the lawsuit was filed, the FDA approved the drug for use in children and the elderly, but the state of Texas said it felt the financial damage had already been done.

    The University of Texas Medical Branch, which is in charge of all medical care within the state's prison systems, spent $247,666.87 buying Risperdal between 2006 and 2007.

    TYC spokesman Jim Hurley said Risperdal was never really deemed unsafe for use but just did not have FDA approval.

    "Many drugs are often used in this manner," he said. "In fact, the FDA has some interesting figures about atypical drug use among patients 13-17 [years of age] nationwide. Apparently there was a 25 percent increase in these antipsychotics, and most were not [FDA] approved."

    After speaking with the youth commission's medical director, Hurley said: "It's common that a number of medicines have value outside of their packaging."

    Hurley cited data from the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research that said 26 percent of the Risperdal dispensed between 2004 and 2008 was for pediatric patients nationwide. He said the practice is commonly accepted within the medical community.

    TYC deferred further comment to the University of Texas Medical Branch.

    UTMB spokesman Raul Reyes said it would not comment on the issue.

    "We'll let the lawsuit and the data speak for itself," he said by telephone.

    Tom Kelley, spokesman for the Texas Attorney General's Office, released the following statement:

    "Our Civil Medicaid Fraud office was not investigating whether any residents in these facilities were Medicaid-eligible, nor were we ever alleging that Risperdal was a 'bad' drug (doctors may prescribe it at their discretion). Our lawsuit focused on the fact that J&J had been overwhelmingly overselling this expensive drug as superior to conventional drugs, when it was not, and downplaying its side effects.

    And in addition, the Texas criminal justice system's pharmacy expenditures are not paid for by Medicaid. UTMB provides the medical care for TDCJ, so perhaps you are focused on the criminal justice system. Those are not Medicaid dollars.

    The whole point of this is that pharmaceutical manufacturers may NOT urge physicians to prescribe their products (that's called "off-label marketing" and it's unlawful). Physicians, however, may prescribe such medications as they think is warranted in an individual case. Our lawsuit was, in part, to make them cease all the off-label marketing they'd been doing, among other things."

    Texas Spent $247K on Medicine While Suing Drug Maker

    Investigation Sought Into Violence at Youth Prisons
    By Brandi Grissom

    A cell at the Giddings State School,
    a juvenile correctional facility of
    The Texas Youth Commission.

    Organizations that advocate for juvenile justice reforms are calling for an independent investigation of violence at Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities on the heels of a Texas Tribune report that the rate of confirmed youth-on-youth assaults there has tripled since 2007.

    In a letter to Debbie Unruh, the ombudsman of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Texas Appleseed and other groups said the statistics reported in the Tribune confirm anecdotal reports they have received in recent years from youths they work with at the state's six secure facilities. They submitted a formal complaint and asked Unruh to launch an investigation into systemic problems at the agency.

    "Ultimately, it is very difficult for us to imagine that the children in the care of the state secure facilities could make much progress toward rehabilitation if they are not in an environment in which they are safe," the advocates wrote.

    The Tribune reviewed 10 years worth of data on the number of physical and sexual assaults and pepper-spray incidents at youth correctional facilities across Texas. Overall, the rate of confirmed youth-on-youth assaults more than tripled at the secure juvenile offender facilities statewide since 2007, when lawmakers approved a major overhaul of the juvenile justice system following reports of horrific staff abuse against youths. The data showed that attacks on staff members also increased.

    The data did show progress for the reform efforts, including reductions in violence perpetrated by staff and in all types of sexual assaults. And department spokesman Jim Hurley argued that the entire number of alleged assaults at the facilities has declined and that the rate of confirmed assaults has primarily increased because staff members are now investigating more of the assaults and holding youths accountable. Hurley wouldn't comment on the advocates' request for an investigation.

    Elsewhere in the data from the juvenile justice department were additional findings that concerned advocates, including a dramatic rise in the use of pepper spray at the Giddings State School and a large number of youths in 2011 who asked to be isolated because they feared for their own safety. Nearly 400 youths made those requests during a year when the average daily population at the secure facilities was about 1,200.

    Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, said the numbers align with reports from parents and youths of increasingly aggressive behavior at the facilities. In August 2010, Texas Appleseed asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate conditions at the facilities after interviews they conducted showed a pattern of youth-on-youth assaults, improper restraints and youths fearing for their safety.

    In a November 2010 report on the progress of reforms at TYC, consultants who interviewed staff and youths reported concerns about gang-related activity. Some youths said they felt unsafe because they or someone else they knew had been followed into their room when staff wasn't watching and then beaten up.

    "There needs to be a real serious look not only at problem, but how to solve the problem," Fowler said. "The truth is it's counterproductive not just for the kids who are being victimized but also for the youths who are allowed to engage in that assaultive behavior in first place."

    Juvenile Justice Department director Cherie Townsend has said she believes the facilities are safer now but acknowledged there are some improvements needed. The agency has hired additional staff and has developed a plan to reduce pepper-spray use at Giddings. James Smith, the department's operations director, has said the agency is also working to introduce aggression replacement techniques.

    It is planning to create rooms with beanbag chairs and Nerf balls, where the youths can vent their anger without harming others.

    Unruh said she planned to meet with stakeholders and review the information before deciding on the appropriate approach to addressing any problems at the facilities.

    Investigation Sought Into Violence at Youth Prisons


    School Discipline: A Pathway To The Juvenile Justice System Or An Opportunity For Effective Intervention?

    Monday, February 20, 2012
    1:00 5:00 pm

    The Barbara Jordan Freedom Foundation, in collaboration with the Center for Health and Social Policy (CHASP) at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, will present a symposium focused on the issues of school discipline and the juvenile justice system on Monday, February 20, from 1:00 5:00 pm. The event, which takes place the week of Barbara Jordans birthday, is also co-sponsored by the William Wayne Justice Center at the University of Texas School of Law.

    Texas State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson will deliver the keynote address at 1 p.m. The keynote will be followed by three panels featuring elected officials, policymakers, and juvenile justice and education experts. Confirmed speakers to date include Texas State Senator John Whitmire, Tony Fabelo (Council on State Governments Justice Center and author of Breaking Schools Rules report), Deborah Fowler (Texas Appleseed), Travis County Juvenile Judge Jeanne Meurer, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, Prof. Brenda Scheuermann (national PBIS expert), Frank Vega (expert on children's mental health and trauma), and Mel Waxler (AISD). The first panel will focus on understanding the current policy landscape, including recent research on school suspensions and expulsions, and ticketing practices. The second panel will cover effective interventions with misbehaving students, and the third panel will center on shifting the culture surrounding school discipline and implementing reforms at the district level. An agenda with a complete list of speakers is forthcoming and will be available Here.

    This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. To register, please visit:

    Sign up for the Waitlist

    The event will take place at the
    LBJ School of Public Affairs Bass Lecture Hall,
    located at 2315 Red River St.,
    Austin, Texas, 78712.

    For more information, please contact the symposium chair,
    Michele Deitch, at Michele.Deitch@mail.utexas.edu.

    The Barbara Jordan Freedom Foundation (BJFF) is a new organization dedicated to perpetuating the legacy of Barbara Jordan by inspiring America to achieve the promise of freedom and justice for all people, by promoting the success of children through early childhood opportunities and effective education, and by confronting injustices and inequities in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems. The organizations initial focus will be on issues related to school discipline.

    Boot camps: Learn now or pay later
    Facility offers second chance, harsh warning

    January 25, 2012
    By Joe Gamm

    Young men perform calisthenics under the watchful eye of a drill sergeant-like instructor within the barbed wire-topped fences of the Texas Department of Criminal Justices T. L. Roach Unit, the last state-run Offender Boot Camp in Texas.

    For 180 days, the lives of the men, ranging in age from 17 to 26, are strictly regimented. They are awakened at the same time every day, eat meals on a strict schedule, exercise and work in the fields. The aim is to shock first-time convicts with the harshness of prison life.

    Criminal Justice officials would not permit an Amarillo Globe-News reporter access to the Roach Unit near Childress, but a prison official offered a small glimpse into life behind the fences.

    It involves physical activity and community projects, said Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark. They have accelerated GED projects over there. They are inmates who are sentenced through the district courts they are not prison inmates. There are only 30 people in there right now.

    The unit has 400 beds available for the boot camp 370 remain empty.

    Boot camps were the rage nationwide in corrections circles in the late 1980s and early 90s, but faded away as questions emerged about whether they prevented recidivism.

    Studies conducted by the U.S. Justice Department, National Institute of Corrections and academia showed boot camps werent effective programs, said Terry Easterling, probation director for Potter, Randall and Armstrong counties.

    As the programs closed, a 2003 Justice report, Correctional Boot Camps: Lessons From a Decade of Research, concluded that corrections officials should learn from boot camps failure to reduce recidivism or prison populations. The report said corrections personnel should emphasize programs to ease offenders re-entry or re-integration into their communities. Corrections systems should offer more treatment programs, the report said.

    The camps evolved from early 80s Scared Straight programs, said Easterling said, but probation officials remain divided about their effectiveness.

    Its up to judges, probation officers and district attorneys whether (offenders) are sentenced to boot camp, said Marci Mills, a probation officer for Hall, Donley, Carson, Collingsworth and Childress counties. We think maybe we can correct some behaviors show them this is what your life could be like if you dont change your ways.

    Boot camp can be effective in persuading young offenders to avoid legal trouble, Mills said.

    Easterling said others disagree.

    Robert Dawson, a University of Texas law professor, said what boot camp did was take flabby, out-of-shape, slow burglars, and turned them into healthy, fast burglars, Easterling said.

    The idea was to give the offenders self respect, he said. The courts released offenders back into their old environments, where they fell into their past habits.

    Judge John Board, 181st District Court, once sent offenders to boot camps regularly, he said, but it had been seven or eight years ago.

    Im not sure how effective they really were, Board said. We sent young people who we thought would benefit from it. When they got out, they had their military haircuts. Id ask them questions and theyd answer, Sir, yes sir. I was impressed. Three months later wed have them back.

    The program has had so little attention, many officials didnt realize it was still operating. Clark, Board and 47th District Attorney Randall Sims said they were unaware the program was still available until they were quizzed about it.

    Childress attorney Steve Bird has represented several young men who have been through the program with varying degrees of success.

    If its something that theyre not so heavy into drugs or they had a small theft or shoplifting, then Id say the boot camp opens their eyes, Bird said. They say I dont want to go back there. A lot of times when theyve been on the drug scene all their lives they go back to it.

    Treatment programs are more effective in preventing repeat offenses, Easterling said. Monitoring offenders with ankle bracelets or drug patches that collect sweat samples to detect drugs or alcohol helps offenders correct their behavior, he said.

    We found that about 75 percent of probation offenders had drug or alcohol problems. Boot camp doesnt deal with addiction issues, Easterling said.

    Criminal Justice has several lockdown facilities where offenders can receive treatment or concentrate on behavior modification, Board said.

    Intermediate Sanction Facilities often include a substance abuse component, community service restitution, education and life-skills programs, Clark said. Offenders are sent to the facilities for between 160 and 180 days in lieu of revoking parole or probation if theyve violated the conditions of their sentences, he said.

    Four intermediate facilities in Texas had 2,377 beds for offenders as of Nov. 30, Clark said. One of the facilities, in the Pampa Baten Unit, had about 420 beds, he said.

    Were not looking to revoke (parole or probation), Mills said. Were doing everything we can to keep the offenders out of the prison system. If we feel its necessary, well send them.

    Boot camps: Learn now or pay later


      TJJD Elects Cherie Townsend as Executive Director to Oversee New Juvenile Justice Agency

      January 6, 2012

      This evening, the Executive Board for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), elected Cherie Townsend as their new Executive Director.

      Mrs. Townsend, former Executive Director of the Texas Youth Commission will be responsible in leading the agency through reform and to establish a new culture fully in line with the mission and goals of S.B. 653.

      The direction this new agency takes will rely heavily on the oversight of the new E.D. and their board, TCJC is optimistic that this direction will be a positive one.

      We would like to extend our congratulations to Mrs. Townsend and look forward to working with him/her to ensure every child in Texas feels safe and confident in a bright future.

      Reported By: Texas Criminal Justice Coalition


      DECEMBER 28, 2011

      Juvie, adult prison guards atop list of high-turnover state jobs

      The combined turnover rate for Texas juvenile and adult correctional officers (i.e., prison guards) in FY 2011 was 23.4%, according to a new report (pdf) on state employee turnover by the state auditor. That's 22.3% for adult COs, and 39.6 for JCOs, including layoffs. Other key highlights:

      Statewide, 29.6% of turnover came from involuntary separations - either firings or other reductions in force (RIF), sometimes for budgetary reason, with 14% of departing employees dismissed for cause and another 9% resigning in lieu of dismissal.

      The Texas Education Agency had a higher one-year turnover rate than TDCJ, but that's a statistical fluke resulting from a budgetary RIF. TDCJ "accounted for the largest percentage of separations (29.6 percent) within the State. The majority of the separations at TDCJ during fiscal year 2011 were voluntary.

      TDCJs turnover rate was 19.2 percent in fiscal year 2011."

      The most experienced staff are more likely to retire these days: Statewide across all agencies, "Between fiscal years 2007 and 2011, retirements increased by 40.6 percent." (Some of those folks may still be working: A wag might add that even Governor Rick Perry has taken retirement, and is surely counted among those statistics.) The number of voluntary separations increased 12.9% over last year.

      "Thirty-four state agencies experienced reductions in force. The Texas Youth Commission, the Texas Education Agency, and the Department of Criminal Justice accounted for 72.6 percent of all staff reductions due to reductions in force in fiscal year 2011."

      Reductions as TYC was merged into the new Juvenile Justice Department accounted for a large chunk of involuntary separations: "The three job classification series with the most separations as a result of reductions in force in fiscal year 2011 were Juvenile Correctional Officers, Program Specialists, and Administrative Assistants."

      TDCJ lost 8,116 employees in FY 2011, 3,025 of them via involuntary separation (including layoffs).

      The turnover rate at the Department of Public Safety was 9.9%, with 66 involuntary departures out of 846 total.

      Via the Austin Market Examiner.



      Governor Appoints 13 to New Juvenile Justice Executive Board

      Listed below are the 13 New Board Members recently appointed by the Governor to the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

      Get to know more about the members by reading their bio's below.

      Scott Fisher of Bedford is senior pastor of Metroplex Chapel of Euless. He is a member of Texas Hospital Trustees, a board member of Mid-Cities Pregnancy Center and the One Heart Project, and chairman of the Tarrant County Hospital District Board of Managers and Metroplex Chapel Academy Board of Trustees. He is also chaplain for the City of Euless Police Department, a past member of the Texas Ethics Commission, and past chair of the Texas Youth Commission. Fisher received a bachelors degree from Nazarene Bible College, and trained as a director of domestic violence at Life Skills International. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2013, and will serve as chair of the board for a term to expire at the pleasure of the governor.

      John Brieden III of Brenham is county judge of Washington County. He is a member of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and Washington County Chamber of Commerce, and a member and past national commander of the American Legion. He is also past president and a member of Christ Lutheran Church Foundation, a member of the Washington on the Brazos State Park Association, past chair of the Texas Veterans Commission, and a past member of the Brazos River Authority Board of Directors. Brieden served in the U.S. Army. He received a bachelors degree from Texas A&M University. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2017.

      Joseph Brown of Sherman is criminal district attorney of Grayson County. He is past president of the Grayson County Bar Association, a member of the State Bar of Texas and Paul Brown Inn of Court, and a past board member of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. He is also a founding board member and president of the Childrens Advocacy Center of Grayson County, member and past director of the Kiwanis Club of Sherman, and a past member of the Texas Youth Commission. Brown received a bachelors degree from the University of Texas and a law degree from Southern Methodist University. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2017.

      Carol Bush of Waxahachie is the Ellis County judge, and a former Ellis County court at law judge. She is a member of the State Bar of Texas and Ellis County Bar Association, a founding and current member of the Gingerbread House Childrens Advocacy Center Board of Directors, and an advisory board member of the Waxahachie and Midlothian chambers of Commerce. She is also a past member of the Waxahachie Education Foundation Board of Directors, Waxahachie Independent School District Long Range Planning Committee and Global High Administrative Planning Team. Bush received a bachelors degree from Trinity University and a law degree from St. Marys University School of Law. She is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2013.

      Jane Anderson King of Canyon is chief juvenile probation officer for the Randall County Juvenile Probation Department. She is a member of the Texas Juvenile Justice Association and Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Advisory Council, and a member and past board member of the Texas Probation Association. She is a licensed clinical social worker, board member of the Cal Farley Boys Ranch and West Texas A&M University Social Work Program Advisory Council, and a volunteer mediator for the Potter and Randall County Dispute Resolution centers. King received a bachelors degree and a masters degree in sociology from West Texas State University. She is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2017.

      Rob Kyker of Richardson is owner of R&D Sales and Leasing. He is a member of the Texas Credit Union Commission, and a volunteer leader with the Boy Scouts of America, where he is also a national spokesperson for the Emergency Preparedness Committee, and a member of the Health and Safety and Friends of Scouting committees. He is also chair of the Boy Scouts of America Circle Ten District Council Emergency Preparedness Committee, a volunteer for the Love of the Lake of White Rock Lake Park, a past coach for the Youth Sports Association of Dallas, and a past volunteer for Los Barrios United Community Health Center and the Dallas Down Syndrome Guild. Kyker received a bachelors degree from Abilene Christian College and a masters degree in education from Abilene Christian University. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2017.

      Michael Meade of Simonton is director and chief juvenile probation officer of the Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation Department. He is a member of the Juvenile Justice Association, Texas Probation Association and Fort Bend County Mental Health Coalition, and a member and past president of the Southeast Chiefs Association. He is also a past member of the University of Houston at Clear Lake Criminal Justice Advisory Board. Meade served in the U.S. Air Force. He received a bachelors degree and a masters degree in behavioral science from the University of Houston at Clear Lake, and is a graduate of the American Leadership Forum Criminal Justice Class and. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2013.

      Mary Lou Mendoza of San Antonio is an elementary school principal in the Northside Independent School District. She is a member of the Texas and Northside Chapter of Elementary Principals and Supervisors associations, a past member of the Northside Education Foundation Advisory Board, and a life member of the Northside Parent Teacher Association. Mendoza received a bachelors degree, masters degree in counseling and guidance, and completed her supervision and administration certifications from Our Lady of the Lake University. She is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2013.

      Rene Olvera of San Antonio is head psychiatrist liaison for the UT Health Science Center Psychiatric Department and Bexar County Juvenile Probation Correctional Services, and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. He is treasurer of the Texas Society of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association and Bexar County Psychiatric Society. Olvera received a bachelors degree from Harvard University, a medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, and Master of Public Health from the University of Texas Health Science Center Houston at San Antonio. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2017.

      Laura Parker of San Antonio is judge of the 386th Juvenile District Court in Bexar County. She is chair of the Bexar County Juvenile Board, a board member of the San Antonio Bar Association, and a member of the State Bar of Texas and Texas Association of Drug Court Professionals. She is a board member of San Antonio Communities in Schools, and a member of the United Way Womens Leadership Council and Rotary Club of San Antonio. She is also a past board member of the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center and Wings for Life Texas, past honorary chair of the Bexar County Charitable Campaign, and a past member of the Juvenile Law Council. Parker received a bachelors degree from Vassar College and a law degree from St. Marys University School of Law, and is board certified in juvenile law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2015.

      Jimmy Smith of Midland is a Midland County commissioner. He is a member of the National and Texas associations of Realtors, a board member and county representative of Midland Teen Court, and an advocate for CASA of West Texas. He is also a volunteer reserve deputy for the Midland County Sheriffs Department. Smith served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2015.

      Calvin Stephens of Dallas is president of SSP Consulting. He is a charter member of the Leadership Dallas Association, a board member of the Metropolitan YMCA of Dallas, and chair of the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church Board of Trustees. He is a past board member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents, Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business Associate Board, and Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. Stephens served in the U.S. Air Force. He received a bachelors degree from the University of Houston and a Master of Business Administration from Southern Methodist University. He is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2015.

      Melissa Weiss of Bellville is chief juvenile probation officer for the Austin County Juvenile Probation Department. She is president of the Southeast Texas Juvenile Chiefs Association, juvenile legislative co-chair of the Texas Probation Association, and a member of the Texas Advisory Council on Juvenile Services, Juvenile Justice Association of Texas, Texas Corrections Association, and American Probation and Parole Association. She is also chair of the Houston-Galveston Area Council Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, and a member of the Texana Center for Behavioral Healthcare Planning and Network Advisory, Bluebonnet Society of Austin County, Austin County Community Resource Coordination Group, Bellville Raising Academic Performance Advisory Board, and FEMA for Austin County. Weiss received a bachelors degree from Sam Houston State University. She is appointed for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2015.

      Texas is extremely fortunate to have the broad experience, commitment, and knowledge represented by these new Board members. Each of them has committed their personal and professional lives to helping at-risk youth find solutions that will enable them to succeed in our society. These board members will receive no pay for their work with the new agency but will play a critical role in the direction and the success of the TJJD.

      Oct 28, 2011


      A short documentary about juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole.
      Original short documentary made by Josh Sahib and Sydney Prather.
      The University of Alabama: Documenting Justice, 2010.

      Boy's death in juvenile detention center should jolt state lawmakers into action

      Oct. 25, 2011

      Signs of trouble were apparent at a Hood County juvenile detention facility before the death of a 14-year-old detainee this month.

      Why does it take a tragedy to propel the state to take a serious look at operations inside the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center?

      Perhaps because too many local and state officials see the for-profit juvenile centers in Texas as a positive economic alternative to government-run institutions for troubled youths.

      Jordan Adams, a Cleburne middle school student, died in a Fort Worth hospital six days after being found unconscious Oct. 10 in his cell at the Granbury facility. A bedsheet was wrapped around his neck, according to police, who have not determined whether the death was an accident or "criminal incident."

      Regardless of the cause of death, when young people are placed in the custody of the state, there should be a reasonable expectation that their safety, health and general welfare will be protected. Sadly, too many heartbreaking examples point to that not being the case.

      State records show more than 250 complaints and serious incidents have been reported at the center since 2007, including youth-on-youth assaults, supervisory neglect and physical and sexual abuse. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic is the 133 cases of attempted suicide, an overwhelming amount in a four-year period for any group.

      Star-Telegram writer Dianna Hunt reported Sunday that the Hood County juvenile center, originally designed as a public-private partnership that would not cost taxpayers any money, had problems from the start. A coalition that included the county and a detention management corporation built the $6.5 million facility through the sale of tax-exempt certificates of participation (bonds). In a convoluted scheme, the management group was to lease the facility back to the county, then rent the place to operate a juvenile detention center that would pay off the bonds. The county would own it outright after 20 years.

      The private corporation floundered almost immediately when the daily census was far less than the 78 juveniles it needed to be "profitable." The county took over the operation for a while and then closed the facility because it was too costly, resulting in a downgrade of the county's bond rating by Standard & Poor's.

      Hood County in 2007 contracted with 4M Granbury Youth Services of Rockdale to operate the center, but a surprise state inspection two years later found "numerous unsanitary and unhealthy living conditions" at the facility. Among the violations cited were supervisory neglect, failure to make routine checks on detainees and failure to provide proper medical care, Hunt reported.

      In response to previously alleged and actual mistreatment in state juvenile facilities, major efforts were made to enhance security, supervision and medical attention for youths assigned there. The strategy included committing juveniles to privately run facilities.

      Regardless of who manages the detention centers, the responsibility rests with the state, which is charged with the care of these young people.

      The Texas Juvenile Justice Coalition in Austin has voiced concern about the lack of adequate supervision and oversight of juvenile justice facilities, particularly the for-profit centers, according to Executive Director Ann Correa.

      More needs to be done, and one specific corrective measure would be for the Legislature to fund independent ombudsmen to investigate complaints and concerns as recommended by the coalition.

      The death of a 14-year-old boy demands that Texans act, and with deliberate speed.

      Read more: Boy's death in juvenile detention center should jolt state lawmakers into action

      SEPTEMBER 13, 2011

      Former TDCJ, TYC employee on trial for sex crimes against disabled, elderly

      The man on trial as the so-called Twilight Rapist in southeast Texas is a former prison worker who also had two employment stints at the Texas Youth Commission.

      Reported AP:
      A former Texas prison employee suspected of a being a serial rapist accused of targeting older women will be handcuffed and shackled during his trial after his defense attorney made the request.

      Testimony was scheduled to begin Tuesday in the trial of Billy Joe Harris, 54, who is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person. Jury selection for his trial was completed Monday, the Victoria Advocate reported.

      ... Harris was found about 100 miles from Rosharon, where he worked in the kitchen of a Texas state prison. Harris had worked in state correctional facilities on an off for about 12 years since 1995, according to state records.

      His jobs included two stints at the once-troubled Texas Youth Commission, which was overhauled several years ago in wake of a widespread sex abuse scandal involving guards attacking juvenile inmates.

      Harris bounced around to several prisons around the state, working mostly in food service. Background checks before his hiring revealed no prior criminal history, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      I'd read about these crimes and remember the alleged rapist being caught, but I hadn't realized until this story that the fellow was a TDCJ employee, much less that he'd previously worked at TYC before the scandals there broke in 2007. It makes one wonder whether such predilections ever played out on the job.

      According to the Advocate, Harris' attorney plans to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.


      Sept. 7, 2011

      US court allows life terms for juveniles

      A US federal appeals court today held that juveniles convicted of murder can be sentenced to life in prison without parole, seeking to settle a lingering debate over how the courts punish minors who commit serious offences.

      The US Supreme Court has already ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to death and that they also can't be sentenced to life in prison without parole for rape and other non-homicide offences.

      The ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today, though, upheld life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

      The decision came in the case against Kenneth Loggins, who was convicted in Alabama of killing a hitchhiker in 1994 and originally sentenced to die.

      He was 17 at the time of the killing, so his punishment was reduced to life without parole because the Supreme Court banned such executions in 2005.

      His lawyers had urged the 3-judge panel to broaden a 2010 Supreme Court ruling to include murders. That 5-4 ruling held that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole if they haven't killed anyone, and ordered the courts to allow them a "meaningful opportunity to obtain release."

      But prosecutors argued that the high court took pains to specify the ruling only applied in non-homicide cases, and the 11th Circuit said it found no reason to toss out Loggins' prison sentence.

      The decision, written by Circuit Judge Ed Carnes, said "there's nothing in law or logic" to support the argument that a state shouldn't be allowed to impose the next most severe punishment if a death penalty sentence is banned.

      The 11th Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, but lawyers in other areas will likely use the opinion to back up their own arguments.

      Mr Carnes had been the head of Alabama's capital punishment unit before he joined the court in 1992. He also wrote that the state shouldn't be blocked from imposing the prison sentence because it "lacked the clairvoyance to know that the Supreme Court would do an about-face and rule out death sentences for 17-year-old murderers."

      In the decision, he said only a few jurisdictions have repealed laws permitting life without parole sentences for homicides committed by juveniles, and that the national consensus seems to be in favour of keeping those laws on the books.

      "The long-term national trend is not away from life without parole sentences for homicides committed by juveniles but toward them," he said.

      The ruling comes in a case involving the gruesome murder of a woman, who was picked up by Loggins and three other teens and taken to a secluded rural area as she was travelling to her mother's home in Louisiana.

      One of the men hit the woman in the head with a beer bottle and then tackled her when she tried to run away, and all four savagely kicked her, the court said. When they realised she was still alive after the vicious beating, Loggins stood on her throat until she died, the ruling said.

      Loggins and two others later mutilated the body by cutting off her fingers and thumbs and removing part of a lung. They were arrested after one of the teens was reported to have been showing one of the victim's severed fingers to friends.

      The 3 others - who were 19, 17 and 16 at the time of the killing - were also convicted of the slaying and sentenced to either death or life in prison.

      (source: Adelaide Now)

      EDITORIAL - The New York Times
      Texass Progress on Juvenile Justice

      Published: July 9, 2011

      Just four years ago, the Texas juvenile justice system was awash in allegations of brutality, neglect and sexual abuse by staff members. Thanks to leadership by Gov. Rick Perry and thoughtful, decisive action by the Legislature, a state juvenile justice system that was in chaos a few years ago is making impressive strides.

      Governor Perry placed the Texas Youth Commission in a conservatorship not long after allegations of wrongdoing emerged in 2007. The state also convened a task force that came up with an ambitious plan that essentially argued for razing the system and rebuilding it.

      The panels report called for moving Texas away from the prison model and toward a less costly and more effective system in which troubled children receive guidance and rehabilitation services in or near their communities, where families, churches and other local organizations can be part of the process.

      The Legislature made reform a high priority. First, it changed the law so that children convicted of misdemeanors were no longer sent to state lockups. Then lawmakers pumped about $100 million over four years into community-based programs, which typically serve children while they live at home. These programs cost less per child than prison and are better at rehabilitation. It is too early to judge recidivism rates, but a growing body of research shows that children are more likely to become lifetime criminals if they are locked up.

      As more young offenders have been redirected to these programs, the youth inmate population has dropped from more than 4,000 in 2006 to about 1,400 today, allowing the state to close several lockups. Bolstered by this success, Texas lawmakers this year passed another sweeping reform bill that commits the state to creating a unified juvenile justice agency that works in partnership with local governments, the courts and communities to provide comprehensive services to troubled young people and their families. If the state reaches that ambitious goal, it could eventually become a juvenile justice model for the nation.

      Texass Progress on Juvenile Justice

      Youth commission board votes to close 3 lockups

      By Mike Ward
      Published: June 3, 2011

      Signaling a significant policy shift in how Texas punishes and rehabilitates its teenaged offenders, the Texas Youth Commission's governing board on Friday approved closing three of its 10 state-run lockups and merging two others.

      The board voted to close the Al Price Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont, the Crockett State School in Crockett and part of the Ron Jackson Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood thanks to a drop in offender population by nearly two-thirds during the past four years.

      Operations of the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facilities I and II outside Waco will be consolidated, officials said.

      The action is a response to a $116.9 million reduction in the once-troubled agency's budget by the Legislature, as a prelude to merging the Youth Commission into a new Texas Department of Juvenile Justice with the state Juvenile Probation Commission.

      In future years, state leaders want more teenage lawbreakers to receive treatment and rehabilitation in community programs that have proven to be more effective at reducing recidivism, rather than in remote, state-run lockups as they have in the past.

      Agency officials said about 700 employees and 400 youth offenders housed at the lockups will be affected. The youths are to be moved into the remaining lockups by the end of July, they said.

      "Various factors require that these changes be made, and we will work to ensure these transitions are as seamless as possible in order to continue ensuring public safety and positive outcomes for the youth in our system," said Youth Commission Board Chairman Scott Fisher of Bedford.

      In addition to the closures, the board approved cutting an additional 50 jobs in the agency's central office in Austin and 73 jobs in the regional and parole offices.

      Youth Commission officials said in a statement that no releases to parole will occur simply because of facility closure. Staffers at the affected facilities will be given opportunities to transfer to similar positions at other Youth Commission facilities where job vacancies exist, officials said.


      Youth commission board votes to close 3 lockups

      House Tentatively OKs New Juvenile Justice Agency

      By Brandi Grissom
      April 29, 2011

      Texas youths who get crossways with the law could soon find themselves under the supervision of a new state juvenile justice agency whose main mission is to keep young offenders close to home and quickly headed in a more positive direction.

      The Texas House on Thursday tentatively approved a bill by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, that would abolish the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and establish a Texas Juvenile Justice Department that would deal with young offenders. It's a move that the Texas Sunset Commission recommended as a cost-saving measure. But Madden and state Sen. John Whitmire, who worked together on the bill, have said their goal is loftier than saving money.

      The new agency would continue efforts the state started in 2007 to revamp its approach to juvenile justice.

      "We will be the juvenile justice example for every state in the union by this point next year," Madden said.

      The plan would build on reforms started in 2007 after physical and sexual abuse scandals at TYC rocked the agency and the lawmakers responsible for its oversight. Now, only youths charged with felony crimes are sent to TYC lockups.

      And offenders older than 19 are not allowed in the youth facilities. Those changes, along with others that encourage counties to keep youths closer to home for treatment, have helped reduce the TYC population from more than 5,000 to about 1,400.

      The bill would expand programs that keep young offenders in their communities for treatment and confinement instead of sending them to far-flung, rural TYC facilities. Most young offenders come from big cities in Texas. Pilot programs in cities like Houston where resources like mental health treatment providers and substance abuse counseling are more readily available have shown that youths who stay closer to home for treatment are less likely to commit future offenses.

      The reforms, along with measures in the proposed two-year budget, would also close up to three of the remaining 10 TYC lockups across the state. It would also require the Texas State Board of Education to grant charters for education services at youth correctional facilities.

      A transition team appointed by Gov. Rick Perry would oversee the abolition of the existing agencies and the formation of the new one. Key provisions, including an independent ombudsman who investigates complaints, would be kept under the new agency. And accountability standards would be implemented to ensure that the new agency produces the results expected.

      But state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said the reforms go too far. The changes lawmakers have made at TYC and the probation commission, he said, have worked. The agencies are performing better than they have in years, and recidivism rates and crime rates among youths have fallen. Abolishing the agencies, Turner said, is unnecessary.

      "You are undoing something thats working," he said. "Why change the structure now and create this super agency when we really do not know ultimately what the costs will be?"

      House Tentatively OKs New Juvenile Justice Agency

      Report: Hundreds of Youths in Adult Prisons

      By Brandi Grissom
      March 24, 2011

      Texas judges, particularly in Harris County, are sending hundreds of adolescent, first-time violent offenders to state prison, a punishment lawmakers intended for youths considered the worst of the worst, according to a report set for release today.

      Adult jails and adult prisons are simply the wrong place to hold these kids, says Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs and author of the report "Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas."

      Texas law allows judges to certify as adults youths between the ages of 14 and 17 who have committed felony offenses. Once certified, they are housed in county jails while they await trial and, if convicted, they are sent the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      But young, violent offenders can also be given so-called determinate sentences of up to 40 years that begin in the Texas Youth Commission and only continue on to adult prisons if the judge determines that is necessary.

      From fiscal year 2005 to fiscal year 2010, Texas courts certified nearly 1,300 youths as adults. During that same time, about 860 youths received determinate sentences. According to the report, though, there was little difference in the criminality among youths sentenced to the adult system and those who were sent to youth facilities. In both cases, the majority committed a violent crime like aggravated robbery or sexual assault, and had one or no previous juvenile court cases.

      In most cases, the obvious difference was where the offender was tried. Harris County courts certified twice as many juvenile offenders as adults as any other county over the four-year time period studied. Judges in Harris County certified 301 youths as adults. Dallas County, by comparison, certified 141 offenders as adults during the same time period.

      The problem with sending so many youths to adult facilities, particularly those who are not repeat violent offenders, is that they are not designed to rehabilitate and educate adolescents, Deitch said. Youths who are sent to adult prisons, she said, have a 100 percent greater risk of committing future violent offenses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They are also more likely to develop mental health problems in prison, to be physically and sexually assaulted and to commit suicide.

      As lawmakers consider expanding juvenile justice reforms they started in 2007, and work to keep more youths in community-based facilities and treatment programs, Deitch said they ought to also change the laws that allow youths to spend time in adult jails and prisons. Juveniles should only be eligible for sentencing to adult prison if they have first been through the juvenile system, she said. And while youths are awaiting trial, she said, they should be confined in local juvenile facilities, not county jails that are not equipped to deal with adolescents.

      But Bill Connolly, a juvenile defense lawyer in Houston, said it was lawmakers' overzealous reform efforts that likely boosted the number of young offenders being sent to adult facilities. Lawmakers dropped the eligible age for Texas Youth Commission sentences from 21 to 19. When that happened, Connolly said, prosecutors were less likely to recommend that young people get sentenced to youth facilities because they wouldn't have enough time to benefit from the rehabilitation programs that TYC offers. For example, if a young person was charged with a violent offense at age 17, he could be ordered to participate in TYC's Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program. But the wait to get into the program is at least one year, and it takes another year to complete the program."You don't have enough time to do that," Connolly said. So prosecutors and judges are more likely to send the young offender straight to the adult system if the crime is serious.

      Lawmakers have already filed some bills that would address concerns about youths in adult prisons. State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said judges usually only send the worst of the worst young offenders to the adult system and that each case should be examined individually. But he submitted a measure that would allow youths who have been certified as adults to stay in juvenile facilities while they await trial. And state Reps. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, have filed measures that would limit the types of offenses that would make an offender eligible for certification as an adult.

      Ana Yaez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said keeping youths in the juvenile system, where programs are designed to deal with their developing brains and characters, will produce better results and make Texans safer in the long run. The bottom line is youths do not belong in adult settings, she said.

      Texas Tribune reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez contributed reporting for this story.

      Report: Hundreds of Youths in Adult Prisons

      Wrongfully convicted woman warns youth about the horrors of prison

      Posted: March 18, 2011
      James Cannon
      Midland Reporter-Telegram

      Midland youth had a rare heart-to-heart about life choices Friday night.

      A wrongfully convicted woman, who has since been exonerated, talked to the couple dozen children at a youth forum at the Faith Temple Church about her experiences in a Texas correctional facility and what she learned during the ordeal.

      "By the grace of God, I stand here before you," Joyce Ann Brown said. "What man meant for evil, God turned into good."

      She began by recounting the events leading up to her 1980 wrongful conviction and the emotions she experienced as she protested her innocence. Sentenced to life in prison for a capital murder she did not commit during a fur coat store robbery, Brown said she was initially angry at the world but quickly realized it was all for a higher purpose.

      It all began, she said, when her mother received phone calls from friends and respected elders in Dallas that newspapers had reported police were searching for Brown in connection to the robbery-turned-homicide. At first she thought it a joke, until she read it herself.

      Both she and her lawyer called police to inform them she was coming in for questioning. But, police added a separate charge of fleeing arrest and raided her family's houses, even after the notification, she said.

      Brown said she was held on a $1 million bond for a capital murder charge because the wife of the store owner who was killed during the robbery said Brown resembled the suspect. After 59 days of incarceration, prosecutors knew they didn't have the evidence for a capital murder conviction, so she said her bond was reduced to $25,000 and her charges reduced to murder in the commission of an aggravated robbery.

      During the eight-day trial, she heard from multiple people at the courthouse that her case would be dropped because of the corroborating physical evidence and her strong alibis. She had time-stamped evidence from a bank and a car repair shop, as well as multiple co-workers who testified to her whereabouts.

      She ultimately was convicted and served nine years, five months and 24 days for a crime she didn't commit.

      "I have reasons to be angry, but I don't have the time," she said as she discussed with the youth her trials and tribulations. "What are you going to do about it? Don't be angry, do something about it."

      She said that while in prison she promised God when she was freed, she would dedicate her life to helping young people. She said it's important for her to talk to children in Texas because of the more than 162,000 Texans incarcerated, about 38 percent are younger than 19.

      Brown told the attentive youth to remember the number 13 because it is the age they could be certified as adults if they were to stand trial.

      The youth advocate then recounted horror stories of prison life and how hard it is to turn a life around once released. She said it would be extremely hard to get a job after prison even if one has an education, she told the children.

      She mostly talked about preventative measures to ensure children don't get caught up in the system and stay away from bad influences and peer pressure.

      But, she also spoke of her time helping women in her detention center to turn their lives around.

      She criticized parents for not being there for their children. She added that when the children paid their debts to society by completing probation, parents should fighting to have the records sealed or expunged. She said even the allegation of an arrest will hinder the success of a youth.

      "Be scientists, lawyers, politicians, businessmen ... but not football players," Brown said. "And if you are going to anyway, put something else in your life, give back to the community and put something away for your (retirement)."

      She ended her lecture with advice to the about 18 parents and community leaders present: Connect with children, don't give up on them, reach out to them and find out what they need to turn their lives around.

      "This isn't, and doesn't have to be a lost generation," Brown said. "And if it turns out to be, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves."

      James Cannon can be reached at jcannon@mrt.com.

      Joyce Ann Brown will be speaking at 7 p.m.today at the Hilton Midland Plaza, 117 W. Wall St. to benefit the Negro Business & Professional Women's Scholarship Fun.

      Wrongfully convicted woman warns youth about the horrors of prison

      Texas prison official acquitted of sex abuse

      By Betsy Blaney
      Feb 22, 2011

      LUBBOCK, Texas A former principal of a West Texas juvenile who claimed inmates lied when they told investigators that he had sexually assaulted them in darkened classrooms, closets and storage units was acquitted Monday of all charges against him.

      Jurors deliberated for about six hours before returning the not guilty verdicts on the 11 counts against John Paul Hernandez. He had faced up to 20 years in prison on the case's most serious offenses sexual assault and improper relationship between educator and student which are second-degree felonies.

      Hernandez was accused of sexually abusing the young men in 2004 and 2005 at the West Texas State School in Pyote.

      "Six years I've been waiting to hear those words," Hernandez said. "I've already served a six-year punishment and finally a weight has been lifted."

      All of Hernandez's accusers testified against him, telling jurors that Hernandez talked to them about pornography and fetishes before fondling them and performing oral sex.

      Hernandez took the stand in his own defense and denied their allegations, saying the young men lied in their statements to Texas Rangers investigators.

      Hernandez's attorney, Albert G. Valadez, has said the former inmates made up the allegations so they'd be released from the facility, which closed last summer.

      A former corrections officer at the prison testified for the defense that she heard two inmates one of them an accuser in the case talking about fabricating allegations of sexual abuse so they could go home.

      Hernandez was the second former administrator at the prison to be prosecuted.

      Ray Edward Brookins, the former assistant superintendent at the Texas Youth Commission facility, was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison.

      The allegations of abuse and subsequent investigations at the prison prompted the resignations or firings of several top state officials responsible for overseeing the state's juvenile prison system, and upended the commission. It led to accusations of a cover-up, reports exposing lax medical care, beatings, and a culture of retaliation against whistle-blowers. Lawmakers eventually ordered an overhaul of the system.

      Copyright 2011 The Associated Press

      Texas prison official acquitted of sex abuse

      Ex-Texas prison official on trial for pupil sex

      Associated Press
      Feb. 6, 2011

      LUBBOCK, Texas Six years have passed since a sex scandal involving jail administrators and teenage inmates were first investigated by Texas Rangers.

      In that time, the case has prompted the resignations or firings of several top state officials responsible for jailing Texas' juvenile criminals and sent a former West Texas jail administrator to prison.

      Now, after years of court motions and alleged inaction by a localdistrict attorney, state prosecutors have one target left in their case: John Paul Hernandez. The 45-year-old former principal at theTexas Youth Commission's West Texas State School in Pyote is on trial this week on charges he sexually molested pupils in 2004 and 2005.

      The trial, which was moved to Lubbock out of Ward County at the defense's request, is perhaps the last criminal aspect to a scandal that prosecutors say scarred more than a dozen youth abused by jail administrators. Ex-assistant Superintendent Ray Edward Brookins, the only other official at the youth prison charged in the scheme, was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison.

      Hernandez's trial, which begins Monday with jury selection, comes four years after he pleaded not guilty to 11 counts stemming from allegations he had oral sex with pupils while at the school.

      The Texas attorney general's office took over the prosecution of both former officials after the Ward County district attorney was accused of not acting quickly on the cases.

      One of Hernandez's alleged victims, who The Associated Press would not identify under company policy, said the delays made him skeptical that his former principal would ever stand trial.

      "For the past six years, it's felt like no one cared about what happened to me, and that Mr. Hernandez could get away with sexually assaulting me," the victim said in an e-mailed statement through his attorney. "In TYC (Texas Youth Commission) they try to teach you to be accountable for what you do. I hope Mr. Hernandez is held accountable for what he did to me."

      Authorities believe at least 13 boys were sexually abused at the school, which closed last summer. The case upended the Texas Youth Commission and led to accusations of a cover-up, reports exposing lax medical care, beatings, and a culture of retaliation against whistle-blowers. Lawmakers eventually ordered an overhaul of the system.

      A report from Texas Rangers investigators in 2005 said Brookins and Hernandez summoned young male inmates from their dorms late at night. The report states that for at least two years the teens went with the men to ball fields, darkened conference rooms, and offices for sex.

      Investigators described late-night encounters involving oral sex, masturbation and pornographic videos. Some of the teen inmates, investigators said, were also threatened with retaliation. In one instance, investigators alleged, an inmate who resisted Brookins' advances reported he threatened to keep the teen locked up until he was 21 unless he complied.

      Other inmates were lured into sexual acts with offers of birthday cake or pledges of help getting into college, investigators said.

      An internal investigation revealed that several employees at the Pyote jail complained to their bosses or other TYC officials but their complaints about alleged abuse by Hernandez and Brookins were largely ignored.

      Both were allowed to quietly resign amid the Rangers' investigation.

      Hernandez's attorney, Albert G. Valadez, said his client denies the charges and is looking forward to completing the trial.

      The allegations became public in 2007 when the Rangers report was brought to the attention of lawmakers in Austin, and prompted an outcry from legislators and parents of teens jailed at other TYC facilities. Legislators in 2009 put an executive commissioner in charge of the commission for two years. The changes improved staff-to-inmate ratios, created new investigative powers to check abuse claims and prohibited courts from sending youths to state lockups for misdemeanors.

      Widespread allegations of abuses and inmates being held beyond their sentences at TYC jails across the state quickly emerged and state officials launched an agency-wide probe aimed at rooting out problem employees.

      In the wake of the Pyote revelations, TYC's top two administrators lost their jobs and the state did a comprehensive review of the entire TYC system. They found other reports of abuse and as part of an overhaul, released 550 inmates who had served their minimum sentences.

      TYC officials weren't the only ones ensnared in the scandal.

      Ward County District Attorney Randall W. Reynolds received the Rangers report in 2005 and was accused of failing to act on it.

      Reynolds blamed a "breakdown in communication" for delays in the case, which was quickly taken over by state Attorney General Greg Abbott's office.

      Once the men were indicted, Abbott vowed speedy trials. But the cases stalled in the court system. Initial trial dates for both men came and went and a flurry of motions, including where the cases should be heard, went unanswered for months.

      Last year, attorney general spokesman Jerry Strickland said, prosecutors repeatedly asked District Judge BobParks to set trial dates but the requests went unanswered. Parks was removed from the case last July. Jay Gibson, an Odessa judge who replaced Parks, then ordered the cases moved to Odessa, about 50 miles east of Pyote.

      Valadez, Hernandez's attorney, succeeded in having the trial moved further from Ward County to Lubbock.

      Ex-Texas prison official on trial for pupil sex

      TYC gave raises to top brass

      By Mike Ward
      January 13, 2011

      UPDATED to reflect that the medical directors pay boost was a one-time payment this year.

      Despite a looming $27 billion state budget shortfall, at a time when most agencies were struggling to do more with less, top brass at the Texas Youth Commission received pay raises ranging from 3.5 to 10 percent, according to state records.

      All but one of the eight Youth Commission officials who received the pay bumps now make more than $100,000 a year. One makes over $216,000.

      The disclosure triggered immediate anger among legislative leaders, who revealed that they are considering a plan to require many state employees to take a pay cut 5 percent for those who make more than $50,000 a year, 10 percent for those who make more than $100,000 a year.

      What the hell are they thinking? asked Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who on Wednesday authored a successful move to merge the youth commission with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to save money. The Sunset Advisory Commission approved the proposal; the next step is legislation.

      These raises should be rolled back immediately, and Cherie Townsend (the Youth Commissions director) should apologize to the people of Texas for doing this when were laying off people, cutting programs, making everyone do more and not paying them one cent more.

      Its totally outrageous, he said, echoing sentiments from other lawmakers.

      Townsend could not immediately be reached for comment. But in an e-mail to Whitmire, she defended the raises as justified because the employees are doing more work.

      Because the agency has eliminated several director and top management positions, staff receiving these raises have been asked to take on additional job functions, Townsend stated.

      I believe that these increases bring these staff into meeting competitive market prices for their services. With the difficult nature of operating this agency, especially as we continue to transition, it is imperative that we retain the services of skilled and tenured staff.

      State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, an author of the youth commissions reform legislation four years ago, called the raises absolutely out of line. I dont know of any business that would give raises to its top employees when its cutting jobs, except maybe on Wall Street.

      According to a Youth Commission report, Cris Love, the agencys independent inspector general, in December received the largest percentage raise 10 percent or $9,700 a year. He now makes $107,799 a year.

      The agencys medical director, Rajendra Parikh, a pediatrician, received a one-time payment of $10,832 on Sept. 1, on top of his $216,651 annual salary.

      The agencys chief information officer, Rick Bishop, received a $4,700-a-year pay hike on Jan 1, just two weeks before the budget-strapped legislative session began. He will now make $99,749.

      The other raises given on Sept. 1 include James Smith, director of youth services, 5 percent, now paid $118,493; general counsel Toysha Martin, 5 percent, now making $113,941; human resources director Mary Wood, 3.5 percent, now making $106,976; education superintendent Clint Carpenter, 5 percent, now paid $106,570, and Lori Person, director of intergovernmental relations, planning and communications, 3.5 percent, now making $105,257 a year.

      Al state agencies were ordered in December to recommend an additional 2.5 percent spending cut. That came on the heels of a request for 5 percent cuts last May.

      Legislative leaders have been chafing for more than a year over the high cost of the youth commissions operations, especially that of the headquarters staff.

      Whitmire and Madden are among the primary authors of reform legislation that remade the youth commission after a sex-abuse scandal in 2007, and their opinions carry clout among other the legislative leadership.

      The state doesnt have the money now to be paying for big raises like these, especially for employees who are making more than $100,000, Whitmire said. What Cherie has done is protect these employees from any pay cut the Legislature may make them take.

      TYC gave raises to top brass

      January 12, 2011

      Sunset Commission: Merge TYC, juvie probation

      I just received this press release announcing that the Sunset Commission has rejected the staff recommendation and voted today to merge the Texas Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission:

      Texas Appleseed and two national advocacy groups are praising todays unanimous Sunset Advisory Commission vote to restructure the states juvenile system by abolishing the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and creating a new entity.

      The Texas Sunset Commission took a visionary step forward in the ongoing reform of Texas juvenile justice system. Todays vote builds on the reform efforts begun in 2007 and 2009 and positions Texas to move toward a more cost-effective system by emphasizing effective, community-based treatment, said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.

      Pat Arthur, Senior Attorney, National Center for Youth Law, said, Incarcerating youth in TYC facilities in remote parts of Texas exacerbates problems finding mental health professionals and teachers to serve these youth. "Texas has an opportunity to create a national juvenile justice model that creates meaningful opportunities for appropriate treatment and rehabilitation of youth close to their homes."

      Given that Texas is facing a $27 billion budget shortfall, streamlining the system can ensure that Texas juvenile justice system provides the services youth need while reducing inefficiencies posed by a top-heavy system. "This is just the right time to take the next big step in the reform of Texas' juvenile justice system, said Robert Fleischner, Assistant Director with the Center for Public Representation.

      Representatives from these three advocacy groups have been working for several years to improve Texas juvenile justice system. In August, they requested a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into accounts of unsafe conditions and serious education and mental health programming deficiencies in 10 secure lockdown facilities operated by the TYC.

      Sunset Commission: Merge TYC, juvie probation


      Groups Principles of Juvenile Justice Reform Offer a Plan for Troubled Youth

      As Sunset Commission recommends abolishing the Texas Youth Commission and Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, advocates unite behind recommendations for reform.

      Understand that restructuring the juvenile justice system is not, in itself, reform. Dont incarcerate youth for minor crimes or send kids to adult prisons. And let more funds go to counties offering community services that keep kids out of confinement.

      These are a few of the Guiding Principles of Juvenile Justice Reform for Texas that major advocacy groups asked state leaders to look to, as the Sunset Commission voted Wednesday to end the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) and replace them with a new agency.

      Texans Care for Children, Advocacy, Inc., Texas Appleseed, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and Texas Network of Youth Services were among the groups signing on to the 12 principles, meant to guide reforms in the states juvenile justice system that started in 2007.

      As Texas plans for the future of juvenile justice, we need to focus on what works, said Jodie Smith, policy director at Texans Care for Children, which convenes the Texas Juvenile Justice Roundtable. The experience of other states and communities here in Texas is that the best way to rehabilitate youth and maintain public safety is to keep juvenile offenders close to homeeither under community supervision or in small, home-like settingswhere they can get schooling and the supports they need to get their lives on a positive path.

      Maintaining and improving youths access to effective, community-based services, which has been a growing focus in Texas since reforms began, needs to remain the way forward.

      The Guiding Principles of Juvenile Justice Reform for Texas are enclosed, and available Here (pdf)


      Let's keep our mentally ill youth out of detention

      Dec. 11, 2010

      In just three years, Harris County has made vast improvements in the county's juvenile justice system. The catalyst for many of these changes is an initiative launched in 2007 and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop alternatives to juvenile detention in Harris County.

      The initiative is showing promising results. Between 2007 and 2009, referrals of youth to the county's juvenile probation department dropped 14 percent. The number of youth placed in residential centers after adjudication fell 42 percent.

      Commitments to the state's juvenile corrections system dropped 62 percent.

      Meanwhile, juvenile crime has dropped significantly in Harris County.

      Local agencies, courts and community groups have worked together to achieve these positive results.

      The Harris County District Attorney's Office now defers prosecution of juveniles who commit a nonviolent misdemeanor offense for the first time. Since February 2009, more than 2,300 youth have been placed in a community-supervision program instead of going to court or detention. The program has a 90 percent success rate and has saved an estimated $1.5 million.

      Juvenile courts are allowing more youth offenders to live at home while getting supervision, services and treatment in the community when appropriate and safe for the public.

      A special court docket created in 2009 for juveniles with mental illness offers rehabilitation programs that link youth and their families to services and treatment in the community. As of November, 32 of 41 youth in the program had successfully completed it, at an estimated savings to the county of $240 a day per youth, based on the cost of detention.

      Agencies and nonprofits are providing programs for high-needs youth in the juvenile justice system and their families, such as daily after-school supervision, mental health treatment for youth, and family therapy to address underlying issues that contribute to the youth's behavioral issues. MHMRA of Harris County, for example, provides assessment, individual therapy, family counseling and medication management to as many as 600 youth in homes, detention centers and alternative schools each month.

      Yet even with all these improvements, the system has too many young people in it. Nearly 20,000 youth were referred to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department in 2009. Referrals through October this year have reached 15,076.

      It's time to set our sights on lowering the number of youth entering the juvenile justice system, and mental health is a critical factor that cannot be ignored. Nationally, a large proportion of youth in the juvenile justice system — between 50 percent and 75 percent - have at least one mental health condition. In Harris County, the estimate is 52 percent.

      Why is mental health a factor? When left undiagnosed and untreated, a mental illness or emotional disturbance can cause symptoms and behaviors that get adolescents in trouble in school, at home or in the community. Parents, teachers and other adults who work with kids may not realize that negative or delinquent behavior can be a sign of mental illness. Even if they suspect mental illness, many families don't have the insurance, money or eligibility to get help.

      Zero-tolerance policies in schools often criminalize adolescent behavior tied to mental illness. A report, to be released soon by law center Texas Appleseed, says minor infractions such as cursing, disrupting class and truancy used to be handled by the school principal but are now treated as misdemeanors or worse.

      Earlier reports from Appleseed revealed that a disproportionate share of minority and special education students are being suspended and expelled from Texas public schools for noncriminal, nonviolent offenses.

      Severe responses such as ticketing, suspension and expulsion inappropriately punish and alienate youth, especially those with untreated mental illness, and increase their chances of dropping out or becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

      Instead, what many of these young people need is services, such as assessment, diagnosis and treatment, at home, in school or in the community. Studies show this approach leads to better outcomes for the child, the family and the community. It's also less expensive than putting youth in the juvenile justice system.

      Providing these services in schools makes sense because that's often where symptoms of mental illness or emotional disturbance begin to emerge. However, the Houston Chronicle reported Nov. 29 that only a handful of schools in the Houston area offer mental health services, due in large part to lack of funding for mental health professionals and services.

      Fortunately, there are other options. Foundations and nonprofits are providing mental health services for kids and their families in schools and in the community. For example, in 2009 the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health awarded eight grants totaling $7.8 million to local nonprofits to provide mental health services in high-need areas of Houston and Harris County. Over three years, an estimated 10,000 kids and their families will receive mental health services in schools, day care centers, homeless shelters and other community sites.

      MHMRA of Harris County is partnering with several school districts to provide mental health services to youth and their families at school. This enables them to get the services they need, when they need them.

      Finally, many schools are adopting programs to reinforce social and emotional wellness instead of relying on punitive policies that don't work. Ideally, these programs begin with kids at a very young age and focus on setting standards, teaching expectations and modeling positive behaviors. One model, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, is proving especially effective in helping administrators and teachers address challenging behaviors of students in a positive way. Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston is leading a statewide network to expand the use of this model in Texas schools.

      The bottom line is, we can help many young people with mental health conditions avoid the juvenile justice system. The key is to identify and diagnose mental illness as early as possible and provide youth and their families with resources, services and support at home, in school and in the community. Let's work together to build on our successes by reducing reliance on the juvenile justice system and finding ways to do more of what we know works.

      This article was submitted by former Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department Executive Director Tom Brooks and Dr. Lynda Frost with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

      Let’s keep our mentally ill youth out of detention

      Texas juvies can now face life without parole

      Reported by: Nicole Garza
      Email: ngarza@fox34.com

      A statute was put into place about three years ago that allows life without parole for capital murder. Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell said that law has now been extended to include juvenile offenders as well.

      "It's very case specific, it's very on a case by case basis, but I hate limiting all your options so I'm glad that this is now an option again," Powell said.

      Powell said the circumstances are limited. The only example he could think of in Lubbock involved a 16-year-old named Gabriel Gonzales who shot and killed a Texas Tech student back in 2002. Gonzales was tried as an adult and convicted of capital murder. At the time, Texas law only allowed for life with the option of parole for juveniles.

      "A life sentence that's eligible for parole is still going to be you know 30 years. We're not talking getting good time credit and getting time off of that, so if you send a kid when they're 17, they're gonna be 47 before they even talk about releasing them. And being a little older than that, I remember at 47, I didn't have the energy left to misbehave like I was 17," David Hazlewood said.

      Hazlewood, a local defense attorney said he works to ensure sentences like life without parole for juveniles don't often happen.

      Powell said, while age is a consideration, it's not what he's most concerned with when prosecuting anyone.

      "Number one it's gonna be the offense, that's the number one factor we look at in everything. And then we're going to look at the individual, what type of history are we talking about? What type of individual is this? Is this a good guy that's done something bad, or is this a bad guy that continues to do bad things?" Powell said.

      Hazlewood said this punishment, which is only for worst case scenarios, is a result of the supreme court's ruling that a minor cannot face execution.

      "This is for lack of a better analogy, it's flushing 'em. I mean basically, we're done, you're done," Hazlewood said. "And I'm not going to sit here and say some kids don't need that. But I think you ought to be very careful if and when you chose that option and use it."

      Hazlewood said life without parole for juvies contradicts the state's usual philosophy toward rehabilitating juveniles rather than simply punishing them.

      Texas juvies can now face life without parole

      Sunset Commission: Keep TYC in business 6 more years

      By Mike Ward
      November 19, 2010

      In a victory for its supporters, a state agency reviewing the future of several agencies recommended today that the once-troubled Texas Youth Commission stay in business for at least six more years.

      Reformers who are pushing to merge the Youth Commission with other youth corrections agencies said they will still move to zero out the agency's budget.

      In a new report made public today, the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended that the Youth Commission be continued in operation for six additional years, instead of the usual 12, even as reforms ordered four years ago in Texas juvenile justice continue to work.

      The sunset commission also recommended that the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission be continued in operation for six years.

      While the agencies have implemented most of the required reforms, the juvenile justice system remains in transition and TYC needs to make additional improvements, the sunset report states.

      As the youth population (in TYC) continues to decline, commitment costs and worker injury rates remain high. Staff turnover rates are down, but TYC continues to have difficulty staffing specialized treatment positions, and the agency can still improve the number of youth enrolling in and completing needed treatment.

      Ultimately, its too early to measure the impact of recent reforms on recidivism of youth on probation or exiting TYC, making it difficult to assess the success of the state's investment in diversion and treatment, the report continues. While the agencies have progressed, more work is needed and some time must elapse before reforms can be fully evaluated.

      In recent months, critics of the agency including Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston have called for the agency to be downsized significantly or merged, with its correctional duties turned over to other agencies or managed by a new division of a new agency combined with the juvenile probation commission.

      In the new report, the sunset commission staff reports that Texas taxpayers are spending $323.05 a day per resident or $117,913 a year operating TYC. That compares with a cost for adult prisoners of about $41 a day.

      TYC now incarcerates fewer than 1,600 teen-aged criminals at 11 lockups around the state, compared to more than 4,100 just five years ago. Sweeping reforms were ordered at TYC after a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal made headlines in 2007 and brought a housecleaning of top officials and the agency's governing board.

      Keep TYC in business 6 more years

      Life without parole OK for juveniles, Texas court rules

      By Chuck Lindell
      November 17, 2010

      Sentencing juvenile murderers to life in prison without any chance of parole is not unreasonably harsh, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday.

      Although Texas law no longer allows the practice, life without parole was available for juvenile defendants who were tried as adults from 2005-09. Twenty teens were sentenced to remain jailed until they died, including Chris Joshua Meadoux of San Antonio.

      Meadoux, who killed two San Antonio teens when he was 16, argued that his life sentence violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment because juveniles lack maturity and an adult's sense of responsibility.

      But in a 7-2 ruling, the state's highest criminal court disagreed.

      Given the enormity of the crimes committed by juvenile capital offenders, the Legislature could reasonably conclude that such offenders are incorrigible and that the only prudent course of action is to separate them from society forever, said the opinion, written by Judge Charles Holcomb.

      The majority also noted that the Legislature did not make the law retroactive when it banned no-parole terms for juveniles in 2009.

      A dissenting opinion by Judge Lawrence Meyers noted that after the U.S. Supreme Court banned executions for juvenile killers in 2005, their death sentences were commuted to life terms with the possibility of parole. Is ridiculous to say that a juvenile who was not even eligible for the death penalty should receive a harsher sentence, Meyers wrote.

      Life without parole OK for juveniles, Texas court rules

      Commentary: Football field was common ground for Knights, Indians Regents more-than-gracious host to Giddings State School.

      By Rick Cantu
      Nov. 8, 2010

      Regents defenders Nick Pawelka (left) and Matthew Deskins pursue Giddings State School's
      quarterback during their game last Thursday night.

      Before the game, Regents cheerleaders placed a banner along the field to welcome their guests.

      The boys sat on the gym floor and ate pizza together. They talked about the game they had just played. Adversaries for nearly three hours, the football players from Regents and the Giddings State School now were just kids having fun.

      Any contrasts between the players for Regents and their visitors from Giddings weren't readily apparent. On this night, they were brothers in arms, laughing, joking, smiling, enjoying the feast before them. It didn't matter that one team represented a private school in an upscale neighborhood of southwest Austin while the other team consisted of young men who have been incarcerated in a juvenile prison.

      On a cool autumn night this past Thursday, the Knights and Indians were bound by one common thread: football.

      And although it was Senior Night for the Knights, the Regents boosters made a pact to root for the visitors. They wore royal blue to support the Indians and they made posters for each player and trainer. The Regents fans also created a large banner for the Giddings State School players to burst through in pregame festivities, baked brownies for the Indians and bought shirts for the visiting coaches that had "Indians" stitched across the front.

      Regents wore its road white uniforms on its home field, and let Giddings State School occupy the home bench. Knights cheerleaders, meanwhile, pulled royal blue T-shirts over their outfits and cheered for the visitors.

      This was a display of unbridled compassion from the fans and players of one Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools team toward the players and coaches of another.

      "At first, it felt a little weird," said Lisa Moore, whose son Luke is a Regents wide receiver and safety, "but the fans quickly got into it and didn't miss a beat. Once they saw that the parents of our senior players were embracing this gift to Giddings, the rest of the fans joined in."

      In an e-mail to Regents boosters, Moore wrote that players for Giddings State School "don't have pregame meals from Chipotle or fancy uniforms for both home and away games. (In fact, they don't have ANY home games.) No parents making posters or ringing cowbells. Giddings is part of the Texas Youth Commission and houses the boys that the courts have labeled as violent offenders.

      "They live behind a 14-foot fence wired with motion detectors and patrolled 24 hours a day by guards. They get to play football only if they have served at least half of their sentence, follow the rules and are willing to practice while it's still dark outside. This is because their after-school time is filled with therapy sessions, work duty and meetings with caseworkers. Their roster can change from week to week as boys become ineligible due to behavioral issues or as boys are released or even moved to adult prisons. So each game they get to play could be their last."

      Indians coach Sandy Brown said his team operates on a "shoestring" budget, and guards surround the practice field to make sure no one ventures off. It's a far cry from Giddings High School, which receives all of the town's attention on game nights.

      "I have been here 31 years and although some schools kind of adopt our kids and do things for them, it is rarely to the extent that Regents went to," Brown said.

      "It really makes you appreciate the school and the coaches. You realize we're all kind of in a brotherhood of helping young people to grow up and achieve their dreams, regardless of where we came from or what we've done."

      Regents (9-1) defeated the Indians 51-0, but after the game, the boys gathered together and prayed. Regents players offered their opponents gift bags filled with cookies and a Bible. In each book, Regents students had written personal messages of encouragement.

      Then the two teams devoured 50 pizzas.

      Brown said Regents' generosity and sportsmanship left a positive impression on his team.

      "I don't tell many people this but I hit a policeman with a beer bottle when I was 16, so I know what it's like to be in trouble," Brown said. "But what I tell my kids is that although you can't change anything about yesterday, you can change tomorrow if you want to. So anytime someone like Regents shows the kind of love and respect for my kids like they did last Thursday night, it gives you a real sense of appreciation for that school and their coaches."

      While the boys from Giddings State School enjoyed their trip to Austin, the players and parents from the home team won more than just a game.

      "We got more out of this experience than the Giddings kids probably did," Lisa Moore said. "I hope it is a lesson in servanthood, kindness and generosity that our boys and their families can take with them forever."

      rcantu@statesman.com; 445-3953

      Football field was common ground

      TYC ombudsman resigns
      Youth advocate says departure unrelated to advocacy group complaints.

      By Mike Ward
      Aug. 27, 2010

      Amid a growing controversy about new allegations of abuse and security concerns at the Texas Youth Commission, the top official responsible for independently investigating mistreatment and monitoring conditions has resigned after less than six months on the job.

      Officials confirmed Thursday that John Moore, who was appointed as independent ombudsman by Gov. Rick Perry in March, resigned Aug. 9.

      Moore, who could not immediately be reached for comment, confirmed his resignation in an e-mail to legislative leaders, saying he was leaving for other employment. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry, said Moore's last day would be Sept. 1.

      No replacement has been named.

      "This resignation was submitted prior to the current advocacy issue and is not in anyway driven by that," Moore stated in his resignation letter. "I value my service with the state and appreciate the opportunity to serve."

      Four youth advocacy groups on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate continuing reports of systemic chaos inside the agency, including allegations that incarcerated teenagers are routinely assaulted, lack required educational programs and mental-health treatment and that many youths are living in fear because of inadequate security.

      Agency officials have promised to investigate the claims but generally deny that the issues are as grave as portrayed.

      Legislative leaders have promised an expedited inquiry of their own and on Tuesday had pressed for answers about why Moore's office and the agency's inspector general had not turned up the problems earlier on their own. Their quarterly reports had given no indication of the systemic problems that the advocacy groups cited in their request for a federal investigation.

      Legislative leaders also want to know why top agency officials did not address and resolve complaints from the advocacy groups as early as last spring about conditions inside the 10-lockup juvenile corrections system.

      The new complaints echo many of the ones four years ago that triggered legislative reforms after a sexual abuse scandal and cover-up, and have left some legislative leaders questioning whether the agency has corrected its past problems.

      Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he was especially surprised to learn Thursday that Moore had resigned. The day after Moore's resignation letter to Perry was dated, the senator said, "he sat in my office and shared his plans for the coming months, his concerns about the Beaumont campus and what he was going to be focusing on."

      Moore's resignation marks the latest vacancy in the top monitoring job, a post that the Legislature created to curb abuse and mistreatment and a post that was seen as a key reform at the agency.

      Perry named Moore to the post March 10, replacing former state District Judge Catherine Evans of Dallas. She had resigned three months earlier after being caught smuggling contraband, a knife, a cell phone and prescription drugs into a Youth Commission lockup in Crockett.

      At the time, Evans insisted she was testing reports of lax security in Youth Commission lockups.

      Evans was indicted on a felony charge in December 2009 and pleaded guilty in June to a reduced misdemeanor charge. She received six months' probation.

      Evans' predecessor was Will Harrell, a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Texas office who failed to win Senate confirmation to keep his job amid a controversy about an arrest record years ago.

      Moore, who lives in Denison in North Texas, is a retired U.S. marshal with 25 years of service, a former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper and former Amarillo police officer. He could not be reached for comment.


      TYC ombudsman resigns

      Groups say abuse remains in Texas juvenile prisons

      2010 The Associated Press
      Aug. 24, 2010

      AUSTIN, Texas - Four juvenile inmate advocacy groups have alleged that widespread abuse continues in the Texas juvenile prison system, almost four years after a sex abuse and cover-up scandal forced sweeping reforms.

      The groups submitted a formal complaint asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate conditions in the Texas Youth Commission, the Austin American-Statesman reported in its online edition Tuesday.

      The complaint filed by Texas Appleseed, Advocacy Inc., the Center for Public Representation and the National Center for Youth Law accused the commission of failing to protect the 1,700 juvenile inmates in its system because of short staffing and the use of improper restraints and excessive force.

      A commission statement issued Tuesday said it has worked with two of the groups for three years to address the issues "and will work to fully investigate any allegations" in the complaint.

      According to the newspaper, the complaint also alleged that juveniles are not provided adequate medical and mental health care and educational programs.

      Also, it contends the number of youth-on-youth assaults in commission facilities in Beaumont and Corsicana remain high. Those centers had the second-highest rate of sexual assault among the nation's juvenile prisons last year, according to a federal report.

      "Our recent visits to facilities indicate broader systemic problems that TYC leadership has not resolved. These problems are not isolated to specific sites, but exist throughout TYC's system of lockdown facilities," the complaint stated.

      A commission statement said its officials regard the safety of inmates and staff members as "a top priority." The statement also cited improvements the commission has made in reducing youth assaults, imposing zero tolerance of mistreatment or abuse, and providing school programs and medical and mental health care.

      Nevertheless, the complaint to the Justice Department alleged that several conditions that led to mass resignations and retirements of commission officials in 2007 remain.

      Justice Department spokesmen told the newspaper that the agency was reviewing the complaint.

      Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry's office issued a statement that insisted Texas can fix any problems without federal intervention, even as legislative leaders whose investigations led to the sweeping reforms of 2007 demanded answers.

      "When we have allegations like this that we can't ensure the safety of the youths in our facilities, we're back to where we were three or four years ago," said state Rep. Jim McReynolds, chairman of the House Corrections Committee and a member of the special legislative panel that investigated the commission in 2007. "I don't want to hear that we're making strides. If what we're doing is not what needs to be done to stop this, then it's time for some changes."

      State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and co-chairman of the 2007 special commission investigative panel, called on state leaders to act immediately to ensure the safety of juvenile inmates.

      "It appears we have some dangerous facilities ... that some problems remain," he told the American-Statesman.

      Information from: Austin American-Statesman;

      Groups say abuse remains in Texas juvenile prisons

      Criticism over delayed TYC sexual abuse trial
      Texas Civil Rights Project called for former official to be brought quickly to trial, nearly six years after officials say he molested at least four teenage boys.

      By Mike Ward
      Aug. 11, 2010

      The advocacy group Texas Civil Rights Project on Wednesday called for a former Texas Youth Commission official to be brought to trial quickly, almost six years after he was accused of molesting at least four teenage boys in what became a statewide abuse scandal.

      Scott Medlock , an Austin attorney who represents one of the four victims in separate pending civil litigation, said at a news conference that it is unbelievable and outrageous that former West Texas State School Principal John Paul Hernandez is still awaiting trial.

      "More than three years after the public learned about these disgusting assaults, Hernandez's victims are still waiting for justice," said Medlock, director of the organization's Prisoners' Rights Program. "Prosecuting these men shows that if you abuse kids in TYC, you will be held accountable. Further delay undermines creating a culture of accountability."

      In a statement, the victim now 25 said he wants to "stop what happened to me from being covered up."

      "I need to move on with my life, and I can't do that until the man who violated me faces justice," the victim said in the statement. "I'm still struggling and I need some closure."

      According to court filings, Hernandez engaged in oral sex with several boys at the state-run juvenile correctional center and was charged with sexual assault.

      Ray Brookins , the lockup's former assistant superintendent, was also charged with sexually assaulting incarcerated youths. He was convicted in April and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

      Hernandez was indicted in April 2007 on one count of sexual assault, a second-degree felony; nine counts of improper sexual activity with a person in his custody, a state jail felony; and nine counts of improper relationship with a student, a second-degree felony, officials said.

      If convicted, Hernandez faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

      Neither Hernandez, who has maintained his innocence, nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

      As a result of the scandal and allegations that top officials covered up the sexual abuse allegations, most of the Youth Commission's administrators were fired or forced to retire, the agency was placed in a form of receivership, and its operations were downsized. The West Texas State School in Pyote, where the alleged attacks occurred, was closed in June.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took over prosecution of the abuse cases after the local prosecutor did not file criminal charges for more than two years, even though a detailed investigation by the Texas Rangers confirmed the attacks.

      Medlock said the case against Hernandez is pending in a state District Court.

      District Judge Jay Gibson could not be reached for comment Wednesday on why the case is taking so long to go, and court clerks declined to answer questions about the case.

      "Judge Gibson should be ashamed this case hasn't been heard yet," Medlock said.

      Criticism over delayed TYC sexual abuse trial

      May 15, 2010

      COMMENTARY: Imprisoning Children for Life

      Overwhelmingly, America sentences more children to Life WithOut Parole (LWOP) than all other countries combined, condemning children to death behind bars, preventing their rehabilitation in society, and violating international laws and norms. The University of San Francisco School of Law Center for Law and Global Justice and the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic, in association with the Berkeley-based Human Rights Advocates, work for global abolition of juvenile life without parole (LWOP) sentencing, calling it inappropriate for children and illegal.

      In November 2007, they published a report titled, "Sentencing Our Children to Die in Prison," making their case, saying: children given LWOP are "condemned to die in prison;" dispensed in adult courts, they ignore the "less(er) culpability of juvenile offenders; their ineptness at navigating the criminal justice system; their potential for rehabilitation, reintegration into society," and known child development principles "established through national standards and international human rights law;" only 2 countries impose LWOP sentences - the United States and Israel, America having 99.9% of all cases; however, 9 others permit them, but no known cases exist in - Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Brunei, Cuba, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, and Sri Lanka; 2 other countries, South Africa and Tanzania, abandoned the practice;

      Black children are ten times more likely to get LWOP than while ones, and in California it's 20 - 1; in other words, the darker one's skin, the greater the risk for harsh sentencing, and if rich, the chance is practically nil; LWOP "violates international human rights standards of juvenile justice;" Article 37 of the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) prohibits sentencing children under 18 to LWOP or death; imprisoning them should be a last resort for "the shortest appropriate period of time;" all countries ratified it except Somalia and America; Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) requires children to be protected by their status as minors, and under the UN Convention Against Torture, LWOP amounts to cruel, unusual or degrading treatment.


      LWOP sentences condemn children to death behind bars, prevent their rehabilitation in society, and violate international laws and norms that prohibit treating them like adults. They're less psychologically and neurologically developed, can't make the same reasoned judgments, and don't understand the long-term consequences of breaking the law.

      In adult prisons, they're more vulnerable to physical abuse. Yet many endure it for years "because they have no 'prison experience', friends, companions or social support.' (They're) 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities."

      One study showed they've been:

      "physically and sexually abused, neglected, and abandoned; their parents are prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, and crack dealers; they grew up in lethally violent, extremely poor areas where health and safety were luxuries their families could not afford."

      Hopelessness overwhelms them, extinguishing any motivation to develop and mature, reinforced by prison officials providing no education or life skills. As a result, juvenile LWOP is near universally condemned and prohibited, but not in America with at least 2,381 cases (including 149 from 2005 - 2007), and Israel with at least 7.

      In both countries, reforms aren't expected despite evidence showing LWOP doesn't deter severe youth crimes, and it's as true for juvenile death penalties. Moreover, the Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons (2005), reasoned that:

      "the absence of evidence of deterrent effect is of special concern because the same characteristics that render juveniles less culpable than adults suggest as well that juveniles will be less susceptible to deterrence."

      Yet US courts keep imposing inhumane, inappropriate and ineffective sentences against society's most vulnerable victims.

      Global LWOP Sentencing Practices - America

      Few countries ever sentenced juveniles to LWOP. Overwhelmingly, America is the main offender. At least 135 have laws prohibiting the practice, and 185 have done so in the General Assembly. 10 others permit it, but only the US and Israel do it.

      In America, the federal government and 44 states impose LWOP, but only 39, in fact, use it.

      A breakdown is as follows:

      [Texas is not included [Why?]]

      - states prohibiting LWOP include Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oregon and the District of Columbia;

      - ones with no known cases include Maine, New Jersey, New York, Utah and Vermont;

      - Indiana allows it from age 16;

      - permitting it from age 15 are Louisiana and Washington;

      - from age 14 are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia;

      - from age 13 are Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Wyoming;

      - from age 12 are Missouri and Montana;

      - from age 10 are South Dakota and Wisconsin;

      - Nevada allows it from age 8; and

      - 13 states permit it at any age, including Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

      Before the 1990s, LWOP sentences were rarely imposed. Thereafter, most states passed laws increasing juvenile punishments that treat kids like adults.

      Despite international law prohibitions, some children are sent to adult prisons, the percentage more than doubling from 1990 - 2004 even though crime rates declined.

      Especially disturbing is the racial imbalance in LWOP sentences, black children being affected at 10 times the rate for white ones, and in California 20 times the rate. For Hispanics, the ratio is 5 to 1. Also:

      "there is a 'cumulative' disadvantage to minorities entering the justice system via arrest through the period of incarceration so that racial disparity actually increases as (youths are) arrested, processed, adjudicated, sentenced and incarcerated. ..."

      Despite growing racial discrimination, Washington has done little to stem the practice beyond passing the 2002 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act, a measure it doesn't enforce. In addition, the federal government doesn't collect, monitor or analyze state discriminatory actions, so nothing is done to curb them. As a result, America is in violation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).


      Israel has an estimated seven children serving LWOP sentences, its government identifying four, not indicating if parole is possible, saying:

      The High Court of Justice (HCJ) "held, in a majority decision, that the court has the discretion to review each case on its merits; should it reach the conclusion that the appropriate punishment is life imprisonment, and should it consider that this punishment is just and necessary, it may sentence a minor to life imprisonment."

      Under Israeli law, life sentences may be reviewed after 30 years in prison, unless juveniles are sentenced by military courts where Palestinians are tried. If given LWOP sentences, commutation doesn't apply under British Mandate government 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations, incorporated by Israel in 1948 under section 11 of the Government and Law Arrangements Ordinance.

      They were never abolished and apply in the Occupied Territories to impose LWOP sentences for adults and minors as well as detain thousands of Palestinians (including youths) administratively without charge, demolish their homes, seize their property, deport them, impose curfews, and virtually anything else to harass, deter and punish.

      Countries No Longer Imposing LWOP Sentences

      South Africa, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Kenya once imposed them but now prohibit the practice. Tanzania says no youth under 18 gets LWOP sentences. A child welfare department and parole review board monitor children in custody, so when "satisfied that the child has been rehabilitated, " they initiate a process for release.

      South Africa also prohibits the practice, but its 1977 Criminal Procedure Act 51, pertaining to life sentences, mandated parole eligibility after a minimum of 25 years or age 65 was reached, provided 15 years were served. No parallel clause benefited juvenile offenders.

      Burkina Faso and Kenya once allowed LWOP sentences, but now adhere to international law standards banning the practice. In Burkina Faso, however, youths after age 16 potentially may be tried as adults, but the government says it abides by Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provisions protecting them.

      Kenya also complies, having passed a law banning LWOP sentences for youths under age 18.

      Nine other countries have laws permitting juvenile life sentences, but it's not clear whether parole is allowed. Yet international law is clear and unequivocal prohibiting them for juveniles.

      America's common law heritage provides for "a separate punishment structure on children," prohibiting LWOP sentences. In England, the Children Act of 1908 required they be treated differently from adults, including "leniency in view of the age of the offender at the time of the offense." Globally, imposing LWOP sentences evolved largely since the 1990s, only by a small minority of countries treating youths the same as adults.

      The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by all countries except America and Somalia) prohibits LWOP sentences. In 2007, its implementation authority, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, specifically stated:

      "The death penalty and a life sentence without the possibility of parole are explicitly prohibited in (CRC's) article 37(a)."

      The Committee recommended that global nations "abolish all forms of life imprisonment for offences committed by persons under the age of 18" to effectively prohibit courts from trying youths as adults.

      Article 7 of the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) bans cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and punishment. It applies to youth LWOP sentences that also violate Article 10(3) stating:

      the "penitentiary system shall (afford) prisoners... .their reformation and social rehabilition. Juvenile offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status."

      Under Article 24(1), children have:

      "the right to such measures of protection as are required by (their) status as a minor, on the part of (their) family, society and the State."

      America is a serial offender. In 1992, it ratified ICCPR, but never complied. "The extraordinary breadth and rapid development in the United States of sentencing child offenders to LWOP since (ICCPR's ratification) contradicts the assertion that the United States has applied this sentence only in exceptional circumstances, " given the near 2,400 youths affected, many, in fact, first-offenders, others wrongfully convicted.

      The Committee Against Torture, the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment's official oversight body, stated that imprisoning children for life "could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," and that America has done nothing to deter the practice or reduce the discrimination against children of color.

      On December 6, 2006, General Assembly Resolution 61/146 (Promotion and protection of the rights of children) passed 185 - 1 (America voting no), calling on states to:

      "abolish by law, as soon as possible, the death penalty and life imprisonment without possibility of release for those under the age of 18 years at the time of the commission of the offence."

      Earlier in 1985, the General Assembly (GA) adopted the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), affirming the main purpose of juvenile justice is ensuring youth well-being, using confinement as a last resort consideration for the shortest period possible.

      Then in 1990, the GA passed two resolutions protecting imprisoned youths - the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty and the UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines).

      They recognize how prison subjects children to "harsh or degrading correction or punishment," so should be imposed as a last resort no longer than necessary.

      Under the Constitution' s Article VI, Clause 2, (the Supremacy Clause), agreed to international laws and treaties become "the supreme Law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby...."

      In Roper v. Simmons (2005), the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment for minors under age 18 unconstitutional. It also "referred to the laws of other countries and to international authorities" in interpreting the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. For juveniles, it stated:

      "It is difficult even for expert psychologists to differentiate between the juvenile offender whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity, and the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption." If trained professionals can't do it, "we conclude that States should refrain from asking jurors to issue a far graver condemnation - that a juvenile offender merits the death penalty."

      Children given LWOP sentences are effectively condemned to die in prison. The near universal condemnation of the practice elevates it to a jus cogens (peremptory or compelling) norm, binding all nations to comply, "including those that have not formally ratified it themselves."

      The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has stated that "a very widespread and representative participation in (a) practice might suffice of itself" to elevate it to customary international law, provided it includes participation from "States whose interests were specifically affected."

      Under Article 53 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:

      "a norm (is) accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character."

      The UN's National Law Commission affirmed this principle saying:

      state "obligations arise from those substantive rules of conduct that prohibit what has come to be seen as intolerable because of the threat it presents to the survival of states and their people and the most basic human values."

      Juvenile justice and rehabilitation models are instructive in nations like Germany. In the 1970s, its Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) adopted alternative measures for suspensions, probation, community service, and a day-fine system.

      From 1982 - 1990, its youth incarceration rate decreased by over 50%. In 1990, its JJA was amended to include alternatives to incarceration, including education, disciplinary measures and special sanctions.

      Only if unsuccessful is imprisonment with the possibility of suspension and probation used. It's considered a measure of last resort. For youths aged 14 - 17, minimum sentences are 6 months and maximum ones 5 years. For serious crimes, no more than 10 years are imposed, with no possibility of LWOP or death sentences. Germany's low juvenile recidivism is testimony to the system's success.

      Other models also work well, including in New Zealand and the Georgia Justice Project's (GJP) approach to reduce crime in Atlanta. A privately-funded NGO, it's recidivism rate is 18.8% (compared to the national 50 - 60% average) through counseling, treatment, employment and education. These measures help child offenders rebuild their lives to effectively reintegrate into society successfully.

      The Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative program (JDAI) operates at 75 sites in 19 states, using 8 "core strategies" to minimize youth delinquency and facilitate rehabilitation. They include:

      + encouraging collaboration between juvenile justice agencies and community organizations;

      + alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring;

      + efforts to reduce custody rates and racial discrimination; and

      + measures to correct deviant behavior.

      The Santa Cruz, CA program is considered a model, offering health and drug abuse counseling, resume writing, computer classes, meditation, and adult mentoring. It's seen the per day number of detained children decline from 50 to 16 on average, saving millions of dollars and helping youths get on with their lives productively. Counties in other states have their own success stories, sharply reducing detention and crime rates. They show alternative measures work. Juvenile justice is possible, and young people can benefit to become productive members of society.

      America's Gulag Prison System

      Despite effective alternative ways, America's criminal justice system is shameful, cruel, degrading, bulging, and counterproductive, resulting in the world's largest prison population at over 2.4 million at yearend 2008. It includes inmates in federal and state facilities, local jails, Indian, juvenile, and military ones, US territories, and numbers held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

      Perhaps using America's highest-profit health care 'system' as a model, its prison population exploded 8-fold to become a prison-industrial complex exceeding $60 billion annually plus another $100 billion for private security.In addition, another 7.3 million are under correctional supervision, and 13 million pass through US jails annually. Since 1970, the population exploded 8-fold to become a prison-industrial complex exceeding $60 billion annually plus another $100 billion for private security.

      In the 1980s and 90s, about 1,000 new prisons and jails were built, creating a racially imbalanced system that doesn't deter crime, exploits people for profit, punishes and doesn't rehabilitate, treats children like adults, and lets politicians look tough on crime. It punishes juveniles in shamefully high numbers, many tens of thousands at any time, including nearly 2,400 receiving LWOP sentences.

      Most are arrested for minor, nonviolent crimes, yet are prosecuted, sentenced, and incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system, in violation of international law by imposing cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment, mostly against children of color.

      Constitutional rights are denied, and wrongful convictions are common because due process and judicial fairness are absent. Worst of all, it affects children, society's most vulnerable. Short of fundamental reform, America's criminal justice system will stay broken and corrupted, but profitable to a thriving, growing industry, preying on human beings as commodities, including kids never getting a chance to become productive adult citizens.

      (source: Commentary; Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization; Baltimore Chronicle)

      Breaking News Alert
      The New York Times
      May 17, 2010

      Justices Bar Life Terms for Youths Who Haven't Killed

      In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court said that sentences of life without possibility of parole for crimes other than homicide that were committed when the offender was under the age of 18 are unconstitutional.

      The decision, in a Florida case involving an armed burglary conviction, said such sentences violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

      620 Eighth Ave.
      New York, NY 10018
      Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company


        DECEMBER 30, 2009

        TYC launches youth reading program

        The title of this post is the headline to a Corsicana Sun story published today which informs us that:

        An innovative new teaching curriculum designed to significantly improve the reading ability of youth in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) was recently launched in all TYC facilities. The program, called Rewards and Rewards Plus, is designed to close gaps between the reading abilities of TYC youth and their peers in traditional school settings.

        In 2009, the Texas Legislature called for an overhaul of TYC's reading programs through research-based assessment, instruction, and specialized training. The legislature also appropriated $750,000 to pay for these improvements.

        Working with the University of Texas Meadows Center for Preventing Education Risk, a standardized reading instruction curriculum has been developed and implemented throughout all TYC schools. The curriculum is based on a three-tier model, with student placement in each tier determined by performance on nationally recognized reading assessments. Each tier, to the greatest extent possible, will include a student population with similar reading abilities to allow for the more individualized reading instruction. All youth will participate in Tier I enhanced reading instruction. Students who require additional reading support are assigned to a separate Tier II reading class or, for those who require more intensive instruction, a Tier III class.

        TYC recently hired 10 additional teachers to advance this effort. The Meadows Center conducted reading intervention training for these 10 teachers and five additional TYC instructors. All TYC reading teachers will receive training in the reading intervention by the end of February.

        Initial evaluations of the new reading curriculum will begin in late December 2009.

        TYC launches youth reading program


        Loophole Lets Mentally Ill Texas Juveniles Go Free
        Advocates decry policy that frees mentally ill Texas juvenile offenders without supervision

        The Associated Press
        TYLER, Texas

        A 16-year-old former juvenile detainee is accused of stabbing a high school teacher to death with a butcher knife. Another teen was convicted of killing a roofer during a 30-minute robbery spree.

        Both were released by the Texas Youth Commission because the agency wasn't equipped to treat their mental illnesses and had to let them go under the law.

        The cases highlight what some juvenile justice experts say is a loophole in the way Texas treats underage offenders with severe psychiatric issues. Data obtained by The Associated Press reveal that the commission has released more than 200 offenders because of mental health issues in the last five years and that more than one-fifth went on to commit new crimes, some of them violent.

        "All these cases are failures where we should have done something different," said Richard Lavallo, legal director of Advocacy Inc., an Austin organization that helps children with disabilities.

        In most states, youthful offenders aren't discharged from custody because of mental illness unless they are being committed to hospitals.

        But under a 1997 law meant to keep mentally ill juveniles from being held in detention centers where they can't get proper treatment, Texas youths serving indeterminate sentences who have completed their minimum required time in custody are released to their parents or guardians.

        While some experts said Texas should be commended for not warehousing such offenders where they can't get treatment, they questioned the logic of releasing them without ensuring they receive supervision.

        "Without some requirement for supervision, it doesn't seem like a sound policy to me," said Gail Wasserman, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and the director of its Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice.

        The issue gained notoriety in September with the fatal stabbing of a 50-year-old special education teacher at John Tyler High School in Tyler. The teacher, Todd Henry, was sitting at his desk in his classroom when he was attacked.

        The Texas Youth Commission discharged the boy accused of killing Henry in July because he had been diagnosed with multiple mental health issues, including schizophrenia, according to his attorney, Jim Huggler. The teen, who the AP is not identifying because he is a juvenile and has not been charged as an adult, had been committed in 2007 for aggravated assault.

        Huggler said he had seen nothing to indicate the boy's family, which had relocated to Tyler from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, had received a plan from state or local officials on how to deal with his mental problems.

        "This case is sad on so many levels," he said.

        The commission makes sure offenders discharged because of mental illness receive referrals to their local mental health/mental retardation centers. But there is nothing that requires the youths or their families to avail themselves of those services.

        Cherie Townsend, the commission's executive director, declined to comment about specific cases. But she acknowledged it may be time to limit some of the discharges for public safety reasons or require that some be tied to conditions.

        "We've got to find a middle ground where we assure public safety and accountability for actions that have taken place and at the same time find better ways to provide treatment for these youth," she said.

        Any changes would have to be approved by the Legislature, which doesn't meet again until 2011.

        Lawmakers did approve a measure last spring that allows youths released from custody due to mental illness to receive case management services like those available to parolees.

        But the author of the legislation, Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, said the Tyler case has convinced him that the measure doesn't go far enough.

        "This has to be looked at much more globally than a little quick fix," he said.

        According to the youth commission, 206 juvenile offenders have been released in the last five years due to mental illness. Of those, 43 have been re-incarcerated. Most were returned to custody for burglary or robbery, but some were convicted of more serious offenses, including two for arson and two for sex crimes involving children.

        Among the offenders who have been discharged is Jeremy Miera, 21, who is serving a lifetime prison sentence for the fatal shooting of a 45- year-old roofer in May 2006.

        Prosecutors said Miera and two other teens drove around San Antonio looking for people to rob. Miera was convicted of shooting the roofer, and another of the teens pleaded guilty to shooting an off- duty Beeville police officer who was in San Antonio to attend a National Guard function.

        Records provided to the AP by Miera's family show he was released on parole from a Texas Youth Commission facility in May 2005 and discharged entirely four months later for "inability to progress due to mental illness/retardation ." It was his second stint in juvenile detention after being originally committed at 15 for robbery and being returned for fighting at school.

        While in juvenile custody, Miera was diagnosed with depressive disorder. His parole included intensive surveillance and conditions that required him to seek employment, do community service, remain at home in the evening and continue taking the antidepressant Prozac.

        Lavallo, the Austin attorney, said using the law to discharge an offender from parole "makes no sense" because it takes away state services as well as supervision.

        Miera's sister, Elizabeth, said her family was "astonished" at the abruptness of his discharge and that authorities provided no direction for dealing with his illness. She said the situation was particularly confusing for her mother, who struggles to understand English.

        "My mom and my brother thought everything was OK because he just got released," she said. "We never thought we would actually need to nip (a problem) in the bud."

        Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

        Copyright 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

        De-Criminalizing Children

        Published: December 16, 2009

        As many as 150,000 children are sent to adult jails in this country every year often in connection with nonviolent offenses or arrests that do not lead to conviction. That places them at risk of being raped or battered and increases the chance they will end up as career criminals.

        To fix this problem, Congress needs to properly reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974, under which states agreed to humanize juvenile justice policies in exchange for more federal aid. This act was largely bypassed in the 1990s when unfounded fears of an adolescent crime wave reached hysterical levels.

        When it reauthorizes the law it is already three years late Congress should make it illegal for states to place children in adult prisons, perhaps with the exception of truly heinous criminals.

        The House has yet to introduce a new bill; in the Senate, an updated version has yet to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill is less than ideal, but it does encourage the states to de-emphasize the practice of detaining children in adult jails before trial and requires them to better protect young people who end up there. Several states have begun to reform their systems: housing young people in juvenile facilities where they are better protected and can get mental health treatment even if they have been convicted in adult courts. The current version of the law threatens states with loss of federal aid if they make that decision. The Senate bill would do away with that language.

        The bill also would require states to phase out policies under which children are detained in either juvenile or adult facilities for offenses like violating curfew or smoking. These children should be dealt with through community-based counseling or family intervention programs, which are better for the child and for taxpayers.

        In addition, the bill increases financing for mentoring, drug treatment, mental health care and other programs that have been shown to keep children out of custody in the first place. And it would require states to closely monitor and address racial inequities in their system. Studies show that black and Hispanic children get harsher treatment at all levels of the juvenile justice system than white children.

        The Senate bill is not perfect. But it represents a welcome step away from the cruel and self-defeating policies that subject children to irreparable harm at the hands of the state and puts them on a path that too often leads to a lifetime spent behind bars.

        De-Criminalizing Children

        Jailing juveniles
        Sensible fixes to youth crime and delinquency policies

        December 14, 2009

        THE SENATE Judiciary Committee should embrace a bill scheduled for debate on Thursday that institutes needed reforms in how the nation deals with youth who run afoul of the law.

        The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act does not impose federal strictures on state and local entities, but it provides funds for those that choose to comply with the legislation' s guidelines. In this way, the Justice Department, which administers the act, can provide incentives to states to comply with what it considers best practices.

        Perhaps the most important provision in the legislation is one that calls on states to keep juveniles -- even those charged as adults -- separate from alleged adult offenders. Statistics show that juveniles held in adult facilities are more likely to be attacked, more likely to commit crimes once released and more likely to commit suicide than those held in facilities that house only minors. Even so, the act sensibly gives prosecutors and judges some discretion to detain in adult facilities youths who are charged with the most violent crimes and who pose a significant threat to other juveniles. And it makes accommodations for small or rural communities that do not have separate adult and juvenile facilities as long as youth are held out of "sight and sound" from the adults.

        The bill rightly encourages states to eliminate the practice of locking up juveniles charged with status offenses, such as truancy or running away from home. Studies have shown that juveniles and communities fare much better when status offenders are redirected to counseling, mentoring or school-based programs. Under the act, states that now allow indefinite detention of status offenders would have three years to revise their policies in order to continue to qualify for federal funds.

        The act also calls on states to be aware of and address the growing evidence that African American and Hispanic youths are frequently dealt with more harshly than their white counterparts. For instance, African American and Hispanic juveniles are much more likely to be detained even for minor crimes than are white juveniles and are much more likely to be tried as adults than white youths who are accused of similar crimes. States that receive federal funds would have to keep records of the race and ethnicity of juveniles who come into the system and how they are dealt with and create a plan to eliminate disparate treatment between minority juveniles and white offenders, if such exists.

        Funding these new approaches is not cheap, but it is worthwhile. The bill calls for an appropriation of some $245 million for fiscal 2010, increasing to $442 million by fiscal 2015. To ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent, lawmakers should insist that the periodic progress reports provided by states and an annual assessment by the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention be made public.

        Jailing juveniles

        UPDATED: TYC ombudsman indicted, resigns

        By Mike Ward
        November 30, 2009

        UPDATE: Indicted Texas Youth Commission ombudsman Catherine Evans has resigned, hours after she was indicted for allegedly smuggling a folding knife into an East Texas youth lockup.

        The just-issued statement from Allison Castle, Perry's press secretary:

        The office of the Ombudsman is an important position for the agency and the youth and it is clear that Catherine Evans bad judgment and the indictment have hampered her credibility and effectiveness in this role.

        The governor's office has been in contact with Ms. Evans and she has agreed to resign. Gov. Perry has accepted her resignation and will appoint a replacement as soon as possible.

        In her own statement, Evans said she regretted the incident that has landed her in legal trouble. But she said she expects to be cleared of wrongdoing.

        Evans statement:

        I'm surprised and dismayed by the Grand Jurys True Bill of my case this week. At every step of my life and my career as an attorney, a juvenile court judge and as the Independent Ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission, I have upheld the spirit and the letter of the law. My professional commitment to the protection, prevention and rehabilitation of our children is also my personal passion.

        Of the many concerns that people have communicated to me in my role as the Independent Ombudsman, one of the most disturbing was the issue of security in our juvenile facilities. I passed along those concerns to the Commission's Executive Director and a directive went out to improve oversight. I can attest that security screenings at the facilities have begun to improve. In fact, during one of my visits, security officers found a very small Swiss Army knife that I had completely forgotten was in my handbag. What should have been the simple matter of disposing of it, has now become a much more serious issue. It was a regrettable mistake. I am very sorry it happened, but I am now prepared to defend myself until this is resolved. I am confident that I did not violate the law.

        The Texas juvenile justice system is in critical need of scrutiny and reform, and I take my responsibilities for leading this effort with gravity and humility. I believe we can do better for our youth. Unfortunately, the personal circumstances that I now find my self defending have caused me to believe that I can no longer effectively lead this campaign. Therefore, I am resigning my position as Independent Ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission effective immediately. It has been my honor to serve the State of Texas.

        The most important thing is the integrity, safety and efficacy of our juvenile correctional facilities. I remain committed to improving the juvenile justice system.

        EARLIER STORY: The newly appointed ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission has been indicted on a felony criminal charge for allegedly smuggling a weapon into an East Texas lockup for teen-aged lawbreakers, officials confirmed at midday.

        Catherine S. Evans, a former Dallas state district judge, was indicted on a third-degree felony for carrying a prohibited item a knife into a correctional facility, according to Gina DeBottis, director of special unit that prosecutes prison crimes statewide.

        If convicted, Evans faces two to 10 years in prison.

        No other details were immediately available, DeBottis said. The indictment, handed up last week by a Houston County grand jury, was unsealed late this morning.

        Evans could not immediately be reached for comment.

        In October, Evans had been barred from touring all Youth Commission lockups amid reports that she smuggled contraband including a weapon, a cell phone, prescription drugs and cash past guards in a possible violation of state law.

        She had denied the accusations.

        In addition, Evans who was named ombudsman in early September by Gov. Rick Perry was the focus of a second investigation into allegations that she also smuggled contraband into the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont.

        As a result, Youth Commission Executive Director Cherie Townsend had prohibited Evans from entering Youth Commission lockups pending the completion of the investigation.

        Perry aides earlier said they were awaiting the results of the investigations before determining whether Evans would remain as ombudsman.

        In a preliminary official report that Evans and an assistant ombudsman reportedly filed after visiting the Beaumont lockup Sept. 22-23, Evans said that she carried in a brown canvas bag containing a weapon, an iPhone, prescription medicine and $300 through a security checkpoint at the gatehouse.

        . Evans carried her bag through the metal detector and the alarm sounded,the report stated. Ms. Evans opened her bag and the guard glanced in, but none of the items listed above were identified. The guard made no further effort to identify what set off the detector's alarm.

        In a subsequent conversation with the lockups security director, Evans said, she was told that dorm staff often work the gatehouse and are not trained in conducting proper searches, the report states.

        During the past year, the smuggling of contraband, particularly cell phones, into state prisons for adults has been a high-profile statewide issue.

        Categories: Criminal justice

        TYC ombudsman indicted, resigns

        TYC ombudsman indicted

        By Mike Ward
        November 30, 2009

        The newly appointed ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission has been indicted on a felony criminal charge for allegedly smuggling a weapon into an East Texas lockup for teen-aged lawbreakers, officials confirmed at midday.

        Catherine S. Evans, a former Dallas state district judge, was indicted on a third-degree felony for carrying a prohibited item a knife into a correctional facility, according to Gina DeBottis, director of special unit that prosecutes prison crimes statewide.

        If convicted, Evans faces two to 10 years in prison.

        No other details were immediately available, DeBottis said. The indictment, handed up last week by a Houston County grand jury, was unsealed late this morning.

        Evans could not immediately be reached for comment.

        In October, Evans had been barred from touring all Youth Commission lockups amid reports that she smuggled contraband including a weapon, a cell phone, prescription drugs and cash past guards in a possible violation of state law.

        She had denied the accusations, insisting that whatever she may have carried into the Crockett State School was not a weapon and was carried in unintentionally.

        In addition, Evans who was named ombudsman in early September by Gov. Rick Perry was the focus of a second criminal investigation into allegations that she also smuggled contraband into the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont.

        As a result, Youth Commission Executive Director Cherie Townsend had prohibited Evans from entering Youth Commission lockups pending the completion of the investigation.

        Perry aides earlier said they were awaiting the results of the investigations before determining whether Evans would remain as ombudsman.

        In a preliminary official report that Evans and an assistant ombudsman reportedly filed after visiting the Beaumont lockup Sept. 22-23, Evans said that she carried in brown canvas bag containing a weapon, an iPhone, prescription medicine and $300 through a security checkpoint at the gatehouse.

        Ms. Evans carried her bag through the metal detector and the alarm sounded,the report stated. Ms. Evans opened her bag and the guard glanced in, but none of the items listed above were identified. The guard made no further effort to identify what set off the detector's alarm.

        In a subsequent conversation with the lockups security director, Evans said, she was told that dorm staff often work the gatehouse and are not trained in conducting proper searches,the report states.

        Under Youth Commission rules, the items reportedly carried into the maximum-security lockup by Evans are prohibited.

        During the past year, the smuggling of contraband, particularly cell phones, into state prisons for adults has been a high-profile statewide issue.

        The investigations of Evans marked the latest controversy involving the Youth Commission ombudsman's office. When the post was created in May 2007, the first ombudsman was found to have previous arrests that disqualified him from the job. The hiring policy was later modified, but last May, the Texas Senate refused to confirm the reappointment of that ombudsman, Will Harrell. Perry appointed Evans to take Harrell's place.

        TYC ombudsman indicted

        A call for housecleaning at juvenile probation

        2 leaders expected to leave after Emmett slams cover-up of metal detector

        Nov. 21, 2009

        The head of the Juvenile Probation Department and the deputy director of the Juvenile Detention Center are expected to be replaced Tuesday after Harris County Judge Ed Emmett slammed them for what he suggested was a cover-up regarding a metal detector that has remained unplugged for three years.

        I think they did know and they didn't want to admit it at the time, Emmett said at a news conference Friday. It's not the incident that causes the problem, it's the cover-up and the prevarication around it that causes the problem.

        Earlier this week, Executive Director Harvey Hetzel and Bob Husbands, the agency's director of facilities, told the Juvenile Board the metal detector had been unplugged for about a month after it malfunctioned.

        Three Juvenile Probation Department employees later told the Houston Chronicle the detector had been offline since about April 2006, when the detention center moved into its current location at 1200 Congress.

        Emmett said he believes members of the county Juvenile Board will vote to immediately suspend Hetzel and Husbands at an emergency meeting Tuesday and both men officially will retire on Dec. 31.

        Husbands confirmed that he would retire at the end of the year.

        Hetzel's office referred calls to Emmett.

        Michael Schneider, one of the state district judges on the board who was critical of the situation, said he would reserve his comments for Tuesday's meeting.

        It's time to focus on the future, he said.

        Handgun smuggled Nov. 9

        Hetzel's 33-year career, including six years at the helm of Juvenile Probation Department, began to unravel after a 16-year-old allegedly smuggled a loaded handgun into a detention cell Nov. 9.

        Hetzel was taken to task Wednesday by the juvenile board after he could not answer how long the metal detector in the basement may have been off.

        He said video footage of the 16-year-old's strip search showed him flashing the gun to another juvenile while guards were talking to each other instead of paying attention to the teen.

        The search, intended to ensure that adult guards are never alone with unclothed children, consists of a guard watching from the doorway while a juvenile undresses about four feet away in a bathroom.

        Two employees have been suspended without pay for two weeks over the incident.

        No request for repair

        Hetzel was given 48 hours to explain why the metal detector was unplugged and for how long.

        He met with Emmett on Friday and presented him a two-page report on the lapses in security and his recommendations for rectifying the situation.

        In his report, which was addressed to the Juvenile Board, Hetzel confirmed that the lone metal detector used to screen arrested juveniles has not been used since shortly after the division moved to its current location in April 2006.

        Some staff report it has been turned on occasionally since then, but because of false readings, it eventually was unplugged and/or turned off, the report states. One staff reported after moving in, a former staff member unplugged it because it was going off without anyone being around. He reported it was plugged back in shortly thereafter. Overall, it appears that has been plugged in/unplugged and/or turned off numerous times over the last three years.

        Hetzel added that the nonfunctioning status of the metal detector was common knowledge among staff and management, but there is no record of any verbal or written request for the machine to be repaired.

        He also wrote that the metal detector was not included on lists of systems to check each day.

        The fact that everyone knew that the mental (sic) detector had been turned off or nonfunctioning is indicative of a climate of negligence at all levels, Hetzel wrote.

        He also noted that during his investigation other incidents came to light that indicated negligence on the part of staff at all levels of the department.

        One still under investigation, he said, was an instance in which an unauthorized youth was allowed through five separate doors before being stopped near the intake area.

        Under the heading of actions and recommendations, he wrote that Husbands will retire, the superintendent will be demoted and reassigned, and that assistant superintendents will receive two-week suspensions and reassigned to other duties.

        Emmett's list of suggestions to reorganize the Juvenile Probation Department echoed several of those, but began with Hetzel's retirement, effective Dec. 31.

        Trouble before for Hetzel

        Emmett called the revelations a kick in the gut.

        This is a housecleaning and a new start for the Juvenile Probation Department, he said after announcing that he believes the board will vote unanimously to follow his recommendations.

        Other Juvenile Board members could not be reached for comment Friday.

        This is the second time in as many years that Hetzel's job has been on the line.

        In March 2008, Hetzel, who makes $149,500 annually plus a monthly car allowance of $525, announced his retirement after Emmett sought a special board meeting to review his performance.

        Hetzel changed his mind three months later after the board voted to ask him to stay.


        A call for housecleaning at juvenile probation

        Nov. 7, 2009

        In Monday case, Supreme Court weighs whether life in prison for juveniles is cruel and unusual

        Joe Sullivan was sent away for life for raping an elderly woman and judged incorrigible though he was only 13 at the time of the attack.

        Terrance Graham, implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17, was given a life sentence by a judge who told the teenager he threw his life away.

        They didn't kill anyone, but they effectively were sentenced to die in prison.

        Life sentences with no chance of parole are rare and harsh for juveniles tried as adults and convicted of crimes less serious than killing. Just over 100 prison inmates in the United States are serving those terms, according to data compiled by opponents of the sentences.

        Now the Supreme Court is being asked to say that locking up juveniles and throwing away the key is cruel and unusual and thus, unconstitutional. Other than in death penalty cases, the justices never before have found that a penalty crossed the cruel and unusual line. They will hear arguments Monday.

        Graham, now 22, and Sullivan, now 33, are in Florida prisons, which hold more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for nonhomicide crimes. Although their lawyers deny their clients are guilty, the court will consider only whether the sentences are permitted by the Constitution.

        The Supreme Court's latest look at how to punish young criminals flows directly from its 4-year-old decision to rule out the death penalty for anyone younger than 18.

        In that 2005 case decided by a 5-4 vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion talked about "the lesser culpability of the juvenile offender."

        "From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed," Kennedy said.

        Yet Kennedy also acknowledged the possibility that for the worst crimes and the worst offenders, "the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is itself a severe sanction, in particular for a young person."

        Both sides point to the same basic facts the rare imposition of Draconian prison terms on people so young to make their point.

        The state of Florida, backed by 19 other states, argues it should retain flexibility in sentencing so that "particularly heinous acts that stop short of causing death" can be punished vigorously.

        Life without parole "is appropriately rare and reserved only for the worst of the worst offenders," crime victims' groups said in court papers.

        Most victims of juvenile violence also are young, the victims groups said, citing Justice Department statistics. "Softening sentences for juvenile offenders puts actual children in harm's way innocent ones, not those who have committed violent crimes," the victims' groups said.

        Opponents of such sentences said, however, that most states have in practice rejected life terms for juveniles when no one was killed. The 109 juveniles serving terms of life without parole are in Florida and seven other states California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Carolina according to a Florida State University study. More than 2,000 other juveniles are serving life without parole for killing someone.

        Only 9 people in the country are serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were 13. The number rises to 73 when 14-year-olds are added in.

        No other country allows life sentences for young offenders, opponents say.

        Beyond the infrequency of such punishment, lawyers for Graham and Sullivan argue that it is a bad idea to render a final judgment about people so young.

        "They are unfinished products, works-in-progress," said Bryan Stevenson, who will argue Sullivan's case at the high court.

        Actor Charles Dutton, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson and others who committed crimes as teenagers have weighed in against life without parole sentences. Corrections officials, psychologists, educators and even some victims also have taken Graham's and Sullivan's side.

        "The crimes that these guys committed were grotesque," Simpson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I'm sure people will say Simpson's gone soft in the head."

        The Wyoming Republican served 18 years in the Senate, but as a teenager, he pleaded guilty to setting fire to an abandoned building on federal property and later spent a night in jail for slugging a police officer.

        Simpson said he sees no good argument for refusing even to review their sentences after the passage of time.

        "When they get to be 30 or 40 and they been in the clink for 20 years or 30 or 40 and they have learned how to read and how to do things, why not?"

        If a prisoner shows he is not fit to be released, "throw him back in," he said. "That's better than saying 'Sorry, we can't look at that file because you were sent here for life.'"

        As their cases come to the court, Sullivan's and Graham's interests are not strictly aligned. The justices could, for example, decide that life sentences may be inappropriate for 13-year-olds, but allow them for older teenagers.

        Such a decision could help Sullivan and another Florida inmate, Ian Manuel, who wounded a woman in a shooting when he was 13. But it could leave Graham with his sentence unchanged.

        The cases are Sullivan v. Florida, 08-7621, and Graham v. Florida, 08-7412.

        On the Net: Filings in Sullivan case: http://tinyurl.com/yhkcgzw

        Filings in Graham case: http://tinyurl.com/ygx3h2d

        (source: Associated Press)


        Cruel life in prison

        Juvenile offenders should not receive a sentence that offers no hope for eventual release.

        November 7, 2009

        The U.S. Supreme Court recognized in 2005 that it is unconstitutionally cruel to execute people for crimes committed before they were 18, because youths lack the sense of responsibility that society requires of adults. Their personalities are not yet fixed; they are more susceptible to the negative influences of other people or events. Society's understandable demand for retribution is necessarily blunted when the perpetrator of a crime is a juvenile.

        Likewise, the threat of a stiff penalty cannot have the same deterrent effect on a youth as it does on an adult; young people have too little experience to fully grasp the consequences of their actions.

        The court on Monday will hear arguments in the cases of two Floridians sentenced, in effect, to eventually die in prison because they lack even the slightest chance of release on parole. The same reasoning that bars execution for crimes committed in youth should also block such sentences of life without hope for young people, at the very least for those whose crimes fall short of murder.

        Terrance Jamar Graham was 16 when he joined two others in a failed attempt to rob a restaurant; a year later, he was on probation when he participated in a home invasion robbery. His crimes were brutal; he was a repeat offender; and he deserved to be punished, to be imprisoned, and even, perhaps, to be sentenced to life. But not without a chance, in the future, for a court or parole board to review his growth and development and consider another chance at parole.

        There are, to be sure, youths who mature earlier than others, just as there are adults who never fully mature. But there must be a line, and age 18 is the point at which society determines people are ready to sign contracts, marry without parental consent, serve on juries and be drafted into the military.

        Society can and should countenance a hopeless existence in prison for adult perpetrators. But not for juveniles. The U.S. is, for now, the only nation that has not banned life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders, and more than 2,000 are serving such terms behind bars.

        But there are, fortunately, few in the position of Joe Sullivan, sentenced in Florida to life without parole for a crime he committed when he was only 13. That kind of sentence for a crime committed at such an early age shocks the conscience and cannot be seen as anything but unconstitutionally unusual -- as well as cruel.

        Copyright 2009, The Los Angeles Times

        Cruel life in prison

        Abuse and Inefficiency in Juvenile Offender Boot Camps: Is Regulation the Answer?

        By Ashlee Richman


        Over the last 20 years, many states have embraced boot camps as an alternative to traditional detention facilities to deal with juvenile offenders. However, the boot camp method has become highly controversial, with some offering praise of the strict habits the facilities instill in delinquents, and others criticizing the ineffectiveness and abuses that transpire with the lack of oversight and regulation.

        1- Boot camp techniques vary across the country; however, methods are mostly structured to parallel military training facilities, in which staff members act as drill sergeants, inmates are referred to as recruits, and intense physical challenges are routine. Two-to-four month stays in residential programs filled with military drills, counseling, and education are viewed generally as intermediate sanction in the juvenile justice system.

        2- Stemming from the tough on crime wave of the late 80's and early 90's, the intent of boot camps for juvenile offenders has been to discipline and curb criminal tendencies.

        3- However, the popularity of boot camps has suffered due to a series of scandals in the last two decades, including eyewitness reports and evidence of physical and psychological abuse sometimes resulting in death from alleged maltreatment.

        4-In the wake of these scandals, some states have reformed boot camp systems or abandoned them entirely.

        5- Though many politicians and voters like the romanticized idea of boot camps (shaping up troubled kids into disciplined adults), there have been several attempts in recent years to begin federally regulating juvenile boot camps in the U.S.

        6-Criticisms of Boot Camps for Juvenile Offenders The Government Accountability Office conducted an investigation of juvenile boot camps and identified 1,619 incidents of child abuse in 33 states in 2005.

        7- The investigation uncovered youths forced to eat their own vomit, denied adequate food, beaten and thrown to the ground, and forced to endure the humiliation of lying in their own urine or feces.

        8- To place the concerns of critics into context, many of the following practices commonly employed in juvenile boot camps are not legally allowed as treatment of U.S. detainees in Guantanamo Bay. For example, private residential facilities for juveniles often use stress-inducing phobias and fears, physical training, exposure to cold weather, sleep deprivation, nutritional deprivation, stress positions, extended isolation, forced labor, and denial of use of the bathroom to modify the behavior of adolescents.

        9-Critics argue that staff members are ill-equipped to deal with juveniles, often resorting to psychological and physical cruelty to maintain the captor/captive dynamic.

        10- Critics also question whether boot camps can ultimately change the behavior of inmates, citing statistics and government reports that indicate camps fail to reform the overwhelming majority of juvenile inmates, with recidivism rates as high as 80%.

        11- Furthermore, abuse is almost inevitable� as long as staff members maintain absolute authority with little to no regulation or legal restrictions.

        12-Alternatives and Potential Developments Despite the abuses that occur, both proponents and critics have agreed that some of these private facilities have the potential to produce substantial gains for participants, especially academically.

        13- Though recidivism rates are high, and the majority of juveniles do re-offend within the first year after leaving the boot camps, many participants enter with below-grade- level skills and advance academically and even progress up to several grade levels.

        14- Furthermore, a 2003 National Institute of Justice report found that juveniles in boot camps reported decreased anxiety and depression, better impulse control, and better social attitudes than their counterparts in other types of juvenile facilities

        15-However, aftercare is an important element of rehabilitation, and the period after boot camp is a weak point for most programs. The real risk factors like peer situations, drug issues, and unhealthy cognitive patterns, are just as likely to be encountered after boot camp.

        16- Furthermore, without regulations for these private boot camps, the abuses taint any progress the facilities may make.

        In light of the rampant criticisms of juvenile offender boot camps, Congressman George Miller (D-CA) has been spearheading a campaign to create government oversight of private facilities. After Attorney General John Ashcroft refused Congressman Miller's demands to open a federal investigation into the quality of the schools, Miller continued his efforts by introducing a bill to the House last June.

        17- The bill, which would have supplied states with funding to regulate and license residential treatment institutions, passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 318 to 103, with support from the American Association of Children's Residential Centers, the American Bar Association, the American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the Children's Defense Fund, the National Child Abuse Coalition and many other organizations.

        18-Congressman Miller, along with Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), reintroduced legislation to stop abuse in juvenile boot camps February 9, 2009.

        19- This bill was also aimed at protecting teenagers against physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and preventing deceptive marketing practices by operators of these private detention centers.

        20- At legislators� request, the Government Accountability Office conducted investigations during the 110th Congress, revealing thousands of allegations of child abuse and neglect since the 1990s related to teen residential programs and boot camps.

        21- With very little in the way of state and federal standards to regulate these programs, major gaps in licensing and oversight have been found. The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009, would �establish, for the first time, minimum federal standards for preventing child abuse and neglect at teen residential programs.�

        22- All programs around the country would be inspected every two years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the bill. Civil penalties against programs would be issued for violating the new standards.

        23- Furthermore, the bill calls for states to set and enforce standards for both private and public youth residential programs within three years of the bill�s passage. Lastly, protecting children in the programs and ensuring transparency would be welcome new changes under the bill. Currently, there is opposition among groups that would be affected by the House bill�s licensing and oversight provisions. Senate action is likely to be delayed for some time, and will require compromise before the bill�s passage.

        While legislative attempts to properly address boot camp abuses and inadequacies linger in limbo, there are several promising alternatives to these private military style facilities. Multi-systemic therapy, which aims to keep offenders and their families together and works on problems in a practical home setting, avoids the problems that come with returning juveniles from restricted settings to the real world.

        24- A report done by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families revealed that programs that mirror or foster a supportive family environment in the community are most effective at reducing recidivism and encouraging positive adolescent brain maturation.

        25- The courts have other sentencing options for juvenile offenders, as well. Young offenders can receive incarceration, treatment, and probation. Since courts began using boot camps in the U.S. as an alternative means of addressing delinquency, no study has found this type of program to reduce recidivism.

        26- Though there are some arguments to be made in favor of boot camps over incarceration in juvenile facilities, the savings are dependent on length of sentencing, and the academic gains often evaporate at the end of required stays. With no mandated standards and program design left entirely up to the administrators of a given camp, electing to send juvenile offenders to boot camps is largely ineffective and dangerous in many cases.

        27- Until steps are taken to regulate and improve the current state of juvenile offender boot camps, these private facilities will continue to be an unreliable and potentially risky sentencing choice.

        -------- -----

        Ashlee Richman is a 2L at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. She is originally from South Florida and graduated from Northwestern University with a B.S. in Human Development and Psychological Services. Ashlee hopes to pursue a career in criminal law and policy.

        1 Erin Hanusa, Are Boot Camps Obsolete?, Nov. 30, 2006, http://www.connectf orkids.org/node/5030.

        2 Press Release, House Education and Labor Committee, Miller, McCarthy Reintroduce Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs (Feb. 9, 2009) (on file with author).

        3 Testimony Before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, Residential Treatment Programs: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth, 110th Cong. (2007) (statement of Gregory D. Kutz, Managing Director of Forensic Audits and Special Investigations).

        4 http://www.caica.org/GAO.htm

        5 Testimony Before the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, Residential Treatment Programs: Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth, 110th Cong. (2007) (statement of Gregory D. Kutz, Managing Director of Forensic Audits and Special Investigations).

        6 Allison Pinto, Ph.D., Monica Epstein, Ph.D., Paul Lewis, B.B.A., Kathryn Whitehead, B.A., Exploitation of Youth & Families: Perspectives on Unregulated Residential Treatment, Presented to APA Convention, (Aug. 12, 2006) (on file with http://www.nospank.net/pinto2.htm)

        7 Rebecca Blue, Boot Camp's Life Lessons Lost on Some, Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News, Apr. 3, 2006, at 1.

        8 Erin Hanusa, Are Boot Camps Obsolete?, Nov. 30, 2006, http://www.connectf orkids.org/node/5030.

        9 Josh Chiappelli, Breaking Down Our Kids; Child Abuse for Profit is Occurring in America, Apr. 20, 2006, www.dissidentvoice.org.

        10 Press Release, House Education and Labor Committee, Miller, McCarthy Reintroduce Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Residential Programs (Feb. 9, 2009) (on file with author).

        11 Erin Hanusa, Are Boot Camps Obsolete?, Nov. 30, 2006, http://www.connectf orkids.org/node/5030.

        12 Allison Pinto, Ph.D., Monica Epstein, Ph.D., Paul Lewis, B.B.A., Kathryn Whitehead, B.A., Exploitation of Youth & Families: Perspectives on Unregulated Residential Treatment, Presented to APA Convention, (Aug. 12, 2006) (on file with http://www.nospank. net/pinto2.htm)

        Texas youth prison official investigated

        October 24, 2009

        AUSTIN, TX -- The new ombudsman for the Texas youth prison system has been barred from entering its lockups as authorities investigate allegations that she twice tried to smuggle in weapons, prescription drugs and cash.

        Catherine Evans was appointed to the Texas Youth Commission in September by Gov. Rick Perry. The ombudsman reports on the commission's facilities and evaluates them to protect children's rights.

        Commission spokesman Jim Hurley declined comment on whether Evans may have been trying to stage her own sting operation to test agency security.

        Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry, said in a written statement that providing appropriate security measures to protect the youth, staff and visitors at the facilities remains a priority.

        "An ongoing investigation into this matter will determine whether or not the ombudsman's actions were a legitimate test of security," she said. "We will await the results of the investigation."

        What kind of weapons Evans allegedly tried to bring in was not immediately available. Carrying weapons and other contraband into a state correctional facility is a third-degree felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.

        "We are committed to the safety of our youth, staff and visitors," Hurley said.

        Telephone messages left on Evans' cell phone by The Associated Press were not immediately returned Friday.

        The Austin American-Statesman reported on its Web site Friday that a report prepared by Evans and an assistant regarding her Sept. 22-23 visit to the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont said Evans carried "a brown canvas bag containing a weapon, an iPhone, prescription medicine and $300" through a security checkpoint at the gatehouse.

        "Ms. Evans carried her bag through the metal detector and the alarm sounded," the report said. "Ms. Evans opened her bag and the guard glanced in, but none of the items listed above were identified. The guard made no further effort to identify what set off the detector's alarm."

        Evans later was caught entering the Crockett State School with a weapon and other prohibited items.

        Hurley said Evans is barred from youth lockups until the investigation is complete but can report to her office at agency headquarters.

        Evans is a former Dallas County juvenile judge who chaired the Texas Youth Commission Advisory Board.

        Texas youth prison official investigated

        Youth commission

        Ombudsman accused of smuggling items into youth lockups

        Official said she was testing security; investigation continues.

        By Mike Ward
        October 23, 2009

        The newly appointed ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission has been barred from touring lockups amid reports that she smuggled contraband � including a weapon, a cell phone, prescription drugs and cash � past guards in apparent violation of state law.

        Authorities confirmed Catherine S. Evans, a former Dallas County juvenile judge who was named ombudsman in early September by Gov. Rick Perry, is the focus of a criminal investigation into at least two alleged contraband episodes during the past month � one at the Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont, another at the Crockett State School.

        Youth Commission Executive Director Cherie Townsend said Evans has been prohibited from entering Youth Commission lockups pending the completion of the investigation.

        Carrying weapons and other contraband into a state correctional facility is a third-degree felony crime, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.

        Repeated calls to Evans' office and cell phone were not returned. The governor's office did not return phone calls Friday.But in an official report that Evans and an assistant ombudsman filed after visiting the Beaumont lockup Sept. 22-23, Evans noted that she carried in "a brown canvas bag containing a weapon, an iPhone, prescription medicine and $300" through a security checkpoint at the gatehouse.

        "Ms. Evans carried her bag through the metal detector and the alarm sounded," the report states. "Ms. Evans opened her bag and the guard glanced in, but none of the items listed above were identified. The guard made no further effort to identify what set off the detector's alarm."

        In a subsequent conversation with the lockup's security director, Evans reported she was told that "dorm staff often work the gatehouse and are not trained in conducting proper searches," the report states.

        Under Youth Commission rules, the items carried into the maximum-security lockup by Evans are prohibited.

        In a subsequent episode, Evans was caught entering the Crockett State School with a weapon and other prohibited items, according to Susan Moynahan, the deputy ombudsman who served as interim director before Evans arrived.

        She resigned Oct. 8, after alerting Perry's office about the Beaumont episode. The ombudsman reports to the governor, not Youth Commission officials."Although it is unclear by your report what type of weapon you carried into the facility, you reported that you intentionally brought contraband into a facility, which is a felony, and could have resulted in arrest and endangered the lives of youth and staff at that facility," Moynahan's resignation letter states.

        "In addition, to report this behavior within a site visit report would no doubt result in extremely negative repercussion on the (Office of the Independent Ombudsman)."

        In an interview, Moynahan said she has been interviewed by Youth Commission investigators who are examiningthe incident for possible criminal violations.

        "Carrying a weapon onto a correctional facility? This is insanity � not to mention it's a crime," she said. "If she was trying to test security, this is not how you do that. State employees are not above the law."

        Youth Commission Inspector General Chris Love did not return a message. But Townsend said she knew of no approved sting for Evans to test security.

        "Unbelievable!" said state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who was co-author of Youth Commission reforms that followed a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal in 2007. Those reforms included creation of the ombudsman's office, which acts as an advocate for incarcerated youths.

        "At a time when stopping contraband into correctional facilities in this state has been a priority, we have someone who is accused of bringing contraband in to prove security is lax?

        How in the world could anyone think that's a good idea?"

        During the past year, the smuggling of contraband into state prisons for adults has been a high-profile statewide issue, starting with a smuggled cell phone that a death row inmate used to call Whitmire. After all state prisons were locked down for about two weeks, and dozens of weapons, phones, drugs and other contraband was found, the Legislature approved a multimillion-dollar upgrade of prison security that is now underway.

        But if the portions of Evans' report about contraband are a cause for concern, so, too, are her other findings � that the lockup was significantly understaffed; that supervision of some youth in solitary confinement was inadequate,; that there was not enough staff in classrooms to properly and safely supervise youths; that water leaks in a woodshop that had gone unrepaired for months posed a safety danger; that classrooms appeared disorganized and chaotic; that some specialized reading classes "were without curriculum materials and trained teachers;" and that toilets and shower areas in some dorms were "stained, dirty and strewn with paper."

        In one dorm, the report states that the library area "was noted to have 100+ books in a heap on the floor among 23 old mattresses and a broken chair with no back."


        Ombudsman accused of smuggling items into youth lockups

        September 27, 2009

        DOJ grant pays for peer mentors during post-TYC reentry

        Here's something they're doing with federal grant funds in South Texas that merits expansion statewide. According to the San Antonio Business Journal:

        The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will award Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas $625,000 in grant funding over the next three years to provide mentoring services to juvenile offenders being released from Texas Youth Commission facilities.

        The money will support Big Brothers Big Sisters� �Second Chance Mentoring Project.� The program will employ a peer-mentoring strategy that will involve frequent contact between the mentor, Big Brothers Big Sisters staff, the youth offender and Texas Youth Commission staff. Youth offenders face multiple challenges when re-entering the community. Having the support of a peer mentor can help foster a different perspective for the offender, according to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

        The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency is a component of the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Grants, juvie corrections, reentry, TYC, USDOJ

        On October 1, 2009, The National Youth Gang Center will merge with the National Gang Center.

        This merger is a collaborative effort between The Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

        The site will offer information on training, gang-related legislation, web resources, threat assessments, and surveys & analysis.

        The most recent National Youth Gang Survey Analysis is available here.

        Posted by CC Pro at Juvenile Justice Connection

        September 25, 2009

        Battered escapee was TYC alum

        (SEE CLARIFICATION AT THE END) In 2007, the Texas Legislature changed the max age for Texas Youth Commission inmates from 21 to 19, sending 19-20 year olds who committed their crimes as juveniles to state prisons. But perhaps in 2011 - after the administration has had time to implement the Sunset bill and get its feet under them after a period of rough transition - lawmakers should rethink that decision..

        Few criticized the move at the time, but in the next two years one heard increasing rumblings out of TYC - especially from the old-timers but also from then-Ombudsman Will Harrell - that this had been a mistake and that the move was sending lambs to the wolves, setting up those who were transferred for abuse or worse at the hands of older inmates.

        According to the Ombudsman, youth sent to TDCJ were "five times more likely to be sexually victimized, eight times more likely to commit suicide, and twice as likely to be attacked with a weapon or beaten by corrections officers."

        Which brings us to Joshua Barnes, the inmate who made a daring escape from the UTMB prison hospital in Galveston and was just caught Wednesday in Irving. Today is his 21st birthday and he's a TYC alum. I don't know why Barnes tried to escape, but looking at this photo taken at the prison hospital I think I can guess:

        Yesterday I received an email about the case from a long-timer at TYC who writes:

        I knew this kid. He was at Sheffield. This troubles me to no end to see him like this and making the news. He did really well in TYC but was one of those kids who needed our attention in the community. If they had not changed the law regarding aging out of TYC at 19 as opposed to 21, then I doubt this one would be looking at such a long prison term. This was a good kid. His parents gave up on him. His future is a shame. Take a look at TDCJ's Fugitive Watch web page. Take a look at this kid who looks like he was beat badly at TDCJ which is why he was at UTMB in Galveston. I think I'd run too if I took a beating that bad. He turns 21 years old tomorrow. This may not of happened if they didn't change that law in SB103. Take a look. Now, instead of a 35 year prison term, he's looking at adding 15-20 more years I'd bet.

        We need to change the law and TYC should be able to work with these kids until age 21.

        This escape has many folks questioning what went wrong, but it's quite possible that moving 19-20 year olds from TYC to adult prisons was a significant contributing factor that nobody's talking about.

        CLARIFICATION: Whoops! Larance Coleman, the policy director at the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, emails to say my contact at TYC gave me bad information. He writes:

        Scott, major problem with your post, check the public conviction data at DPS, he was received in TYC in 2001, he was out on the street and arrested for an adult felony (possibly the same year he was released) on 10-13-2006. This would have made him 18 and if he was not a determine sentence youth TYC could have kept him until he was 21, since the new law was not passed until 2007. Although I do not know his TYC status, it appears that TYC made the release decision and as an adult he has committed one crime after the other, often days after his release from custody. Thanks.

        NUTHER UPDATE: And here's a response from the original emailer:

        The kid was on TYC parole status at a foster care home when he absconded and burglarized some homes. He could have had his parole revoked and returned to TYC. Instead they put him in jail, and while there, it appears he escaped and was charged with that as well. It was his first time on parole. It's not like he had multiple TYC parole revocations. If that were the case, I'd feel different. If his crimes were not property crimes, and instead murder, rape and so forth, I'd feel different. The thing that bothers me is that I think we should have had another crack at rehabilitating him in a TYC program.

        So there's the crux of debate - over what happens to parole revocations for those convicted as juveniles. My apologies if the original post mischaracterized Barnes' TYC-related status.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Escapes, juvie corrections, TDCJ, TYC

        September 21, 2009

        Sex offender registration applies scarlet letter to juveniles

        The Houston Chronicle today has a feature on the issue of juveniles in the state sex offender registry.

        Juvenile sex offenders must remain on the registry 10 years after the end of their sentence. Reports the Chron ("A long wait to get past crime," Sept. 21):

        About 3,600 people on the state's registry were added as juveniles, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which administers the registry. Eleven were 10 years old when they registered.

        The registry has 26 juveniles who are currently 13 to 16 years old, according to state records. Of the more than 340 juvenile registrants who live in Harris County, three are currently 16 years old, records show.

        Many people are not aware that juveniles can be registered as sex offenders in Texas. State legislators made registration mandatory for adults and juveniles when they established the sex offender registry in 1991. Texas does not have a minimum age for juvenile registration, but the minimum age for prosecution is 10. ...

        Juvenile registration has been debated by lawmakers, child advocates and crime victim proponents for the past decade. Those who support it contend the community has a right to know about dangerous sex offenders � adult or juvenile. Critics argue that the negative consequences on juveniles and their families far outweigh any benefits to the community. No research suggests registration makes communities safer, they said.

        Access to court records for juveniles with delinquent backgrounds are generally restricted to protect them from shame and to give them a fresh start.

        But anyone can access the state's online sex offender registry and see the juvenile's criminal charge. The registry, which went online in 1997, also makes available the juvenile's address, where he attends schools and annual mug shots.

        A requirement in the federal Adam Walsh Act to increase juvenile registration to 25 years after the offense was one of the balking points that caused Texas to request an extension for compliance, the paper reports: �We're not sure if we're ready to pass the Adam Walsh Act,� said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Registration �should be left up to the states.� That federal legislation would eliminate discretion currently enjoyed by Texas judges to remove well-behaved juveniles from the registry or to waive registration at sentencing.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: juvie corrections, sex crimes, sex offender registration

        A long wait to get past crime
        Kids as young as age 10 can be registered as sex offenders, a label lasting a decade

        By REN�E C. LEE
        Sept. 21, 2009

        A closer look at juvenile sex crimes

        � 12-year-old boy: Found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and indecency with a child/sexual contact. Victim was a 7-year-old boy. He was sentenced to six years, four months at Texas Youth Commission facility. Registrant is now 18.

        � 12-year-old boy: Found guilty of aggravated sexual assault and indecency with a child/sexual contact. Victims were a 9-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. He was sentenced to six years at Texas Youth Commission facility. Registrant is now 21.

        � 10-year-old boy: Found guilty of indecency with a child/sexual contact. His victim was a 5-year-old girl. He was sentenced to two years at Texas Youth Commission facility. Registrant is now 21.

        � 15-year-old boy: found guilty of aggravated sexual assault. Victim was a 4-year-old girl. He was sentenced to five years at Texas Youth Commission facility. Registrant is now 16.

        � 13-year-old boy: Found guilty of indecency with child/sexual contact. Victim was a 2-year-old girl. He was sentenced to a year at Texas Youth Commission facility. Registrant is now 16.

        � 15-year-old boy: found guilty of burglary of habitation with intent sexual offense. Age of victim is not listed. He was sentenced to four years, 10 months at Texas Youth Commission facility. Registrant is now 16.

        Source: Texas Department of Public Safety Sex Offender Registry

        Samantha Portwood is marking the days on her calendar until Sept. 30. That's the day her 24-year-old son's name and picture is expected to be removed from the state's sex offender registry.

        For the past decade, her son Dale has lived under public scrutiny for a crime he committed when he was 12. He inappropriately touched a 7- year-old girl at his baby sitter's house and was charged with aggravated sexual assault. After completing two years of therapy and probation, he had to register as a sex offender, which shocked his parents.

        �It frustrates me,� said Portwood, of Pinehurst in Montgomery County.

        �He was 12 years old when it happened. He's not a threat to society.�

        Her son isn't alone. About 3,600 people on the state's registry were added as juveniles, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which administers the registry. Eleven were 10 years old when they registered.

        The registry has 26 juveniles who are currently 13 to 16 years old, according to state records. Of the more than 340 juvenile registrants who live in Harris County, three are currently 16 years old, records show.

        Many people are not aware that juveniles can be registered as sex offenders in Texas. State legislators made registration mandatory for adults and juveniles when they established the sex offender registry in 1991. Texas does not have a minimum age for juvenile registration, but the minimum age for prosecution is 10.

        A decade of debate

        Juvenile registration has been debated by lawmakers, child advocates and crime victim proponents for the past decade. Those who support it contend the community has a right to know about dangerous sex offenders � adult or juvenile. Critics argue that the negative consequences on juveniles and their families far outweigh any benefits to the community. No research suggests registration makes communities safer, they said.

        Access to court records for juveniles with delinquent backgrounds are generally restricted to protect them from shame and to give them a fresh start. But anyone can access the state's online sex offender registry and see the juvenile's criminal charge. The registry, which went online in 1997, also makes available the juvenile's address, where he attends schools and annual mug shots.

        �I feel like this is totally inconsistent with the way we as a society have determined is the right way to deal with juvenile behavior,� said Theresa Tod, director of the Texas Network of Youth Services. �To protect juveniles from public derision is our job.�

        Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center, disagreed.

        �Once a juvenile introduces violence into sexual behavior, it's hard to rehabilitate,� Ahearn said. �They are worthy of registration.�

        Brains' development

        Unlike adult sex offenders who must register for life, juvenile sex offenders are required to register for 10 years after they leave the juvenile system. The vast majority of juvenile sex offenses are against other children, and the juvenile generally knows the victim, said juvenile justice experts.

        Juveniles lack the maturity to manage their behavior because their brains are still developing, said Dr. Bob McLaughlin, with ADAPT Counseling, a juvenile sex offender treatment provider in Houston. As a result, juveniles are more amenable to treatment than adults and can be rehabilitated, he said.

        Juvenile registration only makes treatment and rehabilitation much more difficult, experts said.

        In some cases, juvenile sex offenders have safety zone stipulations as part of their probation and can't go to certain places, such as parks or community centers. The restrictions can limit their social activities and job opportunities, which are key to rehabilitation, McLaughlin said.

        Allison Taylor, executive director of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment, said restrictions are a mitigating factor when considering public policy on juvenile offenders.

        �Anytime you destabilize adults or juveniles, you increase the risk of recidivism,� Taylor said. �That is a public concern.�

        Effects at school

        Portwood has spent 10 years trying to protect her son from being bullied and ostracized. She said she helplessly watched as Dale's self-esteem diminished. She believes her once mild-mannered son intentionally misbehaved in school so he would be disciplined and not have to attend.

        In high school, classmates called him a rapist and child molester behind his back, she said. He eventually dropped out in 10th grade.

        �He came to me and said, �Mom, I can't take it anymore,'� she said. �He said, �Do people look at me and think I'm a monster?' What do you tell him?�

        Portwood said she knows her son's actions were morally wrong but believes it didn't merit him being labeled a sex offender.

        His road to adulthood has been rocky. He has never had a steady job.

        He briefly got mixed up with drugs about two years ago and moved out of the family home, but he couldn't get an apartment because of his sex offender registration. He ended up living with friends.

        Failure to report a change of address, a registry rule, landed him in prison last year. He was released on parole in March and is living outside of Austin, trying to get his life back on track.

        Dale, who did not want his last name used to protect his identity, said he did not realize at 12 what he did was wrong. He said he never was a sexual predator and feels like registration robbed him of his childhood because his life was filled with constant embarrassment.

        Revising the law

        Nearly every legislative session, Texas lawmakers have tweaked the sex offender registry law. A major change came in 2001, giving judges discretion in handling juvenile registration.

        Judges have three options. They can waive registration or remove them from the registry. The juvenile must petition the court for removal.

        Judges also can defer making a decision until after the juvenile successfully completes therapy. Those who work closely with juvenile courts say judges often choose to defer registration.

        Judicial discretion �is the biggest thing that separates us from other states,� said Lisa Capers, deputy executive director of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. �It allows the court to try to rehabilitate and not target and label them as sex offenders.�

        As many as 32 states require juvenile registration, and as many as 20 states have special juvenile procedures that can terminate a juvenile's duty to register, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management, a project of the U.S. Justice Department.

        But judicial discretion, the one element that makes juvenile registration palatable for some critics, would be stripped under the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The law sets new standards for registering sex offenders. All states were required to comply with the act by this year. Many states, however, have objected to a requirement for all juveniles 14 and older who have committed aggravated sexual assaults to register for 25 years.

        The U.S. attorney general recently issued all states a one-year extension for compliance.

        Texas lawmakers requested an extension to take a closer look at the law during the 2011 session.

        �We're not sure if we're ready to pass the Adam Walsh Act,� said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Registration �should be left up to the states.�


        A long wait to get past crime

        September 19, 2009

        TYC's football season underway

        Last year's story about the Grapevine high school that put on a heart-warming reception for the Gainseville Tornadoes football team - one of two made up of students from Texas Youth Commission juvenile detention facilities - will be made into a movie called One Heart, featured on this promo web site. The coach at Faith Christian HS (Grapevine) who came up with the idea to have half his own fans root for the TYC kids was honored at the most recent Superbowl for engineering the remarkable event.

        The other TYC team is the Giddings Indians. These teams don't play against public schools but participate in a league run by the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools.

        For reasons I can't explain, the teams' football schedules are nowhere on the TYC website. Maybe that partially explains why they have few fans in the stands! But a friend at TYC forwarded me the Giddings Indians' schedule:

        Thursday, Sept. 24 Cornerstone San Antonio 7:30
        Thursday, Oct. 2 Open
        Thursday, Oct. 8 St. Joseph Victoria 7:30
        Thursday, Oct. 15 Hyde Park Austin 7:30
        Thursday, Oct. 22 San Marcos Baptist San Marcos 7:30
        Friday, Oct. 30 San Antonio Christian San Antonio 7:30
        Friday, Nov. 6 Texas Military Institute, San Antonio 7:30

        And here's the remaining schedule for the Gainesville Tornadoes, according MaxPreps:

        Friday, Sept. 25 Bishop Dunne, Dallas, 7:30
        Thursday, Oct. 2 Bishop Lynch, Dallas, 7:30
        Thursday, Oct. 8 Open
        Friday, Oct. 16 Nolan Catholic, Fort Wort, 7:30
        Friday, Oct. 23 John Paul Stevens II, Plano, TBA
        Friday, Oct. 30 Trinity Christian, Addison, 7:30
        Friday, Nov. 6 Faith Christian, Grapevine, 7:30

        Every single outing for these kids is an away game and they don't typically have a lot of folks show up to cheer for them. Because of privacy issues involving juvenile offenders, the papers can't even print box scores with the kids' names, and even if they did, many of their games are outright drubbings.

        It's hard to field a competitive team when kids cycle in and out throughout the season because of academic or disciplinary problems, or simply because their sentence is up.

        Youth have to earn the right to participate in sports through good behavior while in detention, so the kids participating in youth sports at TYC are generally among the ones at least trying to work the program and get on the right path. They deserve someone to come cheer them for that effort alone, even if the outcome of the games may be lopsided.

        If any of the contests on the upcoming schedule are near where you live, consider spending an evening rooting for the underdogs and giving just a little encouragement to some youth who don't receive a lot.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Sports, TYC

        September 03, 2009

        New Youth Commission board named

        Governor Perry has named the new board of the Texas Youth Commisison, which met on Tuesday for the first time and whose first act was to permanently hire Cherie Townsend as executive director.

        Here's the press release announcing the appointments. The new board chair and another member are ministers. The Grayson County DA is on the board, as is the executive director of the Permian Basin MHMR from Midland, a district judge from Cameron County and a doctor from Beaumont.

        For some unexplained reason, Perry only appointed six members to the board, including the chair, but the Sunset bill says it should have seven. So we can probably expect another appointment to come in the near future.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Governor, TYC

        News: August 28, 2009

        Caging Children

        By Richard Whittaker

        Children under the age of 18 can't vote, serve as jurors, or join Blockbuster, but in the U.S. � the only developed nation with such a policy � they can be tried in adult courts and imprisoned in facilities designed for adults. A groundbreaking study from the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs could kick-start a national discussion about the foolishness of that policy.

        The report, "From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System," was compiled by Michele Deitch, an adjunct professor at the LBJ School, and her students. Its roots were tragic: Deitch and her group worked with the UT Law School Supreme Court Clinic on the case of Christopher Pittman, who, at age 12, was charged with killing his grandparents. He received a 30-year sentence � the mandatory minimum in South Carolina. After the Supreme Court rejected his appeal, Deitch explained, "we were sitting on a ton of research that we had done, so we thought it was vital to get it out there."

        Their research showed Pittman is hardly alone: On average, 80 children a year aged 13 and younger have their cases transferred from juvenile to adult courts. On a single day in 2008, there were 7,703 children held in adult jails nationwide. Once there, they are more likely to get assaulted by fellow inmates or guards than are adults. And once released, they are more likely to re-offend than minors that stay in the juvenile system. "Just labeling someone an adult doesn't make them adult," said Deitch.

        She also found that it's not just the most heinous crimes that get kids moved to the adult justice system. Between 1995 and 2004, 190 children under 12 were tried as adults for crimes against persons, but 19 kids were there on drug charges. Among children under 12, boys are more likely to be transferred from juvenile to adult courts than girls. Similarly, while African-Americans only represent 13% of the national population, they make up 54% of the transferred prison population.

        Scott Medlock, prisoners' rights program director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, called the transfer policy "a symptom of the 'tough on crime' mentality that our politicians adopt generally" and one that has been outpaced by advances in developmental science. He noted: "All the research shows that people's brains aren't fully formed until they are around the age of 25. There are a lot of people in prison for something that they did before then, but the law doesn't recognize that they might be an entirely different person."

        On the national stage, perhaps surprisingly, Texas isn't the worst offender when it comes to treating children like adults. In fact, Deitch singles out the Capital and Serious Violent Offender Treatment Program at the Texas Youth Commission's Giddings State School as a particularly successful initiative. Lori Robinson, now TYC's director of specialized treatment, was director of clinical services at Giddings. She explained that the yearlong program of intensive and emotionally intense group therapy directs child offenders to explore, explain, and examine their lives before incarceration. She said, "What we find is that many of our kids do the same things over and over and over again, and the crimes escalate." By tackling these developmental issues, the program has paid dividends, cutting recidivism rates by 57%. Robinson plans to roll out the lessons learned system-wide.

        However, there remains the larger question of whether Texas sends too many people, adults or children, to jail. Steve Hall, chief of staff to former Attorney General Jim Mattox and now director of the StandDown Texas Project, sees the over-dependence on juvenile incarceration as an aspect of the expansion and commercialization of prisons. When Mattox was A.G. (from 1983 to 1991), "Texas had about 35,000 inmates in the prison system," Hall recalls. "Today we have more than 35,000 employees and about 155,000 incarcerated."

        Deitch's paper has received national coverage, with newspapers including the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (of Pennsylvania, where children can receive mandatory life sentences without parole) and the Anderson Independent Mail (of South Carolina, the state with the worst record of sending pre-adolescent children to adult prisons), reflecting on its lessons. It was also the subject of a New York Times op-ed, which called the incarceration of children in adult facilities "terrible public policy" (New York is one of three states where children over age 15 are automatically transferred to adult court). While the report reveals some worrying truths, Hall described it as timely and added, "I believe that we are at the beginning of a reappraisal of this cycle of over-incarceration."

        The complete report is available on the LBJ School website at:

        How States Treat Their Kids:
        ^22 Number of states with no statutory minimum age for transferring murder cases.
        ^3 Number of states with no minimum age for transferring juvenile cases to adult court.
        ^34 Number of states with "once an adult, always an adult" rules.
        ^10 Number of states with maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction below 17.

        Caging Children

        August 19, 2009

        'Can these puppets prevent juvenile crime?'

        The title of this post is the headline of an interesting item from Change.org's Criminal Justice Blog, where Matt Kelley points to:

        A video of a talk by Theodore Beauchaine, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, who says that brain science can predict criminal activity in some kids and should be a factor in targeting treatment. Treatment for kids with signs of hyperactivity, when it's delivered by age three, can decrease the chance they'll land in the juvenile justice system by 75 percent, he said. And one of the approaches that's working is - you guessed it - puppets.

        The Incredible Years is a program for young kids that uses the puppets above - and other techniques - to train hyperactive and aggressive kids in social skills. The program was developed by another University of Washington professor, Carolyn Webster-Stratton, and it has been remarkably effective.

        Kelley's piece turned me on to some interesting resources on the topic of juvenile justice, brain science and early childhood development. This afternoon I watched this video titled "Brain Science as a Means of Understanding Delinquency and Substance Abuse in Youth," and here's another hour-long video I want to view soon on the use of puppets as an early childhood intervention technique.

        Prof. Beauchaine's talk was especially enlightening because he believes criminogenic risk factors can be identified in kids as young as age 3, while most interventions involving delinquent youth don't begin until, at the earliest, the middle school period. By that time, he said, evidence shows the most common interventions actually increase crime. If Beauchaine's diagnostic methods are sound, shifting more resources toward prevention in early childhood could be a promising approach, particularly since it's not nearly as resource intensive as later interventions by the justice system once kids start committing crimes. Interesting stuff.

        Posted by; Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: juvie corrections, neuroscience

        Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of
        Juvenile Life WithoutParole

        By SHERRY F. COLB
        August 19, 2009

        This coming term, the Supreme Court will consider the important companion cases of Sullivan v. Florida and Graham v. Florida.

        Together, they raise the question whether a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for a non-homicide offense committed by a juvenile offender violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.

        As a policy matter, I am sympathetic with the ultimate objective of reducing the severity of punishments in the U.S. However, as a legal matter, I will argue in this column that the Eighth Amendment case against juvenile life without parole is quite weak � given the Court's precedents as well as the nature of the flaws inherent in harsh sentencing more generally.

        The Policy Case Against Long Prison Sentences

        To avoid my being misunderstood as a proponent of long sentences, let me emphasize here that I am not. In 1998, I interviewed recidivist child-molester Leroy Hendricks at his civil confinement program for sexually violent predators. One of the things he said that struck me as very insightful was that once a person has spent ten years inside a prison, he is extremely unlikely to be able, successfully, to re- integrate himself into free society. Life, as he put it, will have already passed that person by, the world having changed too much for him to catch up. This statement, if true, provides a pragmatic argument against long sentences for people who will someday have to rejoin the outside world. And what about sentences of life-imprisonment?

        If someone will spend the rest of his life behind bars, we do not need to worry about re-entry difficulties. But we do, then, need to ask ourselves what the purpose of that confinement is. It is plainly retributive � a person who has committed a serious offense will, by design, suffer greatly by being deprived of both freedom and most contact with the outside world for the rest of his life. But is the desire to make the person suffer for his actions a sufficient basis for removing him from society for his entire life?

        The answer would depend, it seems, on whether we believe that people change over time. If we think that a person who commits a murder at Time 1 remains precisely the same murderer-deserving-of-serious- punishment ten, twenty, and thirty years later, then it is sensible to have his punishment last for the entirety of his life. But if, on the other hand, we believe that people change over time � into different, perhaps more passive, reflective, or gentle people � then ruling out re-entry into society for them could be a mistake. It could prevent them from doing what it takes to redeem themselves after the injuries they previously inflicted and from growing into different sorts of people. It rules out the possibility of rehabilitation.

        In addition to rejecting the rehabilitative role of punishment, a sentence of life imprisonment also imposes great costs on society generally, and on specific communities and families in particular. I still recall from when I lived in Manhattan that once a week, a few blocks from my apartment building, women and children � mostly members of minority groups � would line up for a long bus ride that had as its destination the penitentiary. These faithful family members of prisoners never gave up on their loved ones and though they themselves were innocent, they too suffered along with the people sentenced to serve time. An individual is not an island, and it is rarely possible to take one person out of commission without generating spillover effects on innocent others.

        One answer to these concerns is to note that violent criminals may require incapacitation. That is, prison serves not only to punish and (in theory) to rehabilitate offenders, but also to prevent them from harming others. This objective of imprisonment is an important one.

        To the extent that we can predict future antisocial conduct, one important indicator is past behavior. A person who commits a violent crime has thus evidenced that he cannot be trusted with freedom.

        This answer, however, ignores the fact that people do change over time. A man who is violent at the age of 25 is likely to slow down by the time he reaches 40. And it is difficult to imagine that, unless he belongs to the world of organized crime, he will continue to pose a threat to those around him when he reaches 60 or 65. One might even note that with the decline in testosterone over the male lifespan, the odds that such a man will behave violently diminish substantially, even when he begins in a very bad place. To rest sentences of life imprisonment on an incapacitation theory is therefore, in most cases, to ignore the realities of the human life cycle.

        Life Imprisonment for Youthful Offenders

        Though I have made clear above that I oppose long sentences in general and life imprisonment in particular, as a policy matter, I am nevertheless left strangely unconvinced by the arguments that have been marshaled to support the claim that juvenile life imprisonment violates the Eighth Amendment.

        A principal argument, and perhaps the most powerful, made in fascinating detail in an amicus brief filed in the Sullivan and Graham cases by the AMA (American Medical Association) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, has to do with brain development. As most of us probably suspected all along, adolescent brains are different from adult brains, and the result is that adolescents have a more difficult time controlling their impulses and regulating their own emotional states. They are also more vulnerable to the temptations of risk-taking behavior, the rewards of peer approval, and other potential triggers of anti-social conduct. As a result, the argument goes, adolescents who commit violent crimes are generally not as culpable (because they are not as capable of restraining themselves under a given set of circumstances) as adults who commit serious crimes. They are, moreover, more likely to evolve into better people later and therefore need not be incapacitated indefinitely.

        One problem with this argument is that it proves too much. If the adolescent brain is functionally "impaired," in an important sense, compared with the adult brain, then the Eighth Amendment should ban far more than life imprisonment for non-homicide offenses for juveniles: It should ban that punishment for all offenses committed by juveniles.

        The distinction between homicide and non-homicide offenses becomes immaterial if the problem with sentencing juveniles to life imprisonment is their diminished capacity. A homicidal adolescent is no more able to control his impulses than a raping adolescent is to control his; the distinction between one crime and the other will likely have more to do with opportunity and surrounding circumstance than with capacity and thus culpability.

        Thus, an argument against life imprisonment for juvenile non-homicide offenders is no less convincing as an argument against life imprisonment for juvenile murderers. Accordingly, it is unsurprising that the movement against life imprisonment of juveniles generally opposes both.

        The specific selection of non-homicide offenses to limit the argument thus seems more of a marketing tool than a principled decision � and if the Eighth Amendment argument prevails in these cases, the next step would seem almost inevitable: advocates will claim that the Eighth Amendment necessarily bars life without parole for all juvenile offenders.

        In addition, if juvenile offenders suffer from a diminished capacity to control their behavior, then sentences that fall far short of life imprisonment, too, could qualify as unduly harsh and unconstitutionally disproportionate under the Eighth Amendment. For example, any prison sentence for any offense by an adolescent that approaches the sentence for a parallel adult offender might appear to be disproportionate, given the likely disparity in relative capacity.

        Once again, the argument about juvenile capacity has no obvious stopping point at either non-homicide offenses or at life imprisonment itself.

        A second problem with the argument about juvenile capacity is that it fails to capture what we know about adult offenders: Though youth is a corollary of crime, the adults who do commit anti-social acts appear to have much in common with adolescents. To put the point differently, though adults in general are different from adolescents, the adults who commit violent crimes may share far more with violent adolescents than they do with mature, well-adjusted adults. Violent crime frequently reflects a failure of impulse control, combined with an overly optimistic assessment of the likelihood of escaping ill consequences � traits that define adolescence. The sort of incapacity that plagues many youthful offenders is, for that reason, not likely to be unique to such offenders in the prison population.

        To underline this second problem, we learn from a study published this year in the American Journal of Public Health that a quarter of prison inmates have a history of chronic mental illness that preceded their arrest. Adults who suffer from chronic mental illness presumably lack the capacity to exercise the self-control of a healthy and normal adult. The same may be true for the mentally retarded, though their prevalence in the prison population is lower.

        It is accordingly misleading to suggest that actual, incarcerated adult offenders could have readily exercised self-control in a manner unavailable to youthful offenders. Many people convicted of serious crimes could make a persuasive argument that their capacity to regulate their own behavior and to assess costs and benefits accurately is impaired. Yet such people routinely receive long and unforgiving prison sentences.

        A third problem for the argument about minors' diminished capacity is evident in noting the nature of the incapacity: According to the amicus brief referenced above (filed by the AMA and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), "[t]he difference between adolescent and adult behavior � is not a function of adolescents' inability to distinguish right from wrong � but rather from psychosocial limitations in their ability to consistently and reliably control their behavior." (emphasis added).

        Since Congress passed the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, however, the prevailing approach to incapacity has centered on cognition � the ability to distinguish between right and wrong � and not on control. This is in part because it is difficult to distinguish in a reliable way between a person who could not control herself and a person who simply did not control herself. The diminished capacity of juveniles, then, is of the sort that has fallen out of favor as a basis for mitigating and excusing anti- social conduct (at least outside the death penalty context).

        A fourth problem with the argument might seem, at first glance, to recommend it. By contrast to other sorts of offenders, minors who commit crimes may not, since Roper v. Simmons, be sentenced to death.

        This categorical exclusion of minors, like the categorical exclusion of the mentally retarded in Atkins v. Virginia, represents an acceptance of the idea that there are categories of people who simply cannot be sufficiently culpable to deserve the ultimate penalty of death. The Court's embrace of this idea might appear to open the way for similar arguments about life imprisonment.

        What makes this appearance deceptive, however, is that the Court's ruling in Atkins rests firmly on the "death is different" idea, which treats life imprisonment as not simply distinct in degree from execution, but different in kind. Therefore, if youths and mentally retarded people fall short � even to a minor degree � of the capacities that adults of normal intelligence have, this is reason enough to rule out execution, in particular, for them. But one of the things that has allowed the Court to rule out execution for such people is the very availability of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

        That is, to the extent that execution is meant to serve the function of incapacitating irredeemably violent people forever, the availability of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole provides a roughly equivalent substitute for that. Without this substitute, the inability to execute youthful offenders � in at least some cases � might appear far more threatening.

        Death is Different

        One possible response to the last point is that execution has long been unavailable for non-homicide crimes (with the possible exception of treason), and this helps account for why this case focuses on life for non-homicides (where one cannot claim the need for a functional substitute for execution).

        Or, to make this argument more affirmatively, one could argue that because the most severe penalty available for offenses committed by a juvenile is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, this penalty should be reserved for homicide, just as � in the case of adults � the death penalty is reserved for homicide.

        The main problem with this argument has less to do with logic than with Court precedent. In carving out special rules for the death penalty, including the rule establishing its unconstitutionality with respect to crimes less serious than murder, the Court has consistently relied on the idea that death is qualitatively different from any term of imprisonment. When litigants have attempted to move the Eighth Amendment proportionality principle from the death penalty context to that of incarceration, the Court has generally rejected the move in application.

        In Rummel v. Estelle, for example, the Court in 1980 upheld a life sentence in a recidivist statute for a defendant convicted of three nonviolent property crimes (netting less than $300 total). The Court did strike down a life-without-parole sentence (for a recidivist offender convicted of writing a bad check) in Solem v. Helm a few years later, giving some hope that the Eighth Amendment could become a vehicle for invalidating long sentences. However, in 1991, in Harmelin v. Michigan, the Court upheld a mandatory sentence of life without parole for the possession of over 650 grams of cocaine, even as three Justices in the majority agreed with the dissent that some sentences might be so long relative to the seriousness of a crime that they would violate the Eighth Amendment. Finally, in Ewing v. California., the Court upheld the California "three strikes" law under which the petitioner was sentenced to 25-years-to-life for stealing three golf clubs worth $399 each.

        None of these cases rules out the possibility that life imprisonment for a juvenile offender's non-homicide crime violates the Eighth Amendment. Nonetheless, it seems counterintuitive for the Court to maintain that life imprisonment is constitutionally excessive punishment for a juvenile rapist, but constitutionally unobjectionable for an adult nonviolent property or drug possession offender. On the other hand, of course, the Supreme Court did grant certiorari in two cases of juvenile life-without-parole sentences in which the government won below, so it may � not for the first time � decide to take a counterintuitive approach in this instance.

        My Hope

        Despite what I have said here, I hope that the Supreme Court says that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is unconstitutional for non-homicide offenses committed by juvenile offenders. The reason for my hope is several-fold. First, it is high time that the Court actively embraced the principle that a prison sentence can be disproportionately lengthy, whether the measure of disproportion is capacity or whether it is the seriousness of an offense.

        Second, life imprisonment without the possibility for parole is almost always a mistake, given the fact that people � both children and adults � change over time; the impact of such sentences on society, communities, and families; and the possibility of redemption. If the Court does strike down the sentences of the two offenders who brought their appeals, moreover, I predict that the Court will soon be willing to reconsider harsh sentences across the board. This is precisely because the arguments for distinguishing juvenile non-homicides as a special case are, indeed, as unpersuasive as I have argued that they are in this column.

        Sherry F. Colb, a FindLaw columnist, is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law School. Her book, When Sex Counts: Making Babies and Making Law, is currently available on Amazon.

        Supreme Court Considers Constitutionality of Juvenile Life WithoutParole

        August 18, 2009

        Teen drug court in Beaumont diverts youth from TYC

        I was interested to learn that Jefferson County (Beaumont) is using a drug court model in juvenile court, according to KBMT-TV:

        Jefferson County's new Teen Drug Court [is] sponsored by the judges who operate the county's family court program.

        It pairs kids with mentors and checks on their progress on a weekly basis.

        Judge Randy Shelton says; 'If we send them off to placement or the Texas Youth Commission it would cost 50 to 60 thousand dollars a year."

        Juvenile probation authorities tell us between 300 and 500 each year go through the criminal justice system in Jefferson County with drug related problems.

        If not for alternative programs like this these kids could end up behind locked doors.

        Though juvenile courts already tend to use many of the strong probation tools utilized in drug courts, I'm not sure I'd seen the drug-court model specifically applied to teens elsewhere. Let me know in the comments if you're aware of other jurisdictions taking this approach.

        Posted By; Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Drug courts, drug policy, Jefferson County, Judiciary, juvie corrections

        Teen Drug Court Keeps Kids Out Of TYC

        By Brian Burns
        Story Created: Aug 15, 2009

        A new teen drug court sponsored by the judges of Jefferson County's family court is keeping some teens out of jail.

        Our Brian Burns talks to two teenagers and their parents about the difference the court has made in their lives.

        We are not showing you the faces of the teens or their parents in this story to protect their identities.

        This 14 year old who we'll call "Byron" told me he started hanging out with the wrong crowd. "Yeah because I wasn't listening to my mama. I had the hard head for real. My mama would tell me 'do this' and I'd be like 'all right' and I'd leave out the house and don't come back til early in the morning and she'd be worried about me."

        Byron's 16 year old brother is already in the Texas Youth Commission on a drug related offense.

        And Byron's mother was afraid of losing a second son. "I didn't know what to do. When he was in boot camp I'd talk to, I forgot his name. But I'd talk to him. And he tried to help me with him. But he would still do what he wanted to do."

        But Byron's involvement in the program that started in March seems to mean the world to him. "Now she don't have to worry about me. Now I come home, eat, and go to sleep.Or do something. Clean up or something."

        Byron and just a handful of others are participants in Jefferson County's new Teen Drug Court sponsored by the judges who operate the county's family court program.

        It pairs kids with mentors and checks on their progress on a weekly basis.

        Judge Randy Shelton says; 'If we send them off to placement or the Texas Youth Commission it would cost 50 to 60 thousand dollars a year."

        Juvenile probation authorities tell us between 300 and 500 each year go through the criminal justice system in Jefferson County with drug related problems.

        If not for alternative programs like this these kids could end up behind locked doors.

        And for another teen who we'll call "Debra", this program may have saved her too. "I went to school with them and they started talking about skipping and stuff and smoking and stuff. And I just didn't listen to my first warning and did it."

        Jefferson County's new teen drug court convenes every Tuesday at the Minnie Rogers Juvenile Justice Center.

        Teen Drug Court Keeps Kids Out Of TYC

        August 14, 2009

        Locking Up Fewer Children

        In the 1990s, states and localities began sending more and more children to juvenile lockups, often for months, while they awaited trial for nonviolent offenses or even noncriminal behavior like being �unruly.� This was a disaster. Children who spend time in detention are far more likely to leave school, suffer alcohol or drug abuse problems or commit violent crimes as adults.

        A far better approach � for these young people as well as overburdened government budgets � is to lock up only truly dangerous children and enroll the rest in community-based monitoring programs.

        The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on disadvantaged children, gave a boost to this approach by underwriting juvenile justice reform projects in five states in the early 1990s. The experiments showed that closely supervising young offenders, instead of incarcerating them, did not increase the youth crime rate or the risk to public safety.

        Similar programs have since been adopted in 110 jurisdictions in 27 states and the District of Columbia.

        According to a new study from the foundation, the results have been astonishing: Many jurisdictions have managed to cut the number of children in detention by half or more; in many, the youth crime rate has declined.

        The programs invite collaboration among all of the major players, including prosecutors, probation officers and public defenders.

        Children who present no safety threat remain in custody for the shortest possible time. Meanwhile, new screening practices allow judges and other officials to decide more accurately and quickly which children require secure detention and which of them can be released to their families or to the care of community programs while they await their day in court.

        Communities that have been most faithful to the new model have registered the most impressive results, with some districts locking up only about a quarter of the number of youngsters as before. These efforts show that it is possible to treat children humanely without compromising public safety and deserve to be replicated nationwide.

        Locking Up Fewer Children

        Dallas girl, 14, jailed with adults for 10 days

        August 10, 2009
        Associated Press Writer

        DALLAS � A 14-year-old girl spent 10 days in the Dallas County Jail after lying to officers about her age, police said Monday � the second of two teens arrested together last month to serve time alongside adult offenders.

        The girl was arrested on shoplifting charges along with a 13-year-old girl, who also spent nearly two weeks in jail with adults after giving police a false name that led them to believe she was 17. They both pleaded guilty to shoplifting charges after getting caught trying to steal lingerie from a Target store in Dallas. Both girls are runaways, police said.

        Jail records indicate the older girl spent 10 days in jail before her July 20 release. Police now say she lied about her last name and her age, which she gave as 20.

        "The officers believed her and booked her in," said Dallas police spokesman Sgt. Warren C. Mitchell.

        The internal affairs division is now investigating whether the arresting officer followed protocol in trying to confirm the girls' identities, Mitchell said.

        "We're trying to figure out what, if anything, we could do to prevent this," Mitchell said. "It really makes it difficult when you have no fingerprints, and these kids have never been held and they are juveniles."

        As nonviolent offenders, the girls likely were housed with the general female population on two floors in the jail, county spokeswoman Kim Leach said. That part of the jail has one guard for every 48 inmates, and the women sleep in dormitory-style bunk beds. There is a common area with a television, tables and chairs.

        "If someone of that age does speak up, she would have been taken out of the main population, put into a single cell and we would immediately have started looking into it," Leach said.

        The girls' stories began to unravel when an inmate recognized the 13-year-old and called her father. He came to the jail with a birth certificate and other records, Leach said, but by then she had been released.

        The younger girl was picked up Saturday on a runaway charge, and told police the true name and age of her companion, Mitchell said.

        Police learned they already had the 14-year-old in custody. She was detained Thursday under her real name and remains in a juvenile placement center for runaways.

        The younger girl told The Dallas Morning News that she regretted lying to police.

        "After I went in there, I started trying to figure out, why did I tell them that name?" she said.

        Copyright 2009, The Associated Press.

        Mentally Ill Offenders Strain Juvenile System

        Kirk Irwin for The New York Times
        An inmate at the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility.
        Two-thirds of the nation�s juvenile inmates have at least one mental illness,
        according to surveys.

        Published: August 9, 2009

        FRANKLIN FURNACE, Ohio � The teenager in the padded smock sat in his solitary confinement cell here in this state�s most secure juvenile prison and screamed obscenities.

        The Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware, Ohio, added therapy programs to address inmates� self-mutilation.

        The youth, Donald, a 16-year-old, his eyes glassy from lack of sleep and a daily regimen of mood stabilizers, was serving a minimum of six months for breaking and entering. Although he had received diagnoses for psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, a judge decided that Donald would get better care in the state correctional system than he could get anywhere in his county.

        That was two years ago.

        Donald�s confinement has been repeatedly extended because of his violent outbursts. This year he assaulted a guard here at the prison, the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility, and was charged anew, with assault. His fists and forearms are striped with scars where he gouged himself with pencils and the bones of a bird he caught and dismembered.

        As cash-starved states slash mental health programs in communities and schools, they are increasingly relying on the juvenile corrections system to handle a generation of young offenders with psychiatric disorders. About two-thirds of the nation�s juvenile inmates � who numbered 92,854 in 2006, down from 107,000 in 1999 � have at least one mental illness, according to surveys of youth prisons, and are more in need of therapy than punishment.

        �We�re seeing more and more mentally ill kids who couldn�t find community programs that were intensive enough to treat them,� said Joseph Penn, a child psychiatrist at the Texas Youth Commission. �Jails and juvenile justice facilities are the new asylums.�

        At least 32 states cut their community mental health programs by an average of 5 percent this year and plan to double those budget reductions by 2010, according to a recent survey of state mental health offices.

        Juvenile prisons have been the caretaker of last resort for troubled children since the 1980s, but mental health experts say the system is in crisis, facing a soaring number of inmates reliant on multiple � and powerful � psychotropic drugs and a shortage of therapists.

        In California�s state system, one of the most violent and poorly managed juvenile systems in the country, according to federal investigators, three dozen youth offenders seriously injured themselves or attempted suicide in the last year � a sign, state juvenile justice experts say, of neglect and poor safety protocols.

        In Ohio, where Gov. Ted Strickland, a former prison psychologist, approved a 34 percent reduction in community-based mental health services to reduce a budget deficit, Thomas J. Stickrath, the director of the Department of Youth Services, said continuing cuts would swell his youth offender population.

        �I�m hearing from a lot of judges saying, �I�m sorry I�m sending so-and-so to you, but at least I know that he�ll get the treatment he can�t get in his community,�� Mr. Stickrath said.

        But youths are often subjected to neglect and violence in juvenile prisons, and studies show that mental illnesses can become worse there.

        George, 17, an inmate at Ohio River Valley, detailed his daily cocktail of psychiatric medications, including Abilify and Seroquel. In addition to having bipolar disorder, he is a sex offender and is H.I.V. positive � severe stigmas in prison.

        �I be getting punked,� he said, using prison slang to describe how gang youths routinely humiliate him. He blinked, and his leg shook uncontrollably. �They take my food, they hit me, they make me do things.�

        Demetrius, 16, another inmate there, said he had received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Officials said he has psychotic episodes and attacks other inmates. In an interview in June, he said he was receiving no mental health counseling or medications. Andrea Kruse, a spokeswoman for Mr. Stickrath, said that since July 1, he has had more than 20 counseling sessions.

        According to a Government Accountability Office report, in 2001, families relinquished custody of 9,000 children to juvenile justice systems so they could receive mental health services.

        Donald has been in and out of mental health programs since he attacked a schoolteacher at age 5. As he grew older, he became more violent until he was eventually committed to the Department of Youth Services.

        �I�ve begged D.Y.S. to get him into a mental facility where they�re trained to deal with people like him,� said his grandmother, who asked not to be identified because of the stigma of having a grandson who is mentally ill. �I don�t think a lockup situation is where he should be, although I don�t think he should be on the street either.�

        Lawsuits and federal civil rights investigations in Indiana, Maryland, Ohio and Texas have criticized juvenile corrections systems for failing to meet their obligation to prohibit cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.

        Despite downsizing to about 1,650 juvenile inmates from about 10,000 youth offenders in 1996, California�s state system remains under a 2004 federal mandate to improve conditions, including mental health services � the result of a class-action lawsuit that documented the systematic physical and sexual abuse of wards.

        Under a plan to reduce the state juvenile inmate population, many youths who once would have been held by the state are now detained by the Los Angeles County juvenile detention system. Los Angeles County is also under a federal mandate to improve psychiatric services for juvenile inmates, especially at the six camps at its Challenger Memorial Youth Center, which holds most of the county�s medium- and high-risk offenders and most of its mentally ill ones.

        �We were told that the Challenger camps are, paradoxically, the only camps at which staff are authorized to carry O.C. spray,� wrote federal civil rights investigators in a 2008 report to county authorities, referring to oleoresin capsicum, known as pepper spray. �One supervisor told us that he believed that allowing staff to carry and use O.C. spray made sense given the �mental health population.��

        Ann Johansson for The New York Times

        Youths at Camp Scott in Los Angeles County, which is under a federal mandate to improve psychiatric services for juveniles.

        The investigators also recounted how staff members body slammed unruly juveniles, often breaking their bones.

        In May, a reporter toured the Los Angeles County Central Juvenile Hall with Eric Trupin, a consultant hired by the Department of Justice to monitor mental health services in California�s juvenile justice system. Dr. Trupin, a psychologist, said some detainees appeared to be held there for no reason other than that they were mentally ill and the county had no other institution capable of treating them.

        One inmate at the county�s juvenile hall, Eric, 18, was given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and prescribed Risperdal, a powerful antipsychotic, to help him avoid violent flashes of temper.

        A public defender who specializes in juvenile mental health issues, said Eric had been arrested more than 20 times near his South Los Angeles home. Dr. Trupin worried that if Eric is released and arrested again, he will be charged as an adult and enter the Los Angeles County jail, the nation�s largest residential mental institution, with 1,400 mentally ill inmates.

        In the 1960s and �70s, the increasing availability of antipsychotic medications coincided with a national movement to close public mental hospitals. Many private hospitals barred psychotic patients, including juveniles. By the 1980s, juvenile justice systems had become the primary providers of residential psychiatric care for mentally ill youths.

        But as cutbacks have worsened, the debate has intensified over what constitutes adequate mental health care. Often juvenile justice systems have very little to go on when attempting a diagnosis.

        �Often Daddy is nowhere to be found, Mommy might be in jail,� said Daniel Connor, a psychiatrist for the Connecticut juvenile corrections system. �The home phone is cut off. The parent speaks another language, so it�s often hard to figure out exactly what�s going on with each kid..�

        School records often do not arrive with arrested youths, nor do files often come from other corrections institutions. The lack of information is particularly problematic when psychiatrists try to prescribe medications.

        Joseph Parks, medical director for the Missouri Department of Mental Health and a national expert on pharmaceutical drug use in corrections facilities, said many juvenile offenders are prescribed multiple psychiatric drugs as they move from mental health clinics to detention halls to juvenile prisons.

        A decade ago, it was rare to find juvenile offenders on two psychotropic drugs at once, Dr. Parks said. Now, many take three or four at a time, often for nonprescribed uses like helping the youths sleep.

        �If you just give a kid a pill, the prison administration doesn�t have to do anything differently,� he said. �The staff doesn�t have to do anything differently. The guards don�t have to get more training.�

        Census studies of child mental health professionals show chronic shortages. A 2006 study estimated that for every 100,000 youths, there were fewer than nine child psychiatrists. Dr. Penn of Texas said the state youth prison system there recently instituted a system of telepsychiatry sessions, conducting videoconferences between mental health professionals and youths being detained hundreds of miles away.

        Inadequate mental health services increases recidivism. In a February report on psychiatric services at the Ohio River Valley center, Dr. Cheryl Wills, an independent mental health expert, found that officials were unnecessarily extending incarceration for youths who acted out because of their mental illnesses.

        Mr. Stickrath, the director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services, said that one challenge in dealing with large numbers of psychologically ill youths is determining who is �mad versus bad.� He mentioned Donald, whose file he knew by heart.

        �He�s been in 130 fights since he�s been with us, and there were no resources in the small county he�s from to deal with him,� Mr. Stickrath said. �Our staff worked to get him in a sophisticated psychiatric residential program, but they said he had to leave because he was attacking staff.�

        Mr. Stickrath shook his head. �He just wears you out.�

        Mentally Ill Offenders Strain Juvenile System

        13-year-old girl kept in Dallas jail for 2 weeks

        By MATT CURRY
        Aug. 7, 2009

        DALLAS � A 13-year-old girl arrested for shoplifting was held in the Dallas County Jail for nearly two weeks before it was determined that she is underage, a police sergeant said Thursday.

        An internal affairs investigation has been launched to review the matter, police Sgt. Warren Mitchell told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

        The girl, who had run away from home, was arrested July 10 at a Target department store for shoplifting. She held no identification and gave a false name and age, Mitchell said.

        The sergeant said the arresting officer attempted to contact the police youth division to confirm the information but found no record of her. The arresting officer assumed she was 17 and took her to jail, Mitchell said, but did not say how he made that assumption.

        The girl was released from custody July 23 after appearing before a judge and is again listed as a runaway. Meanwhile, an inmate, an acquaintance of the girl's family who had recognized her, phoned her father, who came to police with a birth certificate and other records verifying her real identity and age.

        Mitchell declined to discuss the case further, pending the investigation.

        He said investigators want to find out whether the officer who made the arrest followed policy, and what could be done to prevent the situation from happening again.

        The officer who made the arrest, Sr. Cpl. Roberto Garcia, told The Dallas Morning News that the information that the girl provided him would have made her an adult.

        �It's just the frustrating battle that we have out there in the real world,� Garcia told the newspaper. �I just have a heck of the time when these juveniles won't tell you who they are and they have no ID.�

        Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop, who heads the department's investigations bureau, told the paper that the girl initially identified herself as being 14, which he said should have raised concerns.

        �Everybody believes that should have required an intense level of checking before incarceration,� he said.

        13-year-old girl kept in Dallas jail for 2 weeks

        August 03, 2009

        'TYC boosts education opportunities'

        The title to this post is the headline from an August 1 Abilene Reporter-News story that described the Texas Youth Commission's new "educational improvement plan." Here are some of the salient details:

        This fall, the education improvement plan will be implemented, which officials hope will result in better services, better performance by the youth, and more career opportunities for those who are released.

        The full plan launches officially Sept. 1 at all campuses statewide. It provides accelerated curriculum, allowing youth to take advantage of self-paced study and to advance as rapidly as they can so that when they are released, they may re-enter public school or attend college. The plan also calls for TYC to offer some college courses and to increase reading skills for the students. ...

        The improvement plan will essentially standardize the education at all TYC facilities and align the curriculum with Texas Education Agency requirements.

        Chief components call for proper assessment and placement of all youth in TYC�s educational programming, an accelerated learning system, improved special education services, and integration of students into public schools or colleges.

        �This is going to lower recidivism,� [Dr. Clint] Carpenter said. �We want these kids to have a high school diploma � if we don�t have the input to change their future, we are not going to help these kids.�

        Since Carpenter signed on as the agency�s education superintendent in February, TYC has implemented a number of improvements. In March 2009, every eligible TYC youth took the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test, a first for youth in TYC.

        Additionally, TYC will partner with Navarro College to offer courses to eligible youth in all TYC facilities. And, starting in September, TYC youth will be able to take dual credit and college courses at every campus. ...

        TYC is in negotiations to offer classes from several other colleges and universities including the University of North Texas, University of Texas at Dallas, Tarleton State University, Stephen F. Austin University, and Texas A & M University in Commerce.

        On TYC's website I found this set of bullet points describing highlights of this new education plan, but didn't locate anything more detailed. Though not in all the particulars, in many ways the agency is pursuing of its own accord a similar path to that outlined for it in failed legislation this year, SB 1362 which died for time in the House of Representatives' end-of-session meltdown.

        (See this testimony [pdf] from the Office of Independent Ombudsman supporting the bill.)

        Between expanding services to special-ed students, improving opportunities for more capable students to take college courses, and the new, announced focus on reentry and continuing education during parole, the agency is saying all the right things on this topic. At issue will be whether TYC has the resources and personnel to perform these additional functions.

        N.b., to current and former TYC employees: Grits will resume occasional TYC coverage and reopen comments, with some trepidation, but I will shut these strings down if they're abused. This is not the forum to anonymously gripe about your bosses or coworkers. Please stick to the topic at hand and try to remain constructive.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: juvie corrections, reentry, TYC

        August 2, 2009


        Young Children in Adult Prisons

        To the Editor:
        The American Bar Association agrees with �12 and in Prison� (editorial, July 28). Trying young children in adult courts is terrible public policy.

        We have urged juvenile justice reform for decades. In 2008 the A.B.A. urged state and federal leaders to base juvenile justice policy on three principles: Juvenile sentences should be less punitive than for adults with comparable offenses; sentencing should recognize age- based mitigating factors; and juveniles in penal institutions should generally be eligible for early release.

        As the Supreme Court agreed in 2005, juveniles are less guilty because of inherent adolescent characteristics. Juveniles are less mature, experienced and able to use good judgment and self-restraint, and are more likely to be influenced by others than are adults.

        Between 1985 and 1997, this country doubled the number of youths in adult prisons. By 2001, we were trying 200,000 juveniles in adult courts each year. It�s time we enact reforms.

        H. Thomas Wells Jr.
        President, American Bar Association
        Birmingham, Ala., July 28, 2009

        To the Editor:
        More than 10,000 juveniles are currently incarcerated in adult correctional facilities. Such institutions are not equipped to safely house these young people.

        Research demonstrates that they are at significant risk of attack, injury and suicide. They are also 34 percent more likely to be rearrested than those retained in the juvenile system.

        Despite such findings, more than half the states permit children as young as 12 to be treated as adults for criminal justice purposes. As a result, more than 25,000 juveniles are judicially transferred to adult courts each year.

        Treating juveniles as adults makes it harder for them to rebuild their lives. Our programs and policies should be designed to keep adolescents in appropriate facilities, with access to the comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation services they need.

        Congress and state legislatures should address the issue by strengthening juvenile justice policies and financing programs that keep youth out of adult jails.

        David Fassler
        Burlington, Vt., July 28, 2009

        The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont.

        To the Editor:
        Judging children as children, not as adults, is a policy that I supported as a New York State judge, and one that I advocate as the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City. Your editorial underscores the problem of charging children under 18 with adult crimes. Far too many children are being treated in the adult system, which results in unacceptable recidivism and increasingly violent crimes.

        As a judge, I channeled as many children as possible out of the system by placing them in community-based programs that provided monitoring, counseling and mentoring. A mentor has the ability to open the child�s world to beyond his or her immediate surroundings, making the young person less susceptible to peer pressure, the primary motive for juvenile crime.

        It is clearly time for New York State to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from the current age of 16 (and even in some cases 13 or 14). This way, children under the age of 18 would initially be directed to the family or juvenile court system, where providing social services is the focus.

        A youth of a suitable age could be transferred to the adult court only after a due process judicial hearing in which a child is found not to be amenable to the programs or sanctions available in the juvenile court or in circumstances where the public�s interest would best be served by prosecution in the adult court.

        The goal of a thriving, humane society should be to build bridges of opportunities for our children, not to burn them.

        Michael A. Corriero
        New York, July 29, 2009

        The writer is the author of �Judging Children as Children: A Proposal for a Juvenile Justice System.�

        To the Editor:
        The editorial includes good points and makes good sense. But while the study on which you report was done at the University of Texas at Austin, your recommendation that children be sent to juvenile facilities rather than adult prisons should not be followed in Texas.

        As recent scandals, personnel changes and imminent court cases demonstrate, the Texas juvenile justice system is appalling. Children are held in facilities in the middle of nowhere, far from their families. They are given little training, education or counseling. They are watched over by people who, quite often, are desperate for low-paying guard jobs. They are abused in horrific ways, including rapes, beatings and lengthy isolations.

        Before �sending� a single additional child to a Texas detention facility, you should send an investigative reporter.

        Phyllis Guest
        Dallas, July 28, 2009

        Young Children in Adult Prisons

        Prison's Littlest Victims

        By David C. Fathi
        JULY 30, 2009

        The US criminal justice system may be on the verge of its biggest overhaul in decades. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) is sponsoring a bill to establish a blue-ribbon commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system and make recommendations for reform.

        Legislation has been introduced to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, reduce penalties for some drug offenses, and make other significant changes. As lawmakers consider these reforms, they should remember not only those who are sent to prison, but also the children they leave behind.

        The United States incarcerates more people than any other country on earth, with almost 2.4 million persons behind bars on any given day. That figure, though, actually understates the number of people being locked up; the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a division of the US Department of Justice, estimates that more than 13 million people pass through the nation's jails in a single year.

        Of course being the world's leading prison nation comes with a price tag. The average annual operating cost for a prison bed -- the amount it costs to incarcerate one person for one year -- is about $24,000; in some states, it's more than $40,000. All told, the United States spends about $60 billion a year on locking people up.

        But there are also other, less obvious costs, including the effects on children left behind when parents are sent away to prison.

        Christopher Wildeman, a University of Michigan sociologist who has studied the issue, concludes in a recent article that "parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel-and distinctively American-form of childhood disadvantage."

        How extensive is the problem? A 2008 BJS study estimated that more than 1.7 million children under 18 had a parent in prison as of mid-2007. That's a one-time snapshot; the number of children who have a parent incarcerated at some point during their childhood is much higher. And as the US prison population has surged, so has the number of children with an incarcerated parent, nearly doubling between 1991 and 2007.

        Like every other aspect of the US criminal justice system, parental incarceration falls with crushing disproportionality on African Americans. The BJS study found that as of mid-2007, a black child was about eight times as likely as a white child to have a parent in prison.

        Dr. Wildeman estimates that while the fathers of one in 25 white children born in 1990 had been in prison by the time the child turned 14, for black children born in the same year, the figure was one in four. For black children whose parents didn't finish high school, the figure was more than one in two. Perhaps most ominous, Dr. Wildeman found that racial inequality in rates of parental incarceration is increasing over time.

        In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch documented the harmful effects on children whose parents had been sent to prison for drug offenses in New York state, concluding that children had become "collateral casualties" in the so-called "war on drugs." Some of these effects are obvious and immediate. If the incarcerated parent was a wage- earner, the loss of income hurts the family economically, in some cases leading to poverty or homelessness. If the parent was the sole caretaker of young children, the parent's incarceration may require their placement in foster care. Although there may be rare cases-a physically or sexually abusive parent, for example-in which removing the parent from the home benefits children, for most the loss of a parent to incarceration is a traumatic and devastating event.

        There are other, longer-term consequences as well. There is evidence that children of incarcerated parents are at increased risk for a range of emotional and behavioral problems, including post traumatic stress disorder, problems at school, delinquency, and aggression. One study found that children of incarcerated parents are six times as likely as their peers to end up in prison themselves.

        It's long been fashionable for politicians to boast that they're "tough on crime." But by getting tough on crime, the United States has also gotten tough on children. As we take a long-overdue second look at the policies that have given us the world's highest incarceration rate, let's not forget prison's littlest victims.

        Prisons Littlest Victims


        12 and in Prison

        Published: July 27, 2009

        The Supreme Court sent an important message when it ruled in Roper v. Simmons in 2005 that children under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed were not eligible for the death penalty. Justice Anthony Kennedy drew on compassion, common sense and the science of the youthful brain when he wrote that it was morally wrong to equate the offenses of emotionally undeveloped adolescents with the offenses of fully formed adults.

        The states have followed this logic in death penalty cases. But they have continued to mete out barbaric treatment � including life sentences � to children whose cases should rightly be handled through the juvenile courts.

        Congress can help to correct these practices by amending the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which is up for Congressional reauthorization this year. To get a share of delinquency prevention money, the law requires the states and localities to meet minimum federal protections for youths in the justice system. These protections are intended to keep as many youths as possible out of adult jails and prisons, and to segregate those that are sent to those places from the adult criminal population.

        The case for tougher legislative action is laid out in an alarming new study of children 13 and under in the adult criminal justice system, the lead author of which is the juvenile justice scholar, Michele Deitch, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. According to the study, every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults, and more than 20 states permit preadolescent children as young as 7 to be tried in adult courts.

        This is terrible public policy. Children who are convicted and sentenced as adults are much more likely to become violent offenders � and to return to an adult jail later on � than children tried in the juvenile justice system.

        Despite these well-known risks, policy makers across the country do not have reliable data on just how many children are being shunted into the adult system by state statutes or prosecutors, who have the discretion to file cases in the adult courts.

        But there is reasonably reliable data showing juvenile court judges send about 80 children ages 13 and under into the adult courts each year. These statistics explode the myth that those children have committed especially heinous acts.

        The data suggest, for example, that children 13 and under who commit crimes like burglary and theft are just as likely to be sent to adult courts as children who commit serious acts of violence against people. As has been shown in previous studies, minority defendants are more likely to get adult treatment than their white counterparts who commit comparable offenses.

        The study�s authors rightly call on lawmakers to enact laws that discourage harsh sentencing for preadolescent children and that enable them to be transferred back into the juvenile system.

        Beyond that, Congress should amend the juvenile justice act to require the states to simply end these inhumane practices to be eligible for federal juvenile justice funds.

        A version of this article appeared in print on July 28, 2009, on page A24 of the New York edition.

        12 and in Prison

        Hearing set for TYC sex abuse case

        � 2009 The Associated Press
        July 23, 2009

        MONAHANS, Texas � A pair of former West Texas youth prison officials return to court Thursday in a nearly 5-year-old inmate sexual abuse case.

        John Paul Hernandez and Ray Brookins are both former administrators of the Texas Youth Commission's West Texas State School in Pyote (PYE'-oht). They're are scheduled to appear at a motions hearing in a state district court in Monahans.

        A newly appointed judge in the cases has pledged to rule on a series of outstanding motions. They include requests to move the men's trials from remote Ward County.

        Both men are accused of sexually abusing teen inmates at the Pyote jail more than five years ago. They were indicted in 2007.

        Hearing set for TYC sex abuse case

        July 19, 2009

        Texas sex offender registry includes kids as young as ten

        In the Dallas News this morning, Diane Jennings has a story on Texas' policy of allowing judges to place juveniles as young as 10 years old on the sex offender registry ("Some say sex offender registry ruins a juvenile's 2nd chance," July 19). Here's how the article opens:

        The faces of child sex offenders are startling � chubby cheeks, big eyes, a mop of hair, or wispy strands held back with barrettes. The descriptions on Texas' public registry are equally jolting: 4 feet tall, 65 pounds; 4 feet, 2 inches, 70 pounds.

        "Those are not the people that we're walking around terrified of," says Michele Deitch, a University of Texas law professor.

        The inclusion of children as young as 10 on the state's public sex offender registry is a little-known policy � even to juvenile justice experts such as Deitch.

        "I'm absolutely a little bit shocked that kids that young can be on the list," says Deitch, who teaches juvenile justice policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

        She's stunned because public registration contradicts the purpose of juvenile justice: to give kids a second chance. In the case of some juvenile sex offenders, their criminal records are off limits, but information about their crime is easily accessible on the Internet..

        "It is a terrible situation," Deitch says. "The juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate kids and to make sure that they can change."

        According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there is no minimum age for inclusion on the state list. But a child must be at least 10 to be handled by the state juvenile justice system, so a judge may order an offender that young to register.

        Indeed, writes Jennings, "according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of the Texas sex offender registry, there are about 4,000 people on the registry who were younger than 18 at the time of their crime, including 1,004 younger than 14." Even folks over at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault were "stunned" that children so young were required to register. I actually was aware (from reading the law) that it was possible for children that young to wind up on the registry, but I had no idea that one-quarter of the juveniles registered were under 14 when they committed their offense.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: sex crimes, sex offender registration

        Justice experts say sex offender registry ruins a juvenile's 2nd chance July 19, 2009

        The Dallas Morning News

        The faces of child sex offenders are startling � chubby cheeks, big eyes, a mop of hair, or wispy strands held back with barrettes. The descriptions on Texas' public registry are equally jolting: 4 feet tall, 65 pounds; 4 feet, 2 inches, 70 pounds.

        "Those are not the people that we're walking around terrified of," says Michele Deitch, a University of Texas law professor.

        The inclusion of children as young as 10 on the state's public sex offender registry is a little-known policy � even to juvenile justice experts such as Deitch.

        "I'm absolutely a little bit shocked that kids that young can be on the list," says Deitch, who teaches juvenile justice policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

        She's stunned because public registration contradicts the purpose of juvenile justice: to give kids a second chance. In the case of some juvenile sex offenders, their criminal records are off limits, but information about their crime is easily accessible on the Internet.

        "It is a terrible situation," Deitch says. "The juvenile justice system is designed to rehabilitate kids and to make sure that they can change."

        According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there is no minimum age for inclusion on the state list. But a child must be at least 10 to be handled by the state juvenile justice system, so a judge may order an offender that young to register.

        No child can be certified as an adult in Texas until age 14.

        Shocked though Deitch and others may be, Texas is actually more liberal on juvenile sex offender registration than some states. After experimenting with mandatory registration from 1999 until 2001, registration was left to judicial discretion. Juvenile registration lasts for only 10 years, and those on the list may petition for removal.

        In some states, children can be registered at age 7, though Nicole Pittman, a Philadelphia attorney who monitors juvenile sex offender registration laws nationwide, says adjudication of children younger than 10 is rare.

        Judge Tim Menikos of Fort Worth, past chairman of the juvenile justice section of the State Bar of Texas, says that since mandatory registration ended, judges rarely require juvenile registration. But according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of the Texas sex offender registry, there are about 4,000 people on the registry who were younger than 18 at the time of their crime, including 1,004 younger than 14.

        Only two children currently under 14 are on the registry, but the inclusion of any child that young bothers many, including some victim advocates.

        "I don't think it necessarily supports community safety to put really young children on the registry," says Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

        Burrhus-Clay has been working with sexual assault victims for decades and was stunned to hear young children are included.

        She worries that sexual abuse may go unreported as a result. "If I found my 10-year-old child with my 7-year-old child, I would be very tempted � even after 30 years in the field � not to report my child just to keep them off the registry."

        But not everyone opposes registration of young teens.

        Dianne Clements, president of Justice for All, a Houston-based victims' rights organization, says the state's current system of judicial discretion with juvenile offenders works.

        "We don't want to believe that children can do the types of horrible things that they do," she says. "But they do. And whether they're 13 or 23 years old, they can be as dangerous."

        Nationally, the Adam Walsh Act calls for mandatory registration of sex offenders ages 14 and older. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says, "Congress got it about right by setting that 14-year level." He does, however, favor judicial discretion over mandatory registration.

        "It's important, in our interest in protecting ourselves, that we not throw out all the protections of the juvenile justice system," he says.

        But, he adds, those calling for juvenile registration often speak from painful experience.

        In Wisconsin, teenager Amie Zyla pushed for public registration of juveniles after the 14-year-old boy who molested her when she was 8 assaulted other children after his release from a juvenile facility.

        Texas has also had its share of juvenile sex offender problems.

        In 2005, Jeremiah Sexton, who had a juvenile record for molesting several children in another state, assaulted a 9-year-old girl in Arlington. Because he was not required to register publicly, neighbors were unaware of his past.

        But most juvenile offenders do not re-offend, says Liles Arnold, chairman of the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment.

        "With adolescent offenders, the recidivism rate is very, very low," he says.

        "Adolescents are not simply younger versions of adult offenders. They're highly treatable. They're good candidates for rehabilitation."

        Their chances for rehabilitation may be hampered, Arnold says, by public registration.

        Publicizing their names and addresses often leads to social isolation because parents don't want their kids associating with sex offenders.

        School officials must be notified of the offender's history, and registration makes getting accepted to college or finding work difficult.

        "We're stigmatizing children who have a much better chance of success completing sex offender treatment and never perpetrating again," Burrhus-Clay says.

        Clements, of Justice for All, agrees registration is a "tremendous burden" but says, "it may be a burden that they should bear."

        Frank Zimring doesn't think so. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of An American Travesty: Legal Responses to Adolescent Sexual Offending.

        Zimring says the laws allowing juvenile registration are an accidental byproduct of adult policies.

        "Nobody is making policy for 12-year-olds in American legislatures," the professor says. "What they're doing is they're making crime policy and then almost by accident extending those policies to 12-year-olds � with poisonous consequences."

        Zimring thinks it's inappropriate to register anyone adjudicated as a juvenile � which would be anyone under 18 in Texas.

        "We have a cure for youth crime," he says. "It's growing up."

        Staff researchers Darlean Spangenberger and Molly Motley Blythe contributed to this report.

        Justice experts say sex offender registry ruins a juvenile's 2nd chance

        July 5, 2009

        With More Prisoners Comes a Tide of Troubled Children


        WASHINGTON � Herbert Rashad Scott, whose parents were in and out of prison throughout his childhood, vowed to break his family�s cycle of self-destruction.

        The circumstances were not promising. Mr. Scott, 20, was awaiting sentencing for drug possession and robbery, but he was allowed supervised release from jail in May to attend a job preparation class � a chance to turn his life around. As he spoke, he wriggled his neck, trying to get used to the necktie required, and he tried to ignore the tracking device on his ankle.

        �I had low self-esteem and depression,� Mr. Scott said of his teenage years. Now, his ex-girlfriend was pregnant, and he pondered his child�s prospects.

        �I want to be there for this child, and I want the child to know that jail ain�t no place to be,� he said.

        The chances of seeing a parent go to prison have never been greater, especially for poor black Americans, and new research is documenting the long-term harm to the children they leave behind. Recent studies indicate that having an incarcerated parent doubles the chance that a child will be at least temporarily homeless and measurably increases the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression and problems in school � all portending dimmer prospects in adulthood.

        �Parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel, and distinctly American, childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents,� said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who is studying what some now call the �incarceration generation.�

        Incarceration rates in the United States have multiplied over the last three decades, in part because of stiffer sentencing rules. At any given moment, more than 1.5 million children have a parent, usually their father, in prison, according to federal data. But many more are affected over the course of childhood, especially if they are black, new studies show.

        Among those born in 1990, one in four black children, compared with one in 25 white children, had a father in prison by age 14. Risk is concentrated among black children whose parents are high-school dropouts; half of those children had a father in prison, compared with one in 14 white children with dropout parents, according to a report by Dr. Wildeman recently published in the journal Demography.

        For both blacks and whites, the chances of parental incarceration were far higher than they were for children born just 12 years earlier, in 1978.

        Scholars agree that in some cases children may benefit from a parent�s forced removal, especially when a father is a sexual predator or violent at home. But more often, the harm outweighs any benefits, studies have found.

        If a parent�s imprisonment deprives a struggling family of earnings or child support, the practical consequences can be fairly clear-cut.

        While poor urban children had a 3 percent chance of experiencing a period of homelessness over the previous year, those with an incarcerated parent had a 6 percent chance, one study found.

        Quantifying other effects of parental incarceration, like aggressive behavior and depression, is more complex because many children of prisoners are already living in deprived and turbulent environments.

        But researchers using newly available surveys that follow families over time are starting to home in on the impact.

        Among 5-year-old urban boys, 49 percent of those who had a father incarcerated within the previous 30 months exhibited physically aggressive behaviors like hitting others or destroying objects, compared with 38 percent of those in otherwise similar circumstances who did not have a father imprisoned, Dr. Wildeman found.

        While most attention has been placed on physical aggression, a study by Sara Wakefield, a sociologist following children in Chicago, found that having a parent imprisoned was a mental-health tipping point for some. Thus, while 28 percent of the children in her study over all experienced feelings of social isolation, depression or anxiety at levels that would warrant clinical evaluation or treatment, about 35 percent of those who had an incarcerated parent did.

        Such hidden issues can have lifelong consequences.

        Terrisa Bryant, 20, who was in the same jobs class as Mr. Scott, with a group called Strive, said she grew up resenting her father�s absences, including his time spent in prison. With her mother working day and night to put food on the table, Ms. Bryant was the baby sitter for her younger siblings.

        �I couldn�t go out,� Ms. Bryant said. �I felt isolated.�

        Ms. Bryant said she thought her anger and isolation helped explain why she got pregnant at 14 and had to drop out of school to raise her child. Now, she hopes to get certified for a career in child care.

        With financial woes now forcing many states to rethink the relentless expansion of prisons, �this intergenerational transfer of problems should be included as an additional cost of incarceration to society,� said Sarah S. McLanahan, a sociologist at Princeton University and director of a national survey of families that is providing data for many of the new studies.

        Heather Mac Donald, a legal expert at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research group, agreed that everything possible should be done to help the children of people who were incarcerated. But Ms. Mac Donald said that it was hard to distinguish the effects of having a parent in prison from those of having a parent who is a criminal, and that any evaluation of tough sentencing policies, which she supports, had to weigh the benefits for the larger community. �A large portion of fathers were imprisoned on violence or drug- trafficking charges,� she said. �What would be the effects on other children in the neighborhood if those men are out there?�

        Adam Gaines, 40, of Owings Mills, Md., has firsthand experience of watching his children flounder. He was freed last year after 13 and a half years in prison for robbery. Now, he is trying to be the father he never was to a son who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, another son who is just starting high school and a teenage daughter who had a baby and dropped out of school.

        Mr. Gaines shook his heroin addiction after years in prison, has moved back in with his wife, Tasuha, and is studying to be a fitness teacher.

        When his father was behind bars, said Mr. Gaines�s oldest child, Adam Jr., 19, �I didn�t have a role model, and I had to learn on the streets how to carry myself, what it meant to be a man.�

        Mr. Scott, too, may not be around for his child. Despite his vow to break the cycle of failure and his job preparation class, he disappeared shortly after talking to a reporter in May, apparently to avoid a mandatory drug test, and did not report to his probation officer.

        Mr. Scott was arrested on charges of absconding in the last week of May and is now in a Washington jail awaiting a sentence that could be three years or more � and making it more likely that his child, too, will join the incarceration generation.

        With More Prisoners Comes a Tide of Troubled Children

        June 30, 2009

        Texas juvenile jail sex assault case stalls again

        Associated Press Writer

        MONAHANS, Texas (AP) - More than two years ago, a pair of former administrators at a remote West Texas juvenile prison were indicted on charges accusing them of sexually preying on teenage boys at the facility - a development hailed by the state's attorney general as a first step toward justice in a statewide scandal.

        But the cases have languished in court. And the delay could spell trouble for the prosecution, say attorneys and legal scholars.

        "Memories fade and peoples' commitment to seeing justice done sometimes seems less urgent," said Michele Deitch, a lawyer who teaches juvenile justice policy at the University of Texas in Austin.

        "There are many good reasons why trials are supposed to be held in a timely fashion," she said, "and one is that memories are better; two is that more evidence is available and three is that more people are focused on seeing justice done."

        News accounts revealed that Texas Rangers had found rampant sexual abuse at the prison in 2005, but prosecutors and the Texas Youth Commission took no action. Local District Attorney Randall W. "Randy" Reynolds said the delay was caused by a "breakdown in communication."

        In April 2007, a grand jury handed up indictments against John Paul Hernandez, a former principal at the West Texas State School, and Ray Brookins, a former assistant superintendent. The two men were accused of engaging in illegal sexual activity with teenagers at the lockup over several months in 2004 and 2005.

        Hernandez and Brookins have pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.

        Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said at the time that the indictments brought the victims "a step closer to the justice they deserve."

        Justice took a small step last week as the cases were transferred to a new judge.

        "After nearly two years of unnecessary delays, these cases need to proceed to trial," said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott, who took over the high-profile cases in 2007 after the allegations were made public.

        Prosecutors repeatedly asked District Judge Bob Parks to set trial dates, he said. But nothing happened.

        The cases were transferred Thursday to an Odessa judge, Jay Gibson. Court records do not show why Parks was removed, or at whose request.

        Parks had not ruled on several motions, including requests from both Hernandez's lawyer and prosecutors to move the trial.

        Parks has declined to discuss the cases.

        Brookins was set to stand trial last year but the case was postponed after his lawyer missed court hearings following his own arrest on undisclosed charges.

        An Odessa lawyer, Bob Garcia Jr., was appointed to represent Brookins in December. Garcia did not return several messages seeking comment.

        Hernandez was also set to stand trial last summer in Odessa. That date also was canceled, though court records don't indicate why. Albert G. Valadez, Hernandez's lawyer, also did not return messages seeking comment.

        Rod Ponton, a former Presidio County Attorney now in private practice in Alpine, said the delay is baffling.

        "In my trial experience, it should have been tried before now," said Ponton, who has handled cases in Parks' court. "I know Judge Parks and he's a good fellow, but I know he's had some health problems that have kept him off the bench."

        Ponton, who has been a prosecutor and defense lawyer, said the delays are likely to help the defense.

        Deitch, who was part of a committee that recommended changes to TYC in the wake of the sex abuse allegations, said she too is puzzled that such high-profile cases haven't been brought to trial.

        The scandal upended TYC, the agency responsible for housing and rehabilitating. Several people, including the agency's top two officials, were fired or forced out of TYC.

        The allegations also prompted an agency-wide overhaul that included investigations at all of TYC's facilities.

        "Given that these incidents led to the revamping and reorganization of an entire state organization, there's something very disturbing that this case hasn't been resolved," Deitch said.

        June 29, 2009

        New judge in TYC sex abuse cases

        Finally, a new judge has been appointed in the TYC sex-abuse cases out of the West Texas State School, so we can likely expect a trial date to be set sooner than later. The state had been ready since last year but the district judge in Ward County had refused to set a trial date.

        Reported AP:

        An Odessa judge is now handling the cases against two former West Texas youth prison officials accused of repeatedly sexually abusing teenage inmates.

        Court records show District Judge Jay Gibson was appointed Thursday to the case against John Paul Hernandez and Ray Brookins, both former administrators at a Texas Youth Commission jail in Pyote.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: sex crimes, TYC

        Sex abuse case against TYC officials stalls again

        June 29, 2009

        MONAHANS, Texas -- When legislators and prosecutors realized a sex abuse case at a remote West Texas juvenile prison had languished in the hands of a local district attorney for two years, they vowed to move the case swiftly forward as the graphic allegations created a statewide scandal.

        But more than two years after the indictments and nearly five years after the allegations were first brought to a Texas Rangers investigator, the cases remain stalled in court.

        While the case being transferred last week to a new judge represents a small degree of movement, civil rights and legal experts say the cases against Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez could be in trouble.

        "Memories fade and peoples' commitment to seeing justice done sometimes seems less urgent," said Michele Deitch, a lawyer who teaches juvenile justice policy at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Policy at the University of Texas in Austin. "There are many good reasons why trials are supposed to be held in a timely fashion and one is that memories are better, two is that more evidence is available and three is that more people are focused on seeing justice done."

        Both men, accused of assualting teens, have pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing.

        A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who took over the high-profile cases after the 2-year-old allegations were made public in 2007, said earlier this month that prosecutors have repeatedly asked District Judge Bob Parks in Ward County in vain to schedule trial dates.

        "After nearly two years of unnecessary delays, these cases need to proceed to trial," Strickland said.

        Thursday the case was transferred to an Odessa judge, Jay Gibson.

        Court records do not show why Parks was removed, or at whose request.

        Sexual abuse allegations about sexual abuse at the Pyote prison were first brought to the Texas Rangers in early 2005. Before passing the case to Abbott's office, local District Attorney Randall W. "Randy" Reynolds said the initial delay was caused by a "breakdown in communication."

        Parks, whose jurisdiction includes rural Reeves, Ward and Loving counties in West Texas about 250 miles east of El Paso, has declined to discuss the cases.

        Brookins, a former assistant superintendent at the remote juvenile prison, was set to stand trial last year but the case was postponed after his lawyer stopped attending court hearings following his own arrest on undisclosed charges.

        An Odessa lawyer, Bob Garcia Jr., was appointed to represent Brookins in December. Garcia did not return several messages seeking comment.

        Hernandez, a former assistant principal at the TYC jail, was also set to stand trial last summer in Odessa. That date also was canceled, though court records don't indicate why. Albert G. Valadez, Hernandez's lawyer, also did not return messages seeking comment.

        Parks has not ruled on several motions, including requests from both Hernandez's lawyer and prosecutors to move the trial.

        Rod Ponton, a former Presidio County Attorney who is now in private practice in Alpine, said the delay is baffling.

        "In my trial experience, it should have been tried before now," said Ponton, who has handled cases in Parks' court. "I know Judge Parks and he's a good fella, but I know he's had some health problems that have kept him off the bench."

        Ponton, who has been both a prosecutor and defense lawyer, said the delays are likely to help the defense.

        Deitch, who was part of a committee that recommended changes to TYC in the wake of the sex abuse allegations, said beyond the concern over witnesses the delays are also interesting because the cases led to a complete overhaul of the state's youth prison system.

        "Given that these incidents led to the revamping and reorganization of an entire state organization, there's something very disturbing that this case hasn't been resolved," Deitch said.

        The scandal upended TYC, the agency responsible for housing and rehabilitating. Several people, including the agency's top two officials, were fired or forced out of TYC.

        The allegations also prompted an agency-wide overhaul that included investigations at all of TYC's facilities.

        Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

        Sex abuse case against TYC officials stalls again

        Texas youth prison sex scandal lingers in court

        Associated Press Writer � 2009
        The Associated Press
        June 18, 2009

        EL PASO, Texas � More than two years after a West Texas grand jury indicted two former state youth prison officials on charges alleging they repeatedly sexually abused teenage inmates, trial dates still have not been set.

        Now the Texas Civil Rights Project wants to know what's holding up the prosecutions of Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez, both former administrators at the Texas Youth Commission's West Texas State School in Pyote, a remote jail about 230 miles east of El Paso.

        In a letter sent to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Thursday, the group complained that victims in the cases are not getting the justice promised them after the April 2007 indictments of Brookins, the jail's former assistant principal, and Hernandez, the former principal.

        "They (victims) are not one step closer to justice 26 months later," wrote James C. Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "In fact, they are stymied in their effort to find justice � and that is precisely our concern and complaint to you."

        Abbott's office took over the case after the allegations, laid out in a lengthy and graphic Texas Ranger report, were made public in 2007.

        The local prosecutor was given the report in 2005. A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately comment Thursday on the letter or the case.

        Officials in Ward County, where the cases may be tried, said Thursday that trial dates have not been set and there are no upcoming hearing dates.

        Since the indictments were issued, the cases have stalled in part because Brookins didn't have a lawyer for several months last year.

        Court records show that Brookins' one-time attorney, Scott M. Dolin, stopped appearing in court early last year after being arrested on an undisclosed charge. District Judge Bob Parks in Ward County, where the case may be tried, appointed Brookins a defense lawyer in December after he repeatedly promised but failed to hire his own attorney.

        Brookins' court appointed lawyer, Bob Garcia Jr., was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

        The sex abuse scandal upended the state agency responsible for jailing juvenile offenders in Texas and led the resignations or firings of several top agency officials.

        Texas youth prison sex scandal lingers in court

        Final deal on TYC

        By Mike Ward
        May 30, 2009

        Senate and House negotiators are reporting a deal on the two final sticking points on a bill to continue the operations of the Texas Youth Commission and Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.

        Details: A new oversight board will include only one chief juvenile probation officer, not three, and both agencies will face a sunset review again in two years.

        The Senate wanted three CPOs on the new board. The House wanted less.

        The House wanted a 12-year extension on sunset review. The Senate wanted two.

        The agreement now goes back to the Senate and House for final approval, probably tomorrow.

        Final deal on TYC

        Townsend confirmed as TYC chief

        By Mike Ward
        May 21, 2009

        Cherie Townsend, the executive commissioner of the embattled Texas Youth Commission, was just confirmed by the Texas Senate.


        Had she not been confirmed by the Senate, as required by the Texas Constitution, she would have been out of a job on June 2.

        She was hired last October, the agency�s fifth top administrator in two years as the commission worked to recover from a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal. Since then, her agency has faced legislative calls to be abolished or merged amid a continuing downsizing.

        Earlier this week, the agency�s ombudsman resigned after senators said privately they would not confirm his nomination. He is moving to another agency job.

        A Senate vote on Townsend�s nomination had been delayed for weeks, until after budget conferees agreed on a budget for the agency. They did so on Tuesday.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Categories: Criminal justice

        Townsend confirmed as TYC chief

        TYC ombudsman to change jobs

        By Mike Ward
        May 20, 2009

        Will Harrell, the Texas Youth Commission whose nomination appeared to be derailed in the state Senate, will become the agency�s director of special projects come June 1, agency officials just announced.

        Word surfaced yesterday in the Senate that Harrell�s nomination was in trouble.

        Without being confirmed by the Senate, he would have been out of a job at the end of this month.

        The agency said in a statement that Harrell, appointed as the agency�s first ombudsman two years ago, �will participate in the search for a new ombudsman and other TYC transition issues.�

        �I am honored to have served as ombudsman for the last two years as we implemented significant changes to improve the operations throughout the TYC system,� Harrell said in the statement. �I remain committed to this agency in my new capacity and am excited to be a partner and participate in the transition.�

        Gov. Rick Perry, who now has to come up with a new nominee as ombudsman, praised Harrell�s service.

        �Will has served TYC well as ombudsman during a challenging time in the agency and his hard work, and dedication will continue to benefit the youth and their rehabilitation at TYC facilities,� Perry said in a statement.

        As the agency�s first ombudsman, Harrell was credited with developing a program to protect the rights of incarcerated youth. His office conducted 211 site visits to TYC facilities, facilitated the resolution of nearly 400 youth complaints and worked directly with 2,930 youth, according to the Youth Commission.

        The Youth Commission statement continues: �Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend noted that Harrell will continue to be an important voice for youth within the agency.

        �Will�s new position will allow him to implement the reform policies he worked to create, as well as monitor that implementation,� Townsend said. �I also hope he will help create additional youth empowerment projects that will further improve the agency.�

        Rumored replacement: Shanda Perkins, Perry�s nominee for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles whose nomination was busted last week by the Senate. She has said she has previous work experience in counseling troubled youths.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        TYC ombudsman to change jobs

        Two TYC lockups on closure list, again

        By Mike Ward
        May 19, 2009

        Legislative budget negotiators this morning agreed to try again to close two underutilized Texas Youth Commission lockups, but bowed to House opposition to let both stay open for another year.

        Several senators decried the decision, charging that one of the lockups � the Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon � has failed fire and safety inspections and is unsafe.

        �We should be concerned about the safety of the kids who are there,� said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, a member of the budget committee. �These facilities are not needed � I want to make sire these facilities close.�

        Two years ago, the closure of both Victory Field and the West Texas State School in remote Pyote was directed by legislative leaders as a part of sweeping reforms that were approved after the Youth Commission was wracked by a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal.

        But Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs a special legislative committee overseeing the reforms, said Youth Commission disregarded that mandate and left both lockups open using unspent monies from its other accounts.

        �How do we make sure they close them in a year? I don�t know,� he said, noting that both will soon be be unneeded as the agency�s population of youthful offenders continues to drop. In the past two years, that population has dropped from more than 4,000 to less than 2,000 � with further reductions expected as new community-based treatment and rehabilitation programs start operation later this year.

        The budget for both lockups is about $11.5 million a year, according to the draft budget. More than 150 staff members work at the two sites.

        An earlier tentative deal was to turn the Pyote lockup into a National Guard training center, and to use the Vernon site for expanded programs at a nearby state mental hospital. Facing House opposition, that compromise fell apart days ago, negotiators said.

        �Having the fox guarding the hen house like this is not wise,� Shapiro said, suggesting that Victory Field be shuttered now because it is not safe.

        But Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, a native of Vernon, said the issues with the two lockups are not the same. While the Pyote center is remote, Victory Field is not � and has a high success rate with its programs.

        �If the notion is to move everything to the cities, then that�s a policy debate we should have,� Duncan said. �If you�re going to close it, then okay, but I don;lt think that�s right.�

        While he suggested the fire-safety issues could be repaired, other senators said that makes little sense for a lockup � housed in former Army Air Force buildings dating to World War II � that will soon be closed.

        �We should not use kids as economic stimulus � which is what we�re doing here,� Whitmire said. �I don�t know why you�d fix up something that there�s not going to be any demand for.�

        West Texas now houses 48 youths, less than half what it did a year ago. Victory Field houses 96, down slightly from a year ago.

        House negotiators who insisted on keeping both lockups open for at least another year said a proper transition for the Youth Commission is important. �This is a transition � may not be as quickly as some might like, but it is a transition,� said Rep. Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

        Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said Victory Field should be closed now. �We�re looking at a facility that is unsafe,� he said.

        But Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the provision to leave both lockups open for another year �is a carefully crafted compromise� that, if undone, could delay a final budget.

        �We have one opinion in the Senate. There is another opinion in the House,� he said. �This is an attempt to address the legitimate concerns in the Senate.�

        The budget negotiators then approved the compromise.

        Other provisions of the recommended Youth Commission, which we reported in Postcards several days ago:

        The agency budget will be $210 million a year, less than was recommended earlier by the Senate and much less than was recommended in the House budget.

        The agency will have to further reduce its staffing as its population drops.

        Around $60 million will be funded for new community-based rehabilitation and treatment programs, more than the Senate earlier recommended. The House did not include funding for those programs.

        Those local programs were a key element of the 2007 reforms, a move designed to keep youths closer to home and out of state-run lockups where recidivism rates are high.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Categories: Criminal justice

        Two TYC lockups on closure list, again

        Harrell stepping down as TYC ombudsman

        May 19, 2009
        Emily Ramshaw/Reporter

        Texas Youth Commission ombudsman Will Harrell is resigning effective June 1, and will become the agency's director of special projects. The announcement isn't public yet, and is expected to come tomorrow.

        Harrell said the new job is exactly what he wants to do, and that it's been in the works for some time. He said he'll be working directly with agency executive director Cherie Townsend to implement many of the new policies and procedures that have developed in the last two years, following the agency's 2007 sexual abuse scandal.

        "The way I look at it, we've pushed the boulder to the top of the hill. Now we need to start the hard work of pushing it over the edge," Harrell said. "I couldn't be happier."

        It's unclear whether there's a frontrunner for the ombudsman position.

        Harrell, the former director of the Texas ACLU, was named ombudsman in the aftermath of the abuse scandal. He was an outspoken juvenile justice advocate beforehand.

        It's unclear why he's switching jobs right now. Some political observers say It's possible he would've faced a tough road getting confirmed in the Senate -- and that date was fast approaching.

        Harrell stepping down as TYC ombudsman

        Deal reached on TYC

        By Mike Ward
        May 15, 2009

        Senate and House negotiators reached agreement this morning on lingering budget issues at the long-troubled Texas Youth Commission, agreeing to a slimmed-down budget and an expansion of community-based treatment programs.

        Two lingering issues: Whether to close two additional Youth Commission lockups, and whether to sunset the agency again in two years.

        Approval of the budget issues marks a first step toward resolution of what has been a thorny, high-profile fiscal issue during the legislative session.

        At a morning meeting, conferees from both chambers agreed a budget of $210 million a year; a reduction in the agency�s population of incarcerated youths to 1,800 by 2011, down from more than 4,000 two years ago; and a reduction in staffing from 4,300 to 3,700.

        The Senate earlier approved a budget for the Youth Commission of about $215 million a year, and the House approved roughly $240 million a year.

        In addition, conferees approved $48 million for new community-based treatment and rehabilitation programs that are designed to divert youths in local programs, rather than sending them to a remote state lockup.

        That will bring total funding for those programs to about $95 million during the next two years, conferees said.

        Still pending is whether to close the West Texas State School in remote Pyote, and the Victory Field lockup in Vernon. The Senate voted earlier to shutter both because of the agency�s declining population; the House is holding out to keep both open, lawmakers have said.

        Negotiators late this morning were also discussing whether to �sunset� the agency in two years, as the Senate wants, rather than in 12 years as the House desires.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Deal reached on TYC

        May 09, 2009

        Legislature 'picking on kids'?

        Christy Hoppe at the Dallas News last week noticed a trend at the Texas Legislature of the Lege injecting itself in the role of parent ("Are proposed laws at the Texas Legislature picking on kids?," May 3):

        Lawmakers don't want kids driving after 10 p.m., buying cigarettes or climbing into tanning beds. ...

        Teenagers appear to be a target for lawmakers this year; everyone knows they need protection from their own self-destructiveness, and they can't vote.

        Lawmakers cite safety issues, but a few, such as [Jodie] Laubenberg, are starting to raise questions about parental rights as several measures move through the Legislature.

        They include a number of restrictions on drivers under 18, including no text messaging or talking on cellphones without a hands-free device. Legislators also apparently believe that no good can come after 10 p.m. They propose that those 17 or younger shouldn't be driving after that hour � a change from the current midnight curfew.

        "None of us would want to target any age group, but 17 and younger are inexperienced and still developing judgment and are prone to danger," said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, whose bill with the 10 p.m. curfew has cleared the Senate and is pending in the House.

        "The Legislature continues to try and find the appropriate balance between good policies and parenting," Carona said. "Government couldn't and shouldn't try to raise their kids, but where and when we can, we should find appropriate measures to protect them."

        House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said he favors the restrictions on driving while texting or phoning for young motorists, although he's not sure the earlier curfew is going to win House support.

        "While I know it's like we're attacking young people, it's really helping them," Pickett said. "It's not that we want to be restrictive."

        Pickett's last comment sums it up, doesn't it? It reminds me of Ronald Reagan's famous quip that the scariest words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." Pickett is certainly right that it's "like" they're "attacking young people." That's how the young people see it, no doubt, and perhaps also their parents whose decisions are being usurped.

        One recalls that when the United States attacked Iraq, President Bush said we were "helping" them, too. (Note to policymakers: "Helping" and "attacking" are not synonyms!)

        Why it should be up to the government and not their parents whether a teen wears a cowboy hat or a helmet in a rodeo or uses a tanning bed is beyond me.

        As with many new laws passed each session, much of this falls under the heading (in my book, anyway) of "none of the government's damn business."

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: juvie corrections, overcriminalization


        Deal on TYC funding could be near

        By Mike Ward
        May 08, 2009

        After months of skirmishing over the next stage of reforms at the embattled Texas Youth Commission, House and Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement Thursday to finance new community-based treatment programs, close two more state-run lockups and begin cutting money to the agency if its population drops.

        In addition, negotiators and others familiar with the closed-door talks said the agency will undergo a so-called sunset process again in two years � instead of 12 as approved last week by the House � to ensure that reforms are still progressing.

        If the deal holds, as outlined, it would resolve the largest outstanding funding issue for state criminal justice programs and remove a potential last-minute hitch for one of the highest-profile reform projects of the legislative session.

        "I think we have an agreement in concept," said Senate Finance Committee Vice Chairman Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said after morning talks that seemed to bring the two sides close to a final deal.

        "One of our main objectives was to keep young people in their communities, if at all possible, and to move ahead with the reforms we started two years ago. We're getting there."

        Though House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Richard Pe�a Raymond, D-Laredo, emphasized that final details are to be ironed out early next week, he acknowledged, "We're all in agreement with where we're moving."

        In recent weeks, the tone between the two chambers has at times not been harmonious. Legislative leaders in the Senate and House as recently as last week appeared far apart on most issues.

        The Senate approved a budget that slashed the Youth Commission's budget, ordered two lockups closed and funded new community-based rehabilitation programs. The House gave the agency full funding, closed no lockups and funded no community programs.

        There is now tentative agreement among legislative leaders that they can fully fund the agency's needs for about what the Senate earlier agreed to allocate: about $430 million. That could be accomplished through the closure of two lockups, staffing changes and a shuffling of resources.

        The West Texas State School in Pyote, in remote West Texas, and the Victory Field lockup in Vernon, in North Texas, would be closed.

        According to lawmakers familiar with the talks, the tentative deal would provide as much as $60 million for community-based, locally run rehabilitation and treatment programs for teenage lawbreakers. The Senate earlier proposed $35 million in funding.

        If the Youth Commission's population continues to shrink, as it has for two years, so would its budget � although not below the funding necessary to ensure its programs are effective, negotiators said. The freed-up money could then be used to expand the community-based programs even more. The population hovered around 2,000 youths last month. Two years ago, it was about twice that number.

        mward@statesman.com - 512-445-1712

        Deal on TYC funding could be near

        State auditor: TYC must investigate mistreatment quicker

        May 05, 2009
        Emily Ramshaw/Reporter

        The Texas Youth Commission, in recovery from a 2007 sexual abuse scandal, still does not investigate allegations of mistreatment in a timely manner, the State Auditor's Office said Tuesday.

        The auditor's report (linked here) -- the TYC's first since it implemented sweeping reform legislation in 2007 -- says the agency has made great strides uncovering abuse and strengthening security.

        But it notes that the TYC took an average of 100 days to complete an abuse or neglect investigation - compared to 57 days in 2006, before the abuse scandal broke. The agency requires them to be complete in 30 days.

        "TYC should evaluate whether [it has] the staffing resources necessary to complete investigations within the required time frames," the report states.

        The other findings in the report, after the jump:

        --The TYC violated state procurement rules while it was under conservatorship, failing to competitively bid 11 contracts totaling $19.5 million. In one circumstance, the TYC paid a prison contractor $1.3 million in start-up funds, even though no youth were in the facility.

        --The agency still has not increased the number of certified sex offender counselors needed in its treatment programs. Only 6 of 27 counselors are certified in the field.

        --The TYC continues to operate two youth lock-ups it said it intended to close, costing $21.8 million in fiscal year 2008.

        --In some circumstances, managers at youth lock-ups failed to report incidents of mistreatment to the agency's Office of Inspector General.

        "TYC should continue to strengthen its management of state resources, including contracts, staffing levels and facilities, and its intake and investigation processes," the report notes.

        State auditor: TYC must investigate mistreatment quicker

        Audit: TYC still needs improvement

        Associated Press
        May 5, 2009

        AUSTIN � The Texas Youth Commission did not follow competitive- bidding laws in awarding some contracts, spent money on two lockups that were supposed to be closed and did not ensure that mistreatment allegations were investigated quickly enough, a state audit revealed today.

        The State Auditor�s Office reported that while the agency improved its investigation of alleged mistreatment, strengthened its security and monitoring of youths and made progress in its management, it falls short in some areas.

        Scrutiny of the TYC has been intense since early 2007, when a sex abuse scandal broke that resulted in a housecleaning of most top management. On Monday, the Texas House unanimously approved maintaining the Texas Youth Commission as a separate entity until at least 2021, contradicting a Senate proposal to roll the state�s juvenile prison system in with the juvenile probation system.

        Responding to the state audit, Cherie Townsend, executive commissioner of the commission, said the agency generally agrees with most of the conclusions and the recommendations, the Austin American- Statesman reported. TYC�s priorities have been driven by a 2007 reform bill the Legislature passed, Townsend�s letter states.

        Since 2007, the agency has seen its population of incarcerated youths drop from 4,809 to 2,419 by last month, according to the report.

        While the agency has implemented about 72 percent of the recommendations in an earlier audit, the new report recommends that �TYC should continue to strengthen its management of state resources, including contracts, staffing levels and facilities, and its intake and investigation processes.�

        Auditors cited the following problems:

        �TYC did not competitively bid 11 contracts totaling $19.5 million that it awarded while the agency was in conservatorship from March 2007 to October 2008.

        �The commission has not increased the number of certified sex offender counselors in its treatment programs or retained necessary documentation to support its staffing projections for juvenile correctional officers for fiscal years 2008 and 2009.

        �In fiscal year 2007, TYC proposed closing five residential facilities. As a result, the Legislature reduced TYC�s appropriations for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. But TYC continues to operate the Victory Field Correctional Academy and the West Texas State School, which were two of the facilities the commission proposed closing. TYC reported spending $21.8 million in fiscal year 2008 to operate these two facilities.

        �TYC did not ensure that its Office of Inspector General received and investigated all reported allegations of mistreatment or initiated and completed investigations of alleged mistreatment within 30 days as required by agency policy.

        Audit: TYC still needs improvement

        House: TYC sunset review in 12 years

        By Mike Ward
        May 4, 2009

        By a vote of 140-0, the Texas House today finally approved keeping the embattled Texas Youth Commission as a separate agency until 2021, rejecting a proposal to merge the state�s juvenile prison system into a new agency.

        In doing so, the Lower Chamber set up a possible showdown with the Texas Senate, where leaders want to continue the Youth Commission for just two more years �� along with significant downsizing in the Youth Commission�s budget that the House opposes.

        The House also continued the operations of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission for 12 years, turning back a Sunset Advisory Commission recommendation last fall that the Youth Commission be merged into the probation commission to provide for a seamless system of juvenile corrections in Texas.

        The Sunset Commission�s report detailed how the two agencies had not worked together, resulting in a continuing disconnect in services and programs offered juvenile offenders in Texas.

        As a part of the House-approved bill, a new oversight council will be created to implement a long-term improvement plan for the juvenile justice system and help the two agencies work more closely together.

        In 2007, the Youth Commission was embroiled in a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal. The Legislature approved sweeping reforms to curb the abuses and, since then, the agency has seen its population in incarcerated teen-agers drop by nearly half.

        Even so, agency officials have requested about the same budget as before. The Senate earlier approved a budget of almost $50 million less, saying it needed less funds because it has less children, and the House approved almost what Youth Commission officials requested.

        In its budget, Senate leaders have proposed funding several new community-based treatment and rehabilitation programs that could leave the Youth Commission holding even fewer offenders than it holds now.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Categories: Criminal justice

        House passes TYC sunset bill

        By Mike Ward
        May 2, 2009

        The Texas House on Saturday took the next step in reforms for the troubled Texas Youth Commission, approving a bill that would give the agency at least 12 more years� life.

        The Sunset Advisory Commission last fall recommended the agency be abolished and merged with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to provide an integrated system of juvenile justice in Texas.

        Senate leaders have proposed significant cuts in the Youth Commission�s budget, with the savings to be used to fund community-based rehabilitation and treatment programs to replace several of the Youth Commission�s state-run lockups.

        The House plan would continue the operatios of the two agencies for 12 years, at which time legislative leaders say the merger can be reviewed again.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        House passes TYC sunset bill

        Texas House OKs plan to keep youth prison agency separate

        May 2, 2009
        Associated Press

        AUSTIN � The Texas House on Saturday tentatively approved keeping the Texas Youth Commission a separate entity until 2021, skirting recommendations to roll the duties of the state's juvenile prison system into a new state agency.

        The Sunset Advisory Commission periodically reviews state agencies to eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency. In January, it recommended that TYC and the state's juvenile probation system by abolished and their duties rolled into a new Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

        The House sunset bill instead creates an oversight board to help coordinate and improve the two agencies. The bill also requires the sunset commission to report back to lawmakers in 2011 on where TYC is in enacting reforms.

        Those reforms were created by the 2007 Legislature after alleged sexual abuse of inmates by TYC staff.

        Texas House OKs plan to keep youth prison agency separate


        Former fans of TYC reforms now the foes

        They say latest plans haven't been vetted; others say it's more about money.

        By Mike Ward
        April 25, 2009

        Two years ago, state Rep. Jim McReynolds argued, pleaded and almost cried for reforms at the scandal-racked Texas Youth Commission, where teenage lawbreakers had been sexually abused and management was in disarray.

        The general consensus: Incarcerate and rehabilitate more juvenile offenders closer to home, rather than send them to isolated lockups.

        Jim McReynolds is resisting proposed changes.

        "What we're doing now is just a start. In two years, we need to take the next steps to truly transform our juvenile justice system into a national model by treating more of these kids in their communities," McReynolds, D-Lufkin, told a special legislative committee at the time.

        But now, McReynolds and other lawmakers who sought similar reforms are locked in a war of words with colleagues who are pushing to jump-start those community treatment programs in the new state budget.

        McReynolds and the other House members who are resisting the shift say the changes are coming too fast, too soon.

        "It's interesting that some of the people � legislators and special-interest groups � who wanted reforms two years ago now seem to be against them," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who has been involved for months in the development of the community-based programs. Whitmire calls them "the next step of reform" programs that the Legislature asked the counties in 2007 to develop.

        "They appear to be trying to protect the bloated bureaucracies that we continue to try to reform," Whitmire said. "It's amazing."

        McReynolds, who now chairs the House Corrections Committee, which oversees juvenile justice issues, and several of his colleagues bristle at that suggestion.

        "Absolutely nothing could be farther from the truth," he said. "We're not fighting reforms in the least, so long as those reforms spend money in a way that's accountable, for programs that are proven, in ways that won't jeopardize the wonderful agencies we already have in place to oversee juvenile offenders."

        At issue is funding for the Youth Commission, which incarcerates youths, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which oversees locally run youth probation programs, versus at least five local rehabilitation and treatment programs that could significantly reduce the numbers of youths sent to Youth Commission lockups � at significant savings to the state.

        State statistics show that it cost about $99,000 a year to incarcerate one offender in a Youth Commission lockup in 2008. County-run programs propose doing the same for between $64,000 and $81,000.

        Under the Senate plan, at least $40 million would be whacked from the downsized Youth Commission's budget � funding would be about $430 million � to pay for the new programs. The House budget would give the Youth Commission $474 million, which includes some additional money for new programs.

        Lawmakers say both agencies oppose the cuts and, to some degree, the new programs, unless they have control over them.

        "A lot of this is about turf and these agencies not wanting to change," Whitmire said. "If you think anything different, you're kidding yourself."

        Even so, Cherie Townsend, the Youth Commission's executive commissioner, and Vicki Spriggs, executive director of the Juvenile Probation Commission, testified at a Wednesday hearing of the joint Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee that they support the new programs.

        "I would hope that we don't move to TYC just being a large institutional model," Townsend said. She said she wants to ensure that her agency "is adequately funded." She suggested trying the programs "in a small way."

        In recent months, about a third of Texas' counties have presented Senate leaders with proposals to begin rehabilitating hundreds more youths in local programs that they say have proven low recidivism and follow a model endorsed by juvenile justice experts.

        In fact, most, if not all, would guarantee to send only a limited number of offenders to Youth Commission custody � far fewer than they now do � and to reimburse the state if they exceed those targets.

        If all those plans were adopted � the Travis County and Dallas County programs have been funded in the Senate version of the budget, though the House budget funds none � the Youth Commission could see its incarcerated population drop from about 2,000 to less than 1,500 � a change that Whitmire and other proponents say should further reduce the agency's spending. The agency's population has already dropped by about half from two years ago.

        The Youth Commission would then be reserved for "the worst of the worst, the kids who commit serious or violent crimes, who need to be in a secure, state-run setting," said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who has supported the local programs.

        Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he supports the diversion of more youths to local programs but is concerned about taking too much money from the Youth Commission.

        "There are fears that we're going to suck all the money out of TYC ... so they can't do their job," said Hinojosa, an author of the 2007 reform plan, echoing sentiments from Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.

        Added Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston: "I have a concern that we don't leave TYC as a junior of TDCJ," referring to the adult prison system, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

        Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, an author of the 2007 reforms, said he supports the local programs and using the savings from a downsized Youth Commission for them.

        "This was the road we started on two years ago, yes ... but some people may just now be realizing that," he said.

        Some lawmakers are upset at the possible closings of two lockups � the West Texas State School in Pyote and Victory Field in Vernon � which aren't funded in the Senate budget.

        The House budget would leave both open.

        McClendon and McReynolds say they want to ensure that the local programs can be properly monitored and audited, that they can produce results and that they don't take necessary funds away from the Youth Commission.

        "While I think we agree this is the second stage of reforms that everyone wanted ... (and) had hoped would come when we began this two years ago, a number of us want to make sure they're done right," McReynolds said. "By putting these programs in their budget, the Senate decided to do something that was not vetted on the House side. That's really what we're working out now."

        mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

        Former fans of TYC reforms now the foes

        TYC reforms cause rift among lawmakers

        April 25, 2009

        AUSTIN � State lawmakers who once backed reforms for Texas� troubled youth jail system now worry that changes are being driven by money.

        At the height of concern over the state of the Texas Youth Commission�s jail system, state Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, argued for reforms at the scandal-racked TYC, where teenage lawbreakers had been sexually abused and management was in disarray.

        The general consensus among lawmakers was to incarcerate and rehabilitate the young offenders closer to home instead of sending them to isolated jails.

        Now McReynolds and others are fighting with colleagues who are pushing to use the new state budget to jump-start those community treatment programs.

        McReynolds opposes the newest plan, insisting that the changes are coming too fast, too soon.

        �It�s interesting that some of the people � legislators and special- interest groups � who wanted reforms two years ago now seem to be against them,� said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, in an online story for the Austin American-Statesman. Whitmire has been involved in the creation of the community-based programs. Whitmire calls them �the next step of reform� programs that legislators asked the counties to develop in 2007.

        �They appear to be trying to protect the bloated bureaucracies that we continue to try to reform,� Whitmire said. �It�s amazing.�

        McReynolds, now chairman of the House Correction Committee, which oversees juvenile justice issues, and others are upset at that suggestion.

        �Absolutely nothing could be farther from the truth,� he said.

        The main issue is funding for TYC, which jails juveniles, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which oversees locally run youth probation programs, versus at least five local rehabilitation and treatment programs that could dramatically reduce the numbers of teens sent to TYC lockups, saving the state money.

        According to state statistics, it cost about $99,000 a year to jail a teen in a TYC jail in 2008. But county-run programs propose doing the same for between $64,000 and $81,000.

        The Senate plan being pitched would cut at least $40 million from the trimmed-down TYC budget to pay for the new community-based plan, while the House proposal would add some money for new programs.

        Some lawmakers are also upset at the possible shuttering of two jails � the West Texas State School in Pyote and Victory Field in Vernon � which aren�t funded in the Senate budget.

        TYC reforms cause rift among lawmakers

        April 20, 2009

        Texas Senate endorses penalty reduction for juvenile capital murderers

        I'm as shocked to see the Texas Senate unanimously endorsed eliminating life without parole for juvenile capital murderers as I was to see Williamson County DA John Bradley testify in favor of the bill in committee.

        Congratulations to Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa for getting this landmark legislation through the Legislature' s upper chamber. If it earns approval from the House and the Governor, the new law would make juvenile capital offenders eligible for parole (though not entitled to it) after 40 years, so in most cases sometime in their 50s.

        I don't track capital sentencing issues closely, but Doc Berman over at Sentencing Law & Policy has written a lot on this topic, see:

        Assailing LWOP for juvie offenders
        Effective examination of juvie LWOP problems in Michigan
        HRW report assails juvie LWOP in California
        Nebraska working to reform juve LWOP sentences
        NYTimes coverage of very young lifers
        Juves serving life terms
        Fascinating juve clemency development in Colorado
        Life without parole for juvenile may be cruel, but it is not unusual
        The next issue in sentencing of juveniles?
        California considering eliminating LWOP for juveniles
        Forthcoming PBS program "When Kids Get Life"
        Does Roper suggest young juve LWOP is unconstitutional?

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: juvie corrections, life without parole

        April 15, 2009

        Federal Judge: TYC firings were unconstitutional

        Long-time readers will remember that, two years ago, dozens of Texas Youth Commission employees were fired when the state switched them all to at will employment in the much ballyhood SB 103. Now we learn those firings were illegal, potentially paving the way for more former employees to pursue litigation against the agency. What a mess!

        No MSM coverage yet, but here's the money quote from a ruling Monday by federal district Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio related to Texas Youth Commission employees who were fired in Spring 2007:

        It is further ORDERED and DECLARED that Section 37 of Senate Bill 103, codified in Texas Human Resources Code Sec. 61.035 (Vernon Supp. 2008), that attempted to remove the "for cause" status of Texas Youth Commission employees before the effective date of Senate Bill 103, is unlawful pursuant to provisions of the Constitution of the State of Texas and the United States of America.

        The section of the bill Judge Garcia said was unconstitutional removed language that said employees could be fired "for cause" and substituted "at will" employment, including retrospectively.

        It will be two years next month that dozens of employees at TYC were let go under the same provisions as the two plaintiffs in this court case, so there's still a window when more litigation may be filed now that this precedent has been set.

        UPDATE: My first attempt to upload the pdf files to the web didn't work, so let's try this: Go here to download the judge's ruling and here for the plaintiffs' petition he granted. See if that works. Best I can do, apparently.

        MORE: See initial coverage from the Dallas News.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; TYC firings were unconstitutional

        Labels: employment, TYC

        Juvenile justice picks held up

        By Mike Ward
        April 13, 2009

        A growing fight over whether to reverse some of Texas� two-year-old juvenile justice reforms is holding up the confirmations of four gubernatorial appointees, including Youth Commission Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend.

        State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and the Criminal Justice Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, confirmed today that the nominations of Townsend and Rene Ordonez of El Paso, Ray West of Brownwood and Lea Wright of Amarillo to the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission �are on hold� until an agreement is reached on possible further downsizing at the embattled Texas Youth Commission and other ongoing reforms that could affect the probation commission.

        �There�s no reason to confirm anyone until we know what the system will look like,� Whitmire said.

        He said that he and Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the vice chairman of the influential Sunset Advisory Commission, have placed the hold on the nominations. The Senate must confirm Gov. Rick Perry�s appointees during the legislative session or new appointments must be made.

        According to other senators who asked not to be quoted said the development is part of growing discord over maintaining sweeping reforms approved two years ago when the Youth Commission was mired in a sex-abuse scandal. Most of the agency�s management was run off and it was placed under a form of receivership that ended only last fall when Townsend was brought in as executive commissioner.

        The Sunset Advisory Commission earlier recommended the Youth Commission and Juvenile Probation Commission be merged to provide a seamless system of youth corrections in Texas. Agency officials have rebuked that plan.

        Add to that a wide split over funding for both agencies between the Senate and House versions of the budget.

        The House version generally provides most of the funding that officials at the two agencies requested, while the Senate version proposes to divert tens of millions of dollars into new community-based corrections programs in Austin, Dallas and other cities.

        Then, in recent weeks, the Sunset bill to continue the operations at both agencies has run into behind-the-scenes political wrangling � with Whitmire and other senators accusing agency officials of trying to undo many of the reforms put into law two years ago.

        The Senate version of the Sunset bill was abruptly withdrawn from a public hearing within the past week after a late rewrite allowed the Youth Commission to study holding youths up to age 21 again and cut by half the amount of required training, among other changes.

        Both were key parts of the reforms two years ago.

        Both Sunset versions would allow the agencies to remain separate.

        Hegar, Townsend and Spriggs could not immediately be reached for comment.

        In recent months, Townsend has begun implementing plans to �right-size� the agency with layoffs and the proposed closures of at least two Youth Commission lockups. That, after the agency has seen its population of offenders drop by almost half in two years.

        At the same time, Travis County and three others have submitted for state funding plans for pilot community-based corrections programs that would provide local treatment and rehabilitation programs for hundreds of youths rather than in Youth Commission lockups.

        That could further reduce the Youth Commission�s population of incarcerated youths.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Categories: Criminal justice

        Juvenile justice picks held up


        Citing drop in incarcerated teens, Senate panel cuts TYC budget

        By Mike Ward
        March 20, 2009

        The Senate Finance Committee approved a pared-down budget Thursday for the embattled Texas Youth Commission.

        Agency officials had initially asked for $463 million, then trimmed that back in recent days to $430 million. But under the Senate plan, the agency would get less than $400 million for its two-year budget, and most of its proposed initiatives would be cut completely.

        The plan is one piece of the overall Senate budget, which will be approved by the full Senate later in the session.

        The Youth Commission's two-year budget is now about $550 million, officials said, but that includes $100 million in special reform funding in the aftermath of a sex-abuse scandal.

        "If you look at the big picture, you'll see we're trying to transition to community-based facilities," said Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, chairman of a special work group that crafted the recommended budget.

        Under the Senate plan, more than 700 jobs would be cut from the 4,200-employee work force in the next two years, and $35 million would be diverted to pay for new community-based pilot corrections programs in Austin and Dallas.

        Other cuts would force the closure of the state-run West Texas State School in Pyote and Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon.

        The agency had requested 10 percent raises for all of its employees. The Senate panel agreed to 10 percent raises for correctional officers but not for administrators and other staffers, many of whom received raises last year.

        Also cut were proposals by the agency to expand the number of beds it operates and leases, to open new regional centers and to upgrade radios and communications gear.

        Senators noted that the agency has seen its population of incarcerated teenagers drop by nearly half in two years and said the agency should shrink accordingly. In February 2008, the agency had about 2,400 incarcerated youths.

        Agency officials had argued they were working to cut costs as they completed reforms.

        "We always favor and support troubled youth being at home for their rehabilitation and treatment, and this is a step toward doing that," said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, an author of the Youth Commission reform bill and vice chairman of the Finance Committee.

        mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

        Citing drop in incarcerated teens, Senate panel cuts TYC budget

        TYC funding cuts derailed?

        By Mike Ward
        March 19, 2009

        A Senate push to significantly chop state funding for the Texas Youth Commission appears to be derailing in a behind-the-scenes debate, insiders tell us.

        TYC has been blasted by lawmakers for spending almost $99,000 per year to incarcerate each juvenile offender, a 40 percent increase in two years when the number of offenders the agency housed dropped by half.

        By contrast, Texas� adult prison system spends $15,500 a year to incarcerate each adult offender.

        Agency officials have insisted they need the additional bucks, saying that juvenile-treatment programs are more expensive and that juvenile institutions are more costly to staff and operate � partly because of reforms that lawmakers made to the system two years ago.

        According to insiders, this is where the negotiations stand, hours before the Senate Finance Committee is slated to tentatively map out the Youth Commission�s funding for 2010 and 2011:

        The agency last biennium received about $550 million in state funding, including $100 million in one-time funding to address problems raised in a sex-abuse scandal that brought about sweeping reforms in 2007.

        In its initial budget request for the next two years, the agency asked for $463 million, even though the number of incarcerated teenagers under its care had dropped by about half and officials had initiated plans to lay off more than 700 of 4,200 employees.

        Senate leaders including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told the agency that was way too much.

        After a series of closed-door meetings, a Senate work group two weeks ago recommended cutting the agency�s budget to about $360 million, using much of the savings to fund pilot programs in Austin and Dallas that would correct and treat youths at home rather than sending them to a remote Youth Commission lockup.

        More local programs were a goal of the 2007 reforms.

        A House budget subcommittee, though, gave them much of the original funding they asked for.

        Lobbying for full Youth Commission funding intensified in the Senate.

        Several days ago, insiders said, agency officials offered to cut their budget request to $430 million. Senate leaders suggested $375 million, although several senators said a more appropriate number would be around $300 million.

        In recent days, the $430 million has re-emerged for inclusion in the Senate version of the budget. That reportedly is to include a pay raise for TYC correctional officers.

        If adopted at a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee this afternoon, the funding stream would mean taxpayers will spend about $84,000 per year per kid rather than $99,000, according to two Senate number-crunchers.

        But $84,000 is still much more than the county incarceration and treatment programs will cost, critics note.

        Agency supporters insist it is justified, and is less than before.

        �I don�t like this at all,� said Senate Criminal Justice Commission Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, an outspoken critic of the agency�s spending and among the senators who have been working to cut the budget even more.

        �What we�re getting ready to pay for is an expensive, overly bureaucratic agency that has way too many high-paid central office personnel than they need.�

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Categories: Criminal justice

        Young offender commits suicide at Texas Youth Commission facility

        March 18, 2009
        The Dallas Morning News

        AUSTIN � A young man at the Texas Youth Commission�s Crockett State School committed suicide early Monday � the first death at one of the state�s juvenile facilities since before the agency�s 2007 sexual abuse scandal.

        �No death of a young person can be anything but tragic,� said TYC Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend. �We will conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine how this young man was able to take his life while in our custody.�

        The young man�s identity and age were not released.

        Townsend said the agency, whose last in-custody death was an October 2006 suicide at a Coke County facility, was providing support for other youth, including grief counseling and increased mental health assessments.

        �Although these things do happen, it is never acceptable,� agency spokesman Jim Hurley said.

        Young offender commits suicide at Texas Youth Commission facility

        14-year-old hangs himself at Crockett youth lockup

        TYC vows to investigate boy's death

        Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
        March 18, 2009

        A 14-year-old inmate sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission�s Crockett State School hanged himself in his room on Monday, the first suicide since a 2007 sex abuse scandal forced the state�s juvenile correctional facilities to be revamped.

        �This is a tragic event. No death of a young person can be anything but tragic,� said TYC Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend. �Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. We will conduct a comprehensive investigation to determine how this young man was able to take his life while in our custody.�

        A TYC officer found the teen sometime after 2 a.m. Monday after someone alerted him to the fact that paper was covering up the window of the teen�s room door, said Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt, who was asked to declare the boy dead shortly after he arrived at the East Texas Medical Center.

        �The man who found him at the state school told me on the phone that he was summoned to go check on him, because he had put some paper over his window,� Hunt said. �He found him hanging in his room.�

        Hunt said he was told the boy hanged himself with his own underwear.

        The TYC officer administered CPR but hospital officials told Hunt the boy was dead by the time he arrived.

        Name not released.

        TYC spokesman Jim Hurley refused to say how long the teen had been at the 265-bed facility, about 115 miles north of Houston, or what crime he had committed. He would not give the boy�s name.

        �Not only do we have an administrative review but we have a criminal investigations, so we are not discussing any of those details while they (investigations) are open,� Hurley said.

        The last TYC inmate suicide was in 2006, when 19-year-old Robert Schulze, an inmate who had complained he felt unsafe, hanged himself in his cell at the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Bronte.

        Two years ago, the state investigated reports of inmate sexual abuse, increased funding to the schools, revamped policies and released hundreds of inmates. A TYC superintendent for West Texas State School and one of his supervisors eventually were charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse. They have yet to be tried.

        Reporter Lisa Sandberg contributed to this report from Austin.

        14-year-old hangs himself at Crockett youth lockup

        Lawmakers eyeing Travis' plan for juveniles

        Proposal among many being considered that would reform youth agency, save state money.

        By Bob Banta and Mike Ward
        March 12, 2009

        Legislators are studying proposals from Travis and other counties to save the state money by sending fewer young offenders to Texas Youth Commission facilities.

        Although some lawmakers warn against diverting too much money from Youth Commission activities, Travis County's plan is part of a trend, sparked two years ago by sweeping reforms at the scandal-plagued agency that were designed to remove youths from remote state-run lockups and place them in community-based treatment programs closer to their families.

        So far, Travis, Dallas and a group of 22 Southeast Texas counties have proposed pilot programs to do that � for far less than the nearly $99,000 per year that it costs to keep a youth locked up with the agency. Others counties are considering similar plans.

        Under the concept, only juveniles convicted of serious crimes would be sent to the agency. In return, the state would reimburse the counties for each juvenile who is incarcerated and rehabilitated locally.

        Youths would have a stronger network of rehabilitative support closer to home than in one of the agency's remote facilities, said Jeanne Meurer, legal management director for Travis County juvenile probation.

        "But being able to do that depends on what a county or community's financial resources are," she said. "That's why many local agencies are excited about the possibility of getting funds from the state to keep their kids at home."

        It costs Travis County an average $175 a day , or $63,875 a year per child, to incarcerate and provide rehabilitation services, according to the pilot project proposed by Meurer and Estela Medina, Travis County's chief probation officer. If the child were sent to a Youth Commission institution, it would cost the state an average of $270.49 a day, or $98,729 annually per child, they said.

        In the 2005 budget year, Travis County sent 119 juveniles to the agency at a cost to the state of $11.7 million. If the 119 had been kept in Travis County facilities, the cost would have been $7.6 million, Meurer and Medina said.

        Under the Travis County proposal, a limit would be placed on the number of offenders each county would be allowed to send to the agency each budget year.

        In the case of Travis County, local probation officials would cap the number of juveniles sent to the agency each budget year at 10. If the county sent more than 10 in that year, the county would pay the agency the cost of taking on those juveniles.

        The Travis County plan calculates that the state would pay the county $7.6 million in 2010 and $8 million in 2011.

        The plan is one of several being studied by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston , the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

        "This is exactly what we had in mind when we passed the reforms two years ago," said Whitmire, an author of the reform bill in 2007.

        The concept has been initially embraced by Senate budget writers, who last week cut the Youth Commission's proposed funding significantly so it can be put into local diversion programs paid for through the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission . House budget-writers have not signed on but have initially approved much of what Youth Commission officials requested.

        State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen , also an author of the reforms, said while he supports the idea, he is concerned about too much money being taken away from the agency to pay for the local programs.

        bbanta@statesman.com; 912-2917

        Lawmakers eyeing Travis' plan for juveniles


        Hawkins: With the Texas Youth Commission, the state gets what it pays for

        Schronda Hawkins,
        March 10, 2009

        Lately, there's been a lot of talk in the press and in the Legislature about the Texas Youth Commission: what our job is, how we're doing it, if we should keep doing it, etc. In the thousands of words that get printed, very few are those of people who work in TYC.

        I am a program specialist at the Al Price facility in Beaumont and have been a TYC employee for 12 years. I work hard to make TYC a place where youths who have committed criminal offenses can get the assistance they need to return to "the free world" as contributing citizens, as well as assuring that we fulfill our mission to contribute to the public security of communities across the state.

        TYC's mission is not to simply babysit delinquent youth until they're old enough to move on to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

        The agency's goal is to give youthful offenders a chance to turn their lives around before they end up in adult prisons. For that mission to succeed, it's going to take a good deal of funding. There are 2,300 youths in TYC and, according to agency data, 36 percent are chemically dependent, 32 percent have serious mental health problems, and 36 percent are eligible for special education. For these kids to have a chance, they need intense help from qualified case managers, teachers, counselors and psychologists. They also need schoolbooks, vocational programs and health care. And if they are to be kept safe, they need constant supervision from well-trained juvenile correctional officers (JCOs).

        The 1:12 JCO-youth ratio mandated by the Legislature in the 2007 session was a huge improvement over the days when the ratios went as high as 1:24. In that environment, incidents of violence were common and TYC had the highest employee injury rate of any state agency at 25 percent. Another improvement from the last session was the increase in JCO training to 300 hours. So if lawmakers require more staff with more training, costs will go up.

        The gains made since the last session were made because Texas stepped up its commitment instead of turning its back. In order for TYC to keep improving, the state needs to expand the level of care provided.

        Case managers, who are responsible for making sure youths stick to their rehabilitation programs, face a 1:16 ratio. That needs to be reduced to 1:8 for these kids to get the serious attention they need.

        In addition, the Youth Commission is still struggling with a high turnover rate among correctional officers (23 percent in fiscal year 2008) because of low pay, high risk of injury and long hours. The only way to attract dedicated, qualified staff members who are willing to work in such a tough environment is to pay them well.

        The Texas youths who have been committed to the Youth Commission require a lot of special programs, resources and constant supervision from well-trained professionals to keep them out of the adult prison system.

        That's the bottom line: If you want an agency that works � and it's imperative that we have a functioning youth rehabilitation agency in Texas � you have to pay for it. Funding TYC now means not having to build more prisons to house grown-up criminals in the future.

        Legislators should stop looking to cut funding, which would only reverse the gains TYC has made. Instead, they should build upon what's working and fully fund a vital agency.

        Hawkins is a member of the executive board of the Texas State Employees Union.

        Find this article at:
        With the Texas Youth Commission, the state gets what it pays for

        With growth, comes an increase in juvenile crime

        Published: March 8, 2009
        Editor�s Note: This is the first in an occasional series on juvenile justice.


        BELTON - The long arm of the law doesn�t just reach out to offenders over the age of 17, it can grab offenders who are as young as 10 years old.

        Judge Edward Johnson has seen it all in his 22 years serving as the juvenile court judge in Bell County.

        �I�ve served through five governors and at least three different commissioners courts,� Johnson mused. �Bell County is my home.�

        He spends Monday afternoons in Killeen, where he conducts detention hearings to avoid transporting juveniles to Belton, but he has his work cut out for him in Belton, too.

        He became the juvenile court judge when he was elected in 1986, and, back then, there weren�t a lot of those cases, other than probate.

        �In �87 I�d spend half a day a week on juvenile cases,� he said.

        That began to change in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Bell County, like other areas of the nation, began to see a substantial increase in juvenile crime.

        �I think what was more dramatic than the numbers was the type of offenses,� Johnson said.

        Between 1993 and 1995, there were six juveniles, in each of those years, who were charged and convicted of capital murder or murder.

        In some cases, children as young as 10 years old were facing felony narcotics charges because they�d been told by adult criminals that the legal system could not touch them.

        Johnson had also seen increases in armed robberies, cases of children taking guns to school and juvenile gang activity.

        �By then, I was working on juvenile cases every day,� he said.

        Leaders in Bell County began working on that spike in juvenile crime very early on, Johnson said.

        �As we worked on it, we saw the worst of the offenses start to go down,� Johnson said.

        Likewise, nationally the trend of violent crime committed by juveniles stayed pretty constant through much of the 1990s, and then began to taper off by 1999.

        Between 2001 and 2006, there were no juveniles charged with homicide or capital murder being held in the Bell County Juvenile Detention Centers, but in 2007 and 2008, two have been charged with a murder or capital murder.

        The late �80s, early �90s upward trend in juvenile crime was not the highest it had ever been, Johnson said.

        That happened in the early 1950s, at the end of the Korean Conflict, Johnson said.

        As long as there is growth, there is likely to be an increase in juvenile crime, Johnson said.

        As Johnson begins his 23rd year on the bench, he still sees a large number of juvenile cases, but the violent cases that were more common a decade before are more the exception than the rule.

        �This generation of kids is really not much different than any other generation of kids,� he said. �They still have the same needs, and they still make the same bad choices that other generations have.�


        With growth, comes an increase in juvenile crime

        Published: March 05, 2009

        Senators discuss closing Corsicana State Home

        By Janet Jacobs
        Daily Sun

        Closing the Corsicana State Home is one idea being considered by a finance committee subgroup in the Texas state senate as a way to save the state money.

        It is one of four budget proposals designed to cut the statewide Texas Youth Commission budget by 40 percent.

        Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the Texas Youth Commission, said the proposal is just a working group idea, and is not set in stone.

        �We do not have plans at this point to close that facility,� Hurley said. �We�ll watch the legislature and do ultimately what the legislature asks us to do, but we�re not commenting on closing the facility.�

        State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said it�s too early in the process to know how the Corsicana facility will fare in the budget process. Averitt is on the senate finance committee, although he�s not in that particular work group.

        After the senators hear from the agencies about their needs for the next two years, then they break out into work groups and review different sections of the budget before making recommendations to the larger committee, Averitt explained.

        �In the case of the TYC facility in Corsicana, the workgroup will be studying the agency�s suggestion to close down the facility,� Averitt said. �But whatever they decide, whether they�re going to accept the suggestion or not, this is only the early step in the process.�

        The Corsicana TYC facility employs 335 people, and has an annual budget of $15,692,407, according to Tim Savoy, director of communications for the Texas Youth Commission.

        The facility in western Corsicana began in 1889 as the Corsicana State Orphans Home. In 1982, TYC converted the Corsicana State Home from a facility for dependent and neglected children to a program for emotionally disturbed youth, which is the population it serves today, Savoy said. Although budgeted for 144 beds, there are 151 residents now, he said.

        The argument for closing the Corsicana facility, and for cutting half the Brownwood facility and halting work on three other proposed new facilities in urban areas, is that there are 40 percent fewer residents being held by TYC.

        �Starting last session, we restructured the TYC, it was an agency that with management problems,� Averitt explained. �They have lost a lot of their population, which was part of the plan, but they�re still going to have to have trained and qualified professional employees and that�s one thing that unit there in Navarro County does.�

        Averitt said he understands why the local employees would be nervous, but he said it�s premature to count the facility out.

        �There�s a lot of work to be done on the budget after workgroup,� he said. �We�re so early in the process it�s hard to see how the committee will respond.�

        The work group is scheduled to submit its recommendations to the finance committee early next week.

        �What folks need to know is that I�m on top of it, I�m monitoring it, and I�m going to make sure the members understand how important that facility is to our community,� Averitt said Thursday.

        Senators discuss closing Corsicana State Home


        Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jacobs@corsicanadailysun.com

        Want to �Soundoff� on this story? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

        New TYC budget plan unveiled

        By Mike Ward
        March 5, 2009

        A new spending proposal for the embattled Texas Youth Commission was unveiled this morning in a House budget subcommittee, this one with far fewer cuts than a Senate panel is studying.

        Bottom line cost: Some savings over what the agency is spending now.

        High points of the new plan proposed by agency officials:

        Six existing lockups for teenagers would be converted to �high restriction facilities with lower capacities.�

        The troubled West Texas State School in Pyote would be closed, rather than just downsized. That�s the remote outpost where a headline-grabbing, sex-abuse scandal erupted two years ago.

        The Victory Field lockup in Vernon would be downsized to 96 beds.

        Two new 48-bed �state-operated leased facilities� would be opened at unspecified locations.

        The agency would also get approval to spend $25 million build three new lockups in metro areas, at unnamed sites.

        Additional capacity would be leased from private operators to house additional juvenile offenders.

        The House subcommittee tentatively agreed to approve the spending plan, subject to a final review and discussion.

        This, at a time when the agency has seen its population drop by half in two years and as Senate budget-writers are asking why the agency needs any additional beds when its population of youths may be dropping even further.

        Discussions continue. Stay tuned.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        New TYC budget plan unveiled

        Lawmakers weigh cutting youth agency budget up to 40%

        Four options proposed seem to catch executive commissioner off guard.

        By Mike Ward
        March 05, 2009

        Citing a need to cut operations costs at the Texas Youth Commission, whose incarcerated population has dropped by almost half in two years, a Senate budget subcommittee moved Wednesday to possibly trim the agency's proposed budget by nearly 40 percent.

        A youth lockup in Corsicana and half of a juvenile correctional complex in Brownwood could be shuttered under one of four budget-cutting options proposed. An agency proposal to build three new lockups in urban areas would be scuttled.

        Such a move by a legislative body to so drastically alter an agency's budget request is rare at the Capitol, where agencies submit their spending requests and then negotiate a final amount with legislative budget writers over a period of weeks or months.

        The move appeared to catch agency Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend by surprise. She sat quietly at the hearing, answering just a few questions, and then left without comment. She could not be reached later.

        "When they have half the (youth offenders) in their custody that they did two years ago, I don't know why you would give them anywhere near the same budget as they've had � which is essentially what they're asking for," said state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, chairman of the work group developing the Youth Commission's budget.

        "I, for one, can't approve their request with a straight face," Eltife said.

        The Youth Commission budget dropped from $314.9 million in 2008 to $237 million in 2009, according to Legislative Budget Board figures.

        The agency's initial budget request was $249.1 million for 2010 and $253.8 million for 2011.

        At a budget hearing two weeks ago, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, ordered Townsend to submit a much-reduced budget proposal. Working group members said the revised version she submitted Wednesday changed little, although Townsend insisted it contained "major changes." Her revisions did not approach the same level of cuts as the options presented to the senators Wednesday.

        On a request by Ogden, the Legislative Budget Board had developed its own budget options for the Youth Commission. Those options included reductions in spending of $29.8 million because of the agency's reduced youth population, $26.3 million by reducing administrative costs and $40.9 million in cuts from closing the additional centers.

        More than 800 jobs would also be cut in all four options.

        The Youth Commission has seen a substantial drop in its incarcerated youth population. In 2007, the agency had about 4,600 employees and about 4,100 incarcerated youths. In February 2008, the agency had about 4,100 employees and about 2,400 incarcerated youths.

        There was no immediate indication which, if any, of the proposed options the working group might agree to by Sunday, when it is slated to report back to Ogden and the Finance Committee.

        During Wednesday's meeting, state Sens. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, an outspoken critic of the agency's costs and operations, questioned whether additional savings could be found by expanding community programs, as proposed by a growing list of Texas counties.

        "This is a new model that the communities want us to move toward � Dallas, Austin and others � and one we're actively looking at," Whitmire said.

        mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

        Lawmakers weigh cutting youth agency budget up to 40%

        Lawmakers want to cut costs at Texas youth prisons

        � 2009 The Associated Press
        March 4, 2009

        AUSTIN � The Texas Youth Commission's imprisoned population has dropped by almost half in two years, but the annual cost of keeping each inmate has jumped up 66 percent since 2006.

        The cost per year of locking up juvenile offenders in Texas is almost $99,000 per inmate, a figure legislative leaders say is too high. So they are moving to cut spending at TYC, an agency that has had controversies in the past couple years including a sexual-abuse and cover-up scandal. It was also revealed that the agency paid a contractor for hundreds of empty beds.

        "It's ridiculous," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and an author of the 2007 reforms that were prompted by the abuse scandal. "They've got twice as many correctional officers as they need. ... They've got a big, expensive central office staff they don't need. ... And they're just trying to protect their turf and bureaucracy."

        Commission officials say they have cut staff and are working with lawmakers.

        "I have done a lot of tightening and have reconfigured what kind of facilities we're operating," Youth Commission Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend said Tuesday. "I don't know how much more can be reduced ... unless we decide to deliver the services differently."

        The cost increases were contained in a report by the Legislative Budget Board that tracked the incarceration costs in both the juvenile and adult corrections systems in Texas. The report says Texas taxpayers spent $17,337 for each adult offender in 2008, a 12 percent increase from 2006, the Austin American-Statesman reports in its Wednesday editions.

        In its budget request for the upcoming two-year period, the Youth Commission sought funding for more than 4,000 employees while estimating that its lockups would hold about 2,300 offenders. As part of its reforms, the Legislature mandated a staffing ratio of one guard for every 12 incarcerated youths.

        In February 2008, the agency had about 4,100 employees and about 2,400 incarcerated youths. At some lockups, that meant there were about twice the number of employees as youths, according to Youth Commission figures. In 2007, the agency had about 4,600 employees and about 4,100 incarcerated youths.

        Youth Commission spokesman Jim Hurley said the agency is working to reduce its spending without adversely affecting programs and operations.

        "The cost of juvenile programs is generally higher than adults," he said.

        Townsend has assured legislative budget-writing committees that she is working to "right-size" the agency with layoffs and reassignments.

        Last month, she cut 260 jobs and reduced the population from 96 to 48 youths at the West Texas State School in Pyote, where the sex abuse scandal that prompted the reforms started.

        The Youth Commission budget dropped from $314.9 million in 2008 to $237 million in 2009, according to Legislative Budget Board figures.

        The agency's initial budget request was $249.1 million for 2010 and $253.8 million for 2011. At a recent meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told Townsend to return with a trimmed version. She said she's in the process of doing that.

        Lawmakers want to cut costs at Texas youth prisons

        Texas spends $99k a year to lock up each troubled youth, figures show

        Lawmakers vow to cut costs at Texas Youth Commission.

        By Mike Ward
        March 04, 2009

        Even though the Texas Youth Commission's incarcerated population has dropped by almost half in two years, the annual cost of locking up juvenile offenders in Texas has climbed to almost $99,000 per inmate � a 66 percent jump since 2006.

        With a tight state budget and a tough economy, legislative leaders say that is too costly, and they are moving to cut spending at the commission.

        It is the latest controversy for an agency that has weathered several in the past two years, including a sexual-abuse and cover-up scandal and the revelation that it paid a contractor for hundreds of empty beds.

        "It's ridiculous," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and an author of the 2007 reforms that were prompted by the abuse scandal. "They've got twice as many correctional officers as they need. ... They've got a big, expensive central office staff they don't need. ... And they're just trying to protect their turf and bureaucracy."

        Commission officials say they have cut staff and are working with lawmakers.

        "I have done a lot of tightening and have reconfigured what kind of facilities we're operating," Youth Commission Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend said Tuesday. "I don't know how much more can be reduced ... unless we decide to deliver the services differently."

        The cost increases were contained in a report by the Legislative Budget Board that tracked the incarceration costs in both the juvenile and adult corrections systems in Texas.

        In its budget requestfor the upcoming two-year period, the Youth Commission sought funding for more than 4,000 employees while estimating that its lockups would hold about 2,300 offenders. As part of its reforms, the Legislature mandated a staffing ratio of one guard for every 12 incarcerated youths.

        In February 2008, the agency had about 4,100 employees and about 2,400 incarcerated youths. At some lockups, that meant there were about twice the number of employees as youths, according to Youth Commission figures. In 2007, the agency had about 4,600 employees and about 4,100 incarcerated youths.

        "The increases in the TYC costs per day in fiscal years 2007 and 2008 are primarily a result of population decreases associated with the implementation" of the reforms, a Legislative Budget Board report states, noting that the multimillion- dollar costs of new video-surveillance cameras and other gear were not included.

        In contrast to the Youth Commission costs, the report says Texas taxpayers spent $17,337 for each adult offender in 2008, a 12 percent increase from 2006.

        Youth Commission spokesman Jim Hurley said the agency is working to reduce its spending without adversely affecting programs and operations that are focused primarily on rehabilitation, rather than incarceration, as many adult corrections programs are.

        "The cost of juvenile programs is generally higher than adults," he said.

        Townsend has assured legislative budget-writing committees in recent weeks that she is working to "right-size" the agency with layoffs and reassignments, at the Austin headquarters and at lockups across Texas.

        On Feb. 20, Townsend eliminated 260 jobs and reduced the population from 96 to 48 youths at the West Texas State School, where the sex abuse scandal that triggered the reforms started. By eliminating 720 positions since she was hired in October, Townsend said she has saved $25 million a year.

        The Youth Commission budget dropped from $314.9 million in 2008 to $237 million in 2009, according to Legislative Budget Board figures. Whitmire and others say it could be reduced further.

        "I think we could better deliver a lot of the services, a lot of the programs for these youth, in the communities and not at TYC units," Whitmire said.

        The agency's initial budget request was $249.1 million for 2010 and $253.8 million for 2011. But ata recent meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told Townsend to return with a pared-down version. She said she is in the process of complying.

        Although legislative leaders have yet to see the new figures, Senate budget writers are expected to begin discussing their own reductions, perhaps as soon as today � including discussions about possibly closing two additional lockups.

        mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

        Texas spends $99k a year to lock up each troubled youth, figures show

        February 26, 2009

        More TYC Layoffs, Reorg

        The Texas Youth Commission's Mart unit will lose 130 jobs, but only 13 of those are lyoffs while the rest comes from eliminating unfilled positions. According to the Waco Tribune Herald:

        About 130 jobs will be eliminated from the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart after the Texas Youth Commission has a third round of staff reductions to respond to a drop in the number of youths incarcerated.

        The cut will lay off 13 workers, and the rest of the reduction will come from scrapping open positions at the facility, according to a press release Tuesday. Jim Hurley, spokesman for TYC, said the cuts are mainly for caseworker and administrative positions and will not eliminate corrections officers. ...

        Since Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend took over TYC in October 2008, the agency has cut 720 positions statewide to match its decreasing youth population, reducing costs by $25 million.

        TYC�s youth population has significantly decreased since 2007 reforms under which only the state�s most serious or chronic felony-level offenders were committed, the press release stated. The reforms followed increased state scrutiny after allegations of sexual abuse of inmates in the TYC system. ...

        About 110 positions also were cut from the West Texas State School in Pyote, including 67 employee layoffs. ...

        Both facilities will take fewer youths to maintain the current 12-to-1 youth-to-officer ratio, officials said. The West Texas school will be limited to 48 youths.

        Good luck to those who've recently lost their jobs at TYC, and for that matter, to Cherie Townsend and her management team who appear to be making the tough decisions needed to reorganize the troubled agency before the Legislature does it for them.

        Posted by; Gritsforbreakfast
        Labels: employment, TYC

        February 24, 2009

        Whitmire: Don't change TYC policy on 19-20 year olds for now

        Despite a recent analysis by TYC's Ombudsman saying changes from 2007 resulted in more Texas youth being certified as adults for crimes committed as juveniles, Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire says the policy is unlikely to change this session, the San Antonio Express News reported yesterday ("More juvenile offenders landing in actual prison," Feb. 23):

        Scores of youthful offenders are being sent straight into the adult criminal justice system - 246 of them last year alone - for crimes they committed as juveniles.

        Juvenile justice advocates are blaming last year's 22 percent spike on a reform effort launched two years ago that was designed to protect younger offenders. They say young people who are easier to rehabilitate are being forced into a harsher adult setting that can't meet their needs.

        After the Texas Youth Commission sex abuse scandal in 2007, state officials decided the agency would no longer handle offenders 19 to 21 - a move intended in part to protect younger children from older youths.

        "It's pretty simple," said Jill Mata, Bexar County's chief juvenile prosecutor. "If we didn't have enough time to work with these kids within the juvenile justice system (before they turned 19), then we were faced with no option but to certify them as adults."

        Bexar County certified 28 juveniles as adults last year, a 75 percent jump from a year earlier. Tarrant County certified 11 juveniles as adults last year, nearly triple the number from a year earlier. Harris County saw a more modest rise in adult certifications since the TYC reforms passed in 2007, from 74 cases in 2007 to 76 last year.

        Bill Hawkins, who until last month was Harris County's chief juvenile prosecutor, said the length of time a youth would have at TYC was one of the major factors for him in deciding whether to seek adult certification for particular kids.

        "When the window was shortened, certification became a more viable option in some cases," he said. Texas allows juveniles as young as 14 to stand trial as adults for capital and first-degree felonies. Fifteen-year- olds can stand trial as adults for any kind of felony.

        TYC ombudsman Will Harrell, who in a recent report highlighted the increase in adult certifications last year, would like to see the age limit restored to 21. But with key lawmakers vowing to further reduce TYC's already dwindling population - calling the troubled agency a lost cause - it's not clear if there will be an appetite for raising TYC's maximum age past 18.

        "We're not going to change anything at this stage," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "We need a greater sampling before we determine that there's a cause and effect. I'm not convinced."

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Whitmire: Don't change TYC policy on 19-20 year olds for now

        Labels: juvie, TYC

        Young Texas offenders sent to adult lockup

        Scandal-plagued TYC no longer allowed to handle youths ages 19-21

        Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
        Feb. 24, 2009

        AUSTIN � Scores of youthful offenders are being sent straight into the adult criminal justice system � 246 of them last year alone � for crimes they committed as juveniles.

        Juvenile justice advocates are blaming last year�s 22 percent spike on a reform effort launched two years ago that was designed to protect younger offenders. They say young people who are easier to rehabilitate are being forced into a harsher adult setting that can�t meet their needs.

        After the Texas Youth Commission sex abuse scandal in 2007, state officials decided the agency would no longer handle juveniles ages 19 to 21 � a move intended in part to protect younger children from older youths.

        �It�s pretty simple,� said Jill Mata, Bexar County�s chief juvenile prosecutor. �If we didn�t have enough time to work with these kids within the juvenile justice system (before they turned 19), then we were faced with no option but to certify them as adults.�

        Bexar County certified 28 juveniles as adults last year, a 75 percent jump from a year earlier.

        Now he faces life

        Herminio Hernandez, of Boerne, is one of those youths. He awaits sentencing next month for molesting a relative when she was 12 and he was 16. He faces a maximum life sentence in an adult prison and automatic lifetime registration on the state�s sex offender registry. His attorney did not want to respond to questions.

        Tarrant County certified 11 juveniles as adults last year, nearly triple the number from a year earlier. Harris County saw a more modest rise in adult certifications since the TYC reforms passed in 2007, from 74 cases in 2007 to 76 last year.

        Bill Hawkins, who until last month was Harris County�s chief juvenile prosecutor, said the length of time a youth would have at TYC was one of the major factors for him in deciding whether to seek adult certification for particular kids. �When the window was shortened, certification became a more viable option in some cases,� he said.

        Texas allows juveniles as young as 14 to stand trial as adults for capital and first degree-felonies. Fifteen-year-olds can stand trial as adults for any kind of felony.

        Changes appear unlikely

        TYC Ombudsman Will Harrell, who in a report recently highlighted the increase in adult certifications last year, would like to see the age limit at TYC restored to 21.

        But with key lawmakers vowing to further reduce TYC�s already dwindling population � calling the troubled agency a lost cause � it�s not clear if there will be an appetite for restoring TYC�s maximum age past 18.

        �We�re not going to change anything at this stage,� said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. �We need a greater sampling before we determine that there�s a cause and effect. I�m not convinced.�

        The numbers are small � about 1 percent of total criminal cases involving juveniles. But studies funded by the federal government indicate that juveniles who are transferred to the adult system are more likely to re-offend.

        Stan DeGerolami, superintendent at TYC�s Giddings Unit, which runs a program for violent youths, said he believes juveniles who need incarceration are best served in facilities designed for them.

        �Who do you want living next door to you? A young man who�s been in a facility (for youths) or one who�s spent five or 10 years in an adult prison? My choice would be the former,� DeGerolami said.


        Young Texas offenders sent to adult lockup

        Youth incarceration numbers to flat-line?

        By Mike Ward
        February 20, 2009

        The number of teen-aged lawbreakers incarcerated in Texas lockups will flat-line in the next six years, the first such trend in years, new projections show. From a Legislative Budget Board report: �The residential population is expected to bed much lower than the population in previous fiscal years . . . Based on 2008 intakes, it is assumed (the Texas Youth Commission) will receive 2,169 intakes per year for fiscal years 2009 through 2014.�

        That�s down from 2,994 in 2007, and even more in the previous years.

        The Youth Commission now holds roughly half of the youths that it did before a sweeping reform bill in 2007, in the aftermath of a scandal over sex-abuse and an official cover-up.

        The new stats are being hailed by those on both sides of a controversial proposal to merge the shrinking Youth Commission with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, to provide a �seamless� system for dealing with youth offenders.

        Opponents say the figures show that TYC will need to continue to exist as a separate agency.

        Proponents say that as more youths are removed from TYC and placed into community-based treatment programs, there will be even less reason for a separate agency.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Youth incarceration numbers to flat-line?

        More juveniles landing in actual prison

        Feb 22, 2009

        By Lisa Sandberg - Express-News

        AUSTIN � Scores of youthful offenders are being sent straight into the adult criminal justice system � 246 of them last year alone � for crimes they committed as juveniles. Juvenile justice advocates are blaming last year�s 22 percent spike on a reform effort launched two years ago that was designed to protect younger offenders. They say young people who are easier to rehabilitate are being forced into a harsher adult setting that can�t meet their needs.

        After the Texas Youth Commission sex abuse scandal in 2007, state officials decided the agency would no longer handle offenders 19 to 21 � a move intended in part to protect younger children from older youths.

        �It�s pretty simple,� said Jill Mata, Bexar County�s chief juvenile prosecutor. �If we didn�t have enough time to work with these kids within the juvenile justice system (before they turned 19), then we were faced with no option but to certify them as adults.�

        Bexar County certified 28 juveniles as adults last year, a 75 percent jump from a year earlier.

        Tarrant County certified 11 juveniles as adults last year, nearly triple the number from a year earlier. Harris County saw a more modest rise in adult certifications since the TYC reforms passed in 2007, from 74 cases in 2007 to 76 last year.

        Bill Hawkins, who until last month was Harris County�s chief juvenile prosecutor, said the length of time a youth would have at TYC was one of the major factors for him in deciding whether to seek adult certification for particular kids. �When the window was shortened, certification became a more viable option in some cases,� he said.

        Texas allows juveniles as young as 14 to stand trial as adults for capital and first-degree felonies. Fifteen-year-olds can stand trial as adults for any kind of felony. TYC ombudsman Will Harrell, who in a recent report highlighted the increase in adult certifications last year, would like to see the age limit restored to 21.

        But with key lawmakers vowing to further reduce TYC�s already dwindling population � calling the troubled agency a lost cause � it�s not clear if there will be an appetite for raising TYC�s maximum age past 18.

        �We�re not going to change anything at this stage,� said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. �We need a greater sampling before we determine that there�s a cause and effect. I�m not convinced.�

        The numbers are indeed small � about 1 percent of total criminal cases involving juveniles. But a number of studies funded by the federal government indicate that juveniles who are transferred to the adult system are more likely to re-offend than those who remain in the juvenile justice system.

        It�s unclear how many of the 246 juveniles sent into the adult system last year ended up in prison and how many were placed on probation. Roughly 120 inmates between 14 and 17 reside in Texas� adult prisons, segregated from adults.

        The majority of the juveniles are enrolled in the Courage Program for Youthful Offenders, which includes field work for some and GED classes for others, with a dose of therapeutic programs thrown in. The goal is to help young people prepare to live with adult offenders or to reintegrate, now as ex-cons, into the world, said Madeline Ortiz, the adult prison system�s division director for rehabilitation and reentry.

        Stan DeGerolami, superintendent of TYC�s Giddings Unit, which runs a program for violent youths, said he believes juveniles who need incarceration are best served in facilities designed for them.

        �Who do you want living next door to you? A young man who�s been in a facility (for youths) or one who�s spent five or 10 years in an adult prison? My choice would be the former,� DeGerolami said.

        More juveniles landing in actual prison

        Jail Teacher Sexual Assaults Juveniles waiting to stand trial in Texas:

        Notice in this Article By Diane Jennings from The Dallas Morning Press, How police make excuses for the assaults: The kids are waiting trial for horrible crimes( As if that makes it ok?) and in stead of announcing the teacher will be fired for the acts, the head of the Texas prison goes on to say the teacher has been with us since 2007:( That says to me kids have been being abused since 2007 by a teacher hired by the prison system.)

        Authorities now say at least four juveniles are alleging that they were molested or assaulted by an instructor at the Dallas County jail.

        Additional charges have been filed against Luis de los Santos, who had previously been charged with sexual assault of one of his students.

        All of the alleged victims were juveniles waiting to stand trial as adults, said Kim Leach, spokeswoman for the Dallas County sheriff's office.

        De los Santos, 36, was charged Thursday with another count of sexual assault of a child; one count of improper relationship between an educator and a student; and one count of indecency with a child.

        Calvin Johnson, attorney for de los Santos, said his client "totally denies that he did anything inappropriate to any student" and suggested the alleged victims are "trying to use this situation to get released from incarceration."

        The complainants are not being identified because The Dallas Morning News does not typically name possible victims of sex crimes.

        The two original alleged victims each have been certified to stand trial as adults. Two others, ages 16 and 17, have already been tried and sent to the state prison system. Charges against the alleged victims range from robbery to murder, Leach said.

        Johnson emphasized that the alleged victims "are not your typical juveniles or your typical inmates. They're young offenders who have committed crimes so heinous that they are certified adults." Bill Wirskye, attorney for the two original complainants, said his clients have been charged with serious crimes, but they are not making up the charges in an effort to gain release from jail.

        "When you talk to these kids up close, and you know more about the facts of this case, there's no doubt in my mind that this guy molested my two clients and probably molested more children in the Dallas County jail. "If Dallas County is going to certify them to stand trial in an adult court, and put them in an adult jail, I think they have an obligation to protect them from sexual predators. And they have not protected them, so I don't believe it is a safe environment."

        Wirskye said he did move to have bonds reduced for both of his clients. The judge reduced the bond for a client charged with assault of a police officer from $250,000 to $50,000, with the stipulation that he be monitored electronically. Bond reduction in a capital murder case is "still under consideration."

        The client in the capital murder case has been awaiting trial for a year; the other client has been in jail since June 2008, Mr. Wirskye said.

        When juveniles are in jail, local school districts are responsible for providing studies for them. De los Santos had been with the Dallas Independent School District and the jail since late 2007, Leach said

        Ombudsman: TYC still a dumping ground for offenders

        Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
        Feb. 18, 2009

        Even as the Texas Youth Commission battles its way back to respectability after sex scandals and other alleged improprieties, it remains a giant dumping ground for young offenders with mental health problems, one of the agency�s severest critics charged Wednesday.

        �There is a positive story to be told,� said TYC ombudsman Will Harrell. With misdemeanor offenders no longer shunted to TYC, he said, the number of incarcerated or paroled youths has dropped about 50 percent to less than 5,000.

        Since 2007, when Gov. Rick Perry created the four-person ombudsman office, use of pepper spray against prisoners has plummeted, frequency and duration of isolation lockups have dropped and a plan to correct shortcomings in the agency�s education program has been adopted.

        Harrell, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, detailed TYC�s status in a recent written summary of his office�s activities. In Houston for the 22nd Annual Juvenile Law Conference, he spoke Wednesday to the Houston Chronicle�s editorial board.

        Perry created the ombudsman�s office as TYC was rocked by reports in early 2007 that top agency supervisors at a West Texas detention facility sexually abused juvenile boys. Allegations of other improprieties, including the spending of $550,000 meant for staff hires on renovating offices, ultimately led to the resignation of the agency�s executive director and board of directors.

        While significant improvements have been made at TYC, Harrell said, problems remain. More than 90 percent of incarcerated youths are �serving way over their minimum sentence,� he said. �Punishment is not an objective,� he said, adding that TYC must demonstrate that an offender will benefit from a longer period of detention.

        Parole panel created

        To remedy the problem, Harrell said, a central, Austin-based panel has been created to determine when offenders may be paroled. In the past, he said, some offenders were retained because they were the subject of grudges by supervisors, targets of sexual abuse or deemed positive influences on other offenders.

        The agency�s biggest continuing problem, he said, is the routing of mentally ill offenders to TYC facilities.

        He estimated that 30 percent to 40 percent of TYC offenders have serious mental health issues. While the agency has a 200-bed mental health unit at Corsicana, it frequently is overwhelmed. Thus, he said, many troubled offenders are housed in units not fully staffed or equipped to help them.

        The problem is particularly severe for offenders from rural counties.

        Harrell said the decision to route mentally ill offenders � many of whom violated drug laws or committed relatively minor offenses at school � to TYC came in the 1990s as counties slashed funds for mental health care.

        Provisions for sending mentally ill offenders to and releasing them from TYC were spelled out in 1997. Because such offenders are released under that law�s provisions rather than paroled, they are not eligible for most post-release mental health care.

        �These are the people who need it the most,� Harrell said.


        Ombudsman: TYC still a dumping ground for offenders

        January 28, 2009

        Gov. Perry Names Harrell Texas Youth Commission Independent Ombudsman

        February 10, 2009

        AUSTIN � Gov. Rick Perry has named Will Harrell of Austin the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) Independent Ombudsman for a term to expire Feb. 1, 2011. Pursuant to Senate Bill 103 of the 80th Legislative Session, the independent ombudsman will report on individual facilities and serious problems within the commission; create awareness about the office; and review and evaluate procedures established by the commission to ensure the rights of all children are observed.

        Harrell was initially appointed as TYC ombudsman by the governor�s conservator, and has served in the position since May 2007.

        He is a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and was a founder of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. He serves on the University of Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Advisory Board. He was the 2008 recipient of the Cesar Chavez Award by PODER, the NAACP of Texas Torchbearer Award, and the Texas LULAC President�s Award. Harrell was profiled in the February issue of the Texas Monthly Magazine as one of 35 Texans shaping the future. Harrell received a bachelor�s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree and master�s degree in law from American University.

        This appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

        Gov. Perry Names Harrell Texas Youth Commission Independent Ombudsman

        Ombudsman: Move 19-20 year olds back to TYC

        Reacting to news that the number of youth certified to stand trial as adults in Texas increased 30.9% after the passage of SB 103 in 2007, TYC's independent ombudsman recommended "that the Texas Legislature restore TYC�s jurisdiction over youths serving determinate sentences until they reach their 21st birthdays. TYC will maintain its existing policy of segregating students by age."

        According to the report by the Ombudsman's office, which was requested by state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, "today�s higher adult certification rates are a serious, unintended consequence of an otherwise well-intentioned legislative change that reduced the maximum age of TYC jurisdiction and control from 21 to 19."

        The new trend is especially pronounced among defendants who commit crimes at age 16 but don't make it into court until after their 17th birthday:

        Although 17-year-olds are ordinarily not eligible for commitment to TYC because of their age, the numbers above represent those children who committed crimes while under the age of 17, but appeared in court after their 17th birthdays. Under the pre-SB 103 rules, the youngest of these children could have spent nearly four years in TYC if sentenced under determinate sentencing scheme. Today, this time-frame has been effectively reduced by more than half, making determinate sentencing a much less attractive option for judges and prosecutors.

        The argument in 2007 for lowering TYC's maximum age for youth with determinate sentences was essentially twofold: It reduced the inmate population at a time when the agency was significantly understaffed, and it was supposed to reduce the chance that other youth at TYC would be victimized by the most serious offenders.

        However, "Children serving sentences in adult prisons, as compared to children in the juvenile justice system, are five times more likely to be sexually victimized, eight times more likely to commit suicide, and twice as likely to be attacked with a weapon or beaten by corrections officers," said the Ombudsman.

        What do you think: Should the Lege reauthorize TYC to house 19-20 year olds? I'm inclined to agree with the Ombudsman's recommendation, but am especially interested to see readers from juvenile justice fields discuss the pros and cons.

        UPDATE/SUGGESTION: In the comments, juvenile justice historian Bill Bush makes the following, salient observation:

        This is an area where we could learn something from the past.

        In the 1940s, California and Texas both created state agencies (CYA and TYC, respectively) based on something called the Model Youth Authority Act, which was promulgated by a legal reform organization called the American Law Institute.

        Ironically, though, both CYA and TYC ignored the key feature of the Model Act, whose original intent was to create a separate judicial and institutional system for "youthful offenders" between the ages of 17-21. Victimizers in the juvenile system, this age group became victims in the adult system. And rehabilitation proved nearly impossible in either system.

        For a variety of reasons, states ignored this provision when they adapted the Model Act to their own situations in the 1940s, but it may be an idea deserving of reconsideration.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Ombudsman: Move 19-20 year olds back to TYC

        Labels: juvie corrections, TDCJ, TYC

        New push: Keep TYC under Corrections

        By Mike Ward
        January 27, 2009

        Late word this evening of a push by House Democrats and some Republicans to keep the Texas Youth Commission under the jurisdiction of the House Corrections Committee.

        Proposed House rules slated for debate tomorrow would have moved the troubled agency under the oversight of a new Juvenile Justice Committee, instead of Corrections which has been holding Youth Commission officials� feet to the fire about reforms.

        Agency officials have bridled at the continuing oversight.

        At a meeting this afternoon, most House Democrats are reported to have supported keeping the agency under Corrections, along with the state�s other juvenile corrections programs such as the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.

        Instead of having a Juvenile Justice Committee, a Public Safety Committee is being supported to have oversight over state law enforcement agencies. No word on whether the new push has enough votes to get the proposed House rules changed before they are adopted tomorrow.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Keep TYC under Corrections

        TYC IG quits

        By Mike Ward
        January 27, 2009

        Bruce Toney, the Texas Youth Commission�s first inspector general who established the agency�s independent investigative arm during a sex-abuse scandal, is resigning.

        He has been credited with organizing a credible law enforcement unit at the troubled agency that probed into cases of abuse, neglect and wrongdoing.

        Before the scandal erupted almost two years ago, the agency had no such law enforcement unit � the the creation of an inspector general�s office was a key element of reforms enacted by the Legislature two years ago.

        Toney plans to return to Huntsville to work as a captain for the inspector general�s office at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, sources who had been briefed on the resignation said this afternoon.

        Toney plans to depart in February.

        Toney could not immediately be reached for comment.

        While working as a prison system investigator, Toney was brought to the Youth Commission along with a team of prison investigators in the spring of 2007 to investigate abuse claims. He was then hired as inspector general.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        TYC IG quits

        House committee change moves TYC

        By Mike Ward
        January 26, 2009

        Proposed changes in House committees to be unveiled this afternoon would silence one primary critic of continuing management miscues at the Texas Youth Commission.

        Under the change, the House Corrections committee would lose its authority over the Youth Commission. It would be moved to a new Juvenile Justice Committee, which would also oversee the Office of Independent Ombudsman.

        In the past two years since a sex-abuse and coverup scandal, the Corrections Committee has pressed Youth Commission officials hard to fully implement reforms � too hard, agency officials have complained. They have continued to drag their feet at being held accountable for continuing problems, committee members and staffers have countered.

        The change comes as the Sunset Advisory Commission recently recommended a merger of the Youth Commission and the state Juvenile Probation Commission, a change that both agencies � and some aides to Gov. Rick Perry � have opposed.

        With Perry�s reelection ginning up for 2010, he�s not looking for continued headlines from an agency he wants to claim he�s fixed.

        By ending the Corrections Committee�s authority over the Youth Commission, the agency could perhaps get an easier ride in the House this session. But that won�t help in the Senate, where the Criminal Justice Committee appears to want to keep the heat on the Youth Commission.

        Opponents of the change say it is reprisal for Corrections Committee members, especially Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, demanding continued accountability from Youth Commission officials.

        Supporters claim Madden and others have pushed too hard and should get the boot. Word is circulating fast and furious this afternoon that Madden, a longtime supporter of deposed House Speaker Tom Craddick, may get the boot as chairman of House Corrections.

        Several potential problems with the House change, its opponents say: It proposes allowing both the Juvenile Justice and Corrections Committees to have oversight over the Special Prosecution Unit, and it will leave the Corrections Committee involved at some level, because members of the Corrections Committee serve on the new Senate-House Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        House committee change moves TYC

        January 24, 2009

        Kids guarding kids

        While we haven't seen many staff prosecutions as a result of the contraband scandal in Texas adult prisons last fall, news arrives from Waco of a 23-year old TYC guard receiving a four year prison sentence for smuggling pot onto the Mart II unit. "Judge Matt Johnson of Waco�s 54th State District Court rejected a plea agreement between [Phillip Patrick] Spain and the McLennan County District Attorney�s Office that called for Spain to be placed on felony probation for 10 years."

        Like the sex abuse allegations revealed in December, I think about this news with mixed emotions. On the one hand, clearly the agency's problems aren't fixed.

        On the other, it's likely these issues would never even have come to light two or three years ago before the Office of Inspector General was created, and no prison - adult or juvie - is immune to corruption of youthful, underpaid, unqualified staff.

        When you have a 23-year old guarding high school age youth, the risk they'll find they have more in common with the inmates than with their employer is always there.

        It's also notable that the judge insisted on a harsher sentence than the District Attorney had agreed to; clearly officialdom is treating TYC cases a lot more seriously than in the past, for good or ill.

        So the checks and balances installed at TYC appear stronger than in the past, but the agency sure could use a respite from the hail of bad news over the last couple of years. Mr. Spain did his coworkers no favors.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Kids guarding kids

        Labels: contraband, District Attorneys, marijuana, TYC

        TYC guard sentenced to 4 years for giving marijuana to youths

        January 23, 2009
        By Tommy Witherspoon
        Tribune-Herald staff writer

        A 23-year-old Waco man went from Texas Youth Commission guard to Texas prison inmate after pleading guilty to supplying marijuana to TYC offenders in Mart.

        Phillip Patrick Spain was sentenced to four years in prison for bringing a prohibited substance into a correctional facility, a third- degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

        Judge Matt Johnson of Waco�s 54th State District Court rejected a plea agreement between Spain and the McLennan County District Attorney�s Office that called for Spain to be placed on felony probation for 10 years.

        Instead of withdrawing his guilty plea, Spain later worked out another agreement for prison time, which Johnson approved Wednesday.

        According to records filed in the case, Spain was seen on security video in July putting marijuana in some papers and then tossing it to a youthful offender at the Mart II TYC unit.

        When confronted about it, Spain said he had brought marijuana for TYC inmates on at least two occasions. A 15-year-old boy and a 17-year- old boy both told TYC investigators that Spain gave them marijuana, according to court records.


        TYC guard sentenced to 4 years for giving marijuana to youths

        TYC cuts 430 jobs

        By Mike Ward
        January 15, 2009

        Texas Youth Commission officials this afternoon announced plans to fire 100 employees and eliminate 330 vacant jobs as part of a cost-cutting move, just a day after a legislative committee voted to merge the scandal-plagued agency out of existence.

        In a statement, Executive Commissioner Cheri Townsend said �additional reductions, including possible facility closures� will be announced �in the near future.�

        The agency said the positions will be eliminated on March 1 �in an effort to adjust (the) workforce to reflect the agency�s reduced youth population and its current appropriations.�

        All 12 of the Youth Commission�s high security institutions will be affected by the cuts. Agency officials could not immediately say how many of the layoffs or vacancies to be cut would come from the Austin headquarters office.

        But officials said the cuts would not affect proper staffing at lockups or in specialized treatment programs. Amid sweeping reforms enacted by lawmakers two years ago in response to a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal, the Youth Commission�s population of incarcerated offenders has dropped by more than half � from more than 5,000 offenders to about 2,200.

        Today�s news is the second announcement of job reductions at the agency. In November, 20 jobs were eliminated at the Austin headquarters. �TYC must change the face of its workforce to reflect the reforms � as well as our efforts to establish a more regionalized service delivery system,� Townsend said in the statement.

        �That means we must streamline and ensure that our workforce has the proper credentials to deliver specialized treatment and education. We must do this while creating efficiencies in how to best serve our youth population and stay within our appropriated budget.� Townsend said employees to be laid off will have the opportunity to fill vacancies within the agency.

        If they chose to take one, they will be offered $500 for moving expenses.

        Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, a frequent agency critic who has championed the merger, applauded the cuts.

        �Good. It�s about time,� said Whitmire, who chairs a special legislative committee overseeing the reforms. �Now they need to close facilities.�

        Announcement of the staff reductions came after the Sunset Advisory Commission late Wednesday voted 6-5 to merge the Youth Commission with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, amid complaints that the Youth Commission�s operational miscues and management problems have not been fixed.

        That proposal now goes to the Legislature for debate and a final vote.

        TYC cuts 430 jobs

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        The TYC-TJPC merger vote

        By Mike Ward
        January 14, 2009

        Details on the 6-5 vote by the Sunset Advisory Commission on merging the Texas Youth Commission and the Juvenile Probation Commission: Aye Rep. Carl Isett, chairman Sen. Glenn Hegar, vice chairman Sen. Robert Deuell Rep. Dan Flynn Ike Sugg Charles McMahon No Sen. Juan Hinojosa Sen. Craig Estes Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon Rep. Lois Kolkhorst Re. Linda Harper-Brown.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Sunset agency recommends merging TYC, probation agency
        Panel's vote on Youth Commission now goes to Legislature.

        By Mike Ward
        January 15, 2009

        After almost two years of scandal and reforms at the Texas Youth Commission, a state advisory panel recommended late Wednesday that the youth agency be merged with the smooth-running Juvenile Probation Commission. The Sunset Advisory Commission voted 6-5 to create a new Texas Juvenile Justice Department � as the commission's staff had recommended months ago.

        "The youth of Texas will be better served, and the state's resources will be better allocated if we move to a single agency," said commission Chairman Carl Isett, a Republican House member from Lubbock. "We need to move while the clay is wet and consolidate these agencies and make this a seamless system.

        "Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, said the merger amounts to "chopping the head off" the Youth Commission at a time when it's making strides at improvement."This is not the way to go," McClendon said. "This will jeopardize the viability of both of them."

        Although the commission voted for a merger, Isett made it clear that he intends for the probation agency, not the Youth Commission, to prevail operationally. Under the recommendation, the new department would be overseen by an 11-member board appointed by the governor. Its members would include members of the public, judges, probation chiefs, county officials, professional educators and others with experience working with children.

        The recommendation by the commission, which is tasked with periodically reviewing the operations of state agencies, now goes to the Legislature for final discussion and a vote. The recommendation could be altered or rejected there.

        Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who has been championing the merger for months, said that consolidating "two high-paid executive staffs into one" will bring savings to taxpayers.

        Although expressing concern that some Youth Commission reforms have been too slowly implemented, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, questioned whether a merger was a good course. He and Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, argued that more time is needed to measure whether the agencies should stay separate.

        Officials at both agencies had opposed the merger, arguing that each was responsible for distinctly separate operations � the Youth Commission to incarcerate and supervise on parole the worst juvenile offenders in state custody, the Probation Commission to oversee lesser offenders under the supervision of county-run probation agencies.

        Almost two years ago, the Texas Youth Commission made headlines amid allegations that incarcerated teenage boys had been sexually assaulted by officials and that the agency's top brass failed to investigate or even covered up some cases. Gov. Rick Perry placed the agency in conservatorship, most of the Youth Commission's top officials were fired or resigned and lawmakers approved a sweeping reform bill in 2007.


        Sunset agency recommends merging TYC, probation agency

        Panel wants to fold Texas Youth Commission into probation system

        January 15, 2009
        The Dallas Morning News

        AUSTIN � The scandal-torn Texas Youth Commission would be merged with the state�s juvenile probation system under a recommendation from an influential state panel.

        Lawmakers on the Sunset Commission, which reviews state agencies and recommends reform legislation, voted 5-4 Wednesday night to consolidate the two agencies.

        The decision, which will come before Texas lawmakers for a vote in the coming months, is a controversial one. Proponents say they�ve given the TYC two years to improve operations following a widespread sexual abuse scandal. After a legislative overhaul, a revolving door of executives and a costly restructuring, they say they remain unconvinced.

        But opponents � including TYC executives and the juvenile justice experts so often critical of them � believe the agency shouldn�t be written off yet. And probation officials, who already oversee 95 percent of Texas� young offenders, fear their efficient system will become less so if they�re forced to swallow a struggling agency.

        "In my experience, the best way to accomplish the reform we need is to maintain separate agencies,� said TYC Executive Director Cheri Townsend. �I�m going to do whatever the legislature ultimately decides. But right now, I have to stay focused on reform.�

        With about 2,200 youth offenders, the TYC oversees just a tiny fraction of Texas' juvenile criminals in its large, remote prisons.

        At the base level, the question facing state leaders is whether it's more cost-effective for Texas and better for the state's juvenile offenders to serve them all at the local level - which the juvenile probation department already does.

        Dissolving the TYC was first proposed by Houston Sen. John Whitmire, who said the idea drew attention from the governor�s office and local judges. But some lawmakers fear now isn�t the right time to rock that boat.

        Panel wants to fold TYC into probation system

        Four options for TYC future

        By Mike Ward
        January 13, 2009

        The Sunset Advisory Commission on Wednesday will get four options on the future of the embattled Texas Youth Commission and the smooth-running Juvenile Probation Commission.

        Option 1: Merge them together into a new Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

        Option 2: Maintain the two as stand-alone agencies under a single-governing board.

        Option 3: Maintain the two as stand-alone agencies with their current governance structures, but with a combined budbget and planning committee.

        Option 4: Maintain the two as stand-alone agencies with no organizational changes.

        The agencies hate Option 1 and pretty much hate 2. Proponents of the merger hate anything but Option 1.

        Opponents are pushing Options 2 or 3 to try and soften the blow.

        Most House members on Sunset are said to like Option 1.

        Most senators are said to like Option 2.

        If that�s true, it appears some form of merger may be in the offing for the Youth Commission, despite reports in recent days that lawmakers might leave the agency alone.

        Once approved, the Sunset Commission�s recommendations go to the Lege for consideration and possible passage into law.

        Four options for TYC future

        Skirmishing over TYC merger

        By Mike Ward
        January 12, 2009

        On the eve of the Legislature coming back into session, some intense, behind-the-scenes skirmishing is escalating over a proposal to create a new juvenile-justice agency by merging the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission with the Juvenile Probation Commission.

        The Sunset Advisory Commission staff recommended the merger last fall, sparking strident opposition from top TYC and TJPC officials.

        The Sunset commission on Wednesday is expected to vote to either approve the merger, or junk it and leave the agencies separate.

        On Friday, a copy of a plan written last June by TJPC Vickie Spriggs supporting the merger started circulating among lawmakers and staffers. Spriggs is now one of the most vocal opponents of the merger.

        Supporters insisted she had changed her mind only when it became a possibility she might end up out of top job. The merger is just as good an idea now as it was then, they argued.

        Today, Spriggs� �official response� was making the same rounds. In it, she insisted that the earlier report was a �confidential document� she drew up at the behest of Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who supports the merger.

        Her take:

        �I shared my opinion that the counties still need a state-run institution system and that I could not agree that sending the worst youth to TDCJ was an appropriate option. Sen. Whitmire then requested me to develop options. As you know, we are required to comply with any requests from legislative leadership and so I did.

        �Although one plan was reduced to writing, I also discussed two other options that were preferable to the consolidation plan. The first being to hire a qualified Executive Commissioner for TYC and the second was to temporarily place me in that position until a qualified person could be found. Throughout our assistance to Senator Whitmire, I made clear that the preferable option was for TJPC and TYC to remain separate agencies assuming the issues at TYC could be effectively remedied in a timely manner.�

        Whitmire�s response:

        �She�s probably a little embarrassed about changing her mind and now saying she�s not for it now � But if it was a good idea then, it still is now.�

        Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of the merger plan are reportedly working in overdrive lobbying their positions with key legislative leaders in anticipation of Wednesday�s vote.

        Merger opponents are accusing supporters of leaking negative stories about TYC to gain votes, which supporters deny. They say the opponents are just trying to protect some high-paying jobs held by their friends.

        Skirmishing over TYC merger

        Outlook for issues in 81st Legislature

        January 11, 2009
        Criminal Justice

        The proposed merger of the Texas Youth Commission and Texas Juvenile Probation Commission?

        There's a 50-50 chance, or another such effort is likely in two years.

        New sex-abuse case has Texas Youth Commission under fire

        January 10, 2009
        Associated Press

        AUSTIN � Two state legislators slammed the Texas Youth Commission after the reported sexual abuse of several youths in the agency's custody who were housed recently with known sex offenders.

        "It sounds like nothing has changed out there, that mistakes are still occurring that absolutely should not be," said Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, chairman of the House Corrections Committee.

        The TYC is investigating the alleged sexual abuse of four youths by other youths in November and December at a facility outside Waco. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, co-chair of the legislative committee that oversees the troubled agency, and his panel colleagues learned that three of the victims had shared rooms with youths with a history of sex offenses.

        "It's outrageous. They're commingling sex offenders with non-sex offenders. It's a dysfunctional agency," Whitmire said.

        In a memo this past week to the oversight committee, the agency's executive director, Cherie Townsend, said proper housing guidelines apparently weren't followed. Later, however, agency spokesman Jim Hurley said TYC had no policy expressly barring sex offenders from being housed with others.

        Faced with the recent abuse reports, Townsend in December ordered all sex offenders to be segregated, Hurley said.

        A sexual abuse scandal tore through the TYC two years ago, and numerous reforms were made.

        New sex-abuse case has TYC under fire

        The Associated Press

        Op-Ed Columnist

        Cocaine and White Teens

        By CHARLES M. BLOW
        Published: January 9, 2009

        Last month, President Bush touted the results of a government-sponsore d study by the University of Michigan called Monitoring the Future. It reported a broad decline in drug use among young people since 2001.

        This included a 24 percent drop in the overall use of illicit drugs. There was one exception he said: abuse of painkillers. But, one important metric that wasn�t mentioned, and that stubbornly resisted the downturn, was the use of cocaine.

        According to data from the group that produced the report, the percentage of both black and white 12th graders who confessed to using cocaine in the past 30 days has essentially stayed flat since 2001. The major difference is that white usage outweighs black usage 4 to 1. (If you take a longer view back to 1991, when cocaine usage bottomed out following the outrageous �80s, usage among white 12th graders since then has nearly doubled, while usage among black 12th graders has fallen a bit.)

        While we turned our attention to pills being swiped from parents� medicine cabinets, the number of youngsters snorting white lines continued virtually unabated, producing a striking consequence.

        According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, admissions of white teenagers to drug treatment centers for crack and cocaine abuse soared 76 percent from 2001 to 2006. Crack and cocaine was the only illicit drug category in which the number of admissions for white teens grew over this period, and in 2006 the number was at its highest level since these data have been kept. By contrast, admissions among black teens for crack and cocaine over the same period held steady.

        By 2006, white admissions outnumbered those for blacks by more than 10 to 1. (It should be noted that admissions for white youths abusing painkillers in 2006, while growing, was still less than half the number of admissions for those abusing cocaine that year.)

        And there are ominous signs. According to the Monitoring the Future study, the risk of using crack and cocaine, as perceived by teenagers, is going down. The newly released 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment puts it this way: �The decrease in perceived risk suggests that adolescents are becoming less wary of trying cocaine, which may sustain demand for the drug in the near future.�

        But, in a phone interview, David Murray, chief scientist in the White House�s Office of National Drug Control Policy, insisted that there was good news: a sharp rise in the price of cocaine and a drop in its purity since 2006, among other things, have cut into overall usage.

        So, I thought, until policy makers put more of a focus on this issue and figure out how to reach these students, should we just hope that teens are too broke for this weak coke? I don�t think so. We need a real strategy, right now.

        E-mail chblow@nytimes.com

        A version of this article appeared in print on January 10, 2009, on page A21 of the New York edition.

        Cocaine and White Teens

        Inquiry widens into recent TYC sex assaults

        By Mike Ward
        January 9, 2009

        Texas Youth Commission investigators are trying to determine why several incarcerated teenaged boys who were sexually assaulted at a Waco-area lockup had been double-bunked with other youths accused of sex crimes, officials confirmed this afternoon.

        Cell assignments such as that should have been prohibited.

        In one case, officials said, one of the youths with no sex-offense record was assaulted after being bunked with a boy with such a record.

        According to a confidential update provided to legislative leaders earlier this week by TYC Executive Commissioner Cheri Townsend, five youth-on-youth sex assaults were reported.

        While two youths have since recanted in one case, the others remain under investigation.

        Two have been referred to prosecutors, two are awaiting lab test results, according to the memo.

        According to officials familiar with the cases, the youths involved are between 15 and 17 years old.

        �Of the youth (alleged victims and perpetrators) involved in the five cases, one youth (an alleged perpetrator) had no previous record of sexual assaults,� Townsend�s memo states.

        �It�s is being looked at � how that happened � and how policies and practices were being followed,� said agency spokesman Jim Hurley. �We have a full investigation underway.�

        Other officials familiar with the criminal investigation said it has widened in recent days to determine how the mistakes occurred in November and December at the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart, outside Waco � despite strict policies enacted after a sex-abuse scandal brought top-to-bottom reforms at the agency just two years ago.

        Authorities also want to determine which Youth Commission officials signed off on the double-bunking, whether the agency�s new classification system failed in red-flagging the assignments and why the mistaken assignments were not discovered until after the youths reported being assaulted.

        Investigators are also looking at whether agency officials did enough to prevent the assaults.

        Citing the ongoing investigation, Hurley said he could discuss further details on instructions of top agency officials. No charges have been filed, he said. Legislative leaders who have worked for two years on reforms at the troubled agency are hopping mad about the cases.

        �It sounds like nothing has changed out there � that mistakes are still occurring that absolutely should not be,� said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who said he is demanding answers from Townsend. �This is unacceptable.�

        Townsend listed several operational changes that have been made to ensure such mistakes don�t happen again, including a review of room assignments at all Youth Commission lockups, sexual-assault prevention training for staff and more frequent checks by staff on cells that are double-bunked.

        The memo hints that a backlog of psychiatric exams at incarcerated teen-agers may have been a factor in the cases, and says that �intake staff have been directed to review the entire criminal and social histories of youth before making dorm and room assignments to ensure proper placement of youth who have committed sexual offenses,� the memo states.

        The document also notes that the agency�s Safe Housing Policy is still awaiting approval, despite earlier public assurances by Youth Commission officials that it was in place.

        Two years ago this spring, the agency made headlines for not properly investigating thousands of alleged sexual assaults over several years � youth-on-youth, youth-on-staff, staff-on-youth � amid allegations that top officials covered up repeated policy and criminal violations.

        As a result, most of the agency�s top management was fired and it was placed in a form of receivership that ended only last October, after Gov. Rick Perry was assured that Legislature- mandated reforms had fixed a myriad of management and operational flaws.

        Two former top officials at two lockups � Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez � were charged with having sex with several boys, and are awaiting trial.

        They were among more than two dozen onetime employees and others who faced criminal charges stemming from the thousands of assault allegations that were investigated.

        Inquiry widens into recent TYC sex assaults

        Lawmakers claim TYC contributed to sex abuse

        Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
        Jan. 9, 2009

        AUSTIN � Two lawmakers are accusing the Texas Youth Commission of contributing to the alleged sexual abuse last year of young inmates who were housed with peers known to be sex offenders.

        "It's outrageous. They're commingling sex offenders with non-sex offenders. It's a dysfunctional agency," said Sen. John Whitmire, D- Houston, co-chair of the legislative committee that oversees the troubled TYC.

        Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, Whitmire's co-chair on the committee, said he was "more disappointed than surprised."

        The agency is investigating the alleged sexual abuse of four youths by their peers in November and December at the Mart I Orientation and Assessment Unit, an intake facility outside Waco.

        Whitmire and his colleagues on the TYC oversight committee learned that three of the four alleged victims had been double-bunked with others who had a history of sex offenses.

        In a memo this week to the committee, the agency's executive director, Cherie Townsend, said proper housing guidelines do not appear to have been followed.

        Later, however, agency spokesman Jim Hurley said the TYC had no policy expressly barring sex offender youths from being housed with others.

        He said the practice of housing sex offenders with others was limited to just a few cases in Mart and was not an agencywide practice. The agency began drafting a "Safe Housing" policy last June, he said, but was not finished when the first sex abuse case was filed at Mart in November.


        Lawmakers claim TYC contributed to sex abuse


        Study: Houston leads in homicides by black youths

        Report calls for government to act, but not all agree on research data

        Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
        Dec. 28, 2008

        As violent crime nationally slows in growth or declines, the United States is facing a dramatic � but hardly noticed � increase in murders by and of young African-American men, a Northeastern University study released today reports.

        Between 2002 and 2007, the number of black male juveniles murdered nationally increased by 31 percent and the number of black perpetrators by 43 percent. The increases were even greater, the report said, when guns were used as weapons.

        Focusing on the period between 2000-01 and 2006-07, the study found Houston at the top of a list of 28 U.S. cities, with a 139 percent increase in the number of young African-Americans suspected in killings.

        In 2006-07, 129 young black men were murdered in the city, up from 42 in 2000-01.

        Those increases came as homicides by and of young white men slowed or declined. In Houston, the number of white offenders dropped by 10 percent. Nationally, FBI statistics showed murder decreased 1.3 percent in 2007 from the previous year.

        "I don't want to suggest that this is an epidemic, a crisis situation," said study co-author James Fox, professor of criminal justice and law, policy and society at the university in Boston. "But it's absolutely a growing concern, not a one-year blip."

        Fox and his associate, criminologist Marc Swatt, argued in the report that the increases occurred as the federal government cut support for community policing and intervention programs put in place to combat a rise in gang violence in the 1990s.

        Though current violence falls short of levels in the '90s, the report's authors called for renewal of government support for intervention. "Let this small upturn serve as a thunderous wake-up call that crime prevention needs to be a priority again," they wrote.

        "Kids can't wait, and crime doesn't wait," Fox said. "There is a significant need here � a large group of kids with inadequate, inferior education and a ready access to guns. A teenager with a gun in his hand is a dangerous individual."

        Houston community activist Quanell X called the study a "blanket indictment of the city and government officials in the city and a greater indictment of ministers and political leaders of the African- American community."

        He called for a citywide black leadership summit to find ways to end the violence.

        "Until African-American leaders, both spiritual and political, male and female, can get into that room and check their egos at the door and say, 'To hell with party politics,' and walk out of that room with a plan all of us can have a part in," the killings will continue, he said.

        Shape Community Center's Deloyd Parker questioned the way the study was conducted. "When they say 'offender,' does that mean someone who's charged with a crime or been convicted?" he said. "Sometimes even being convicted doesn't mean you're actually guilty."

        Fox responded that the number of young offenders was calculated from instances in which "police knew who did the crime" and through a statistical process called "imputation."

        Imputation, used when crimes have not been solved, essentially intuits the offender's race from location of the killing and other circumstances of the crime.

        "The whole foundation of the study is in question," Parker charged. " ...He's going to have to do a little better homework for me to even mess with this."



        Trends in homicides by offenders ages 14-24 between 2000-01 and 2006-07.
        � Houston: Whites, down 10 percent; blacks, up 139 percent
        � Dallas: Whites, down 46 percent; blacks, down 40 percent
        � San Antonio: Whites, down 3 percent; blacks, up 38 percent
        � Boston: Whites, down 40 percent; blacks, up 78 percent
        � Chicago: Whites, down 47 percent; blacks, down 30 percent
        � Oklahoma City: Whites, up 19 percent; blacks, up 85 percent
        � San Francisco: Whites, up 32 percent; blacks, up 79 percent
        � Los Angeles: Whites, down 20 percent; blacks, down 22 percent

        Source: The Recent Surge In Homicides Involving Young Black Males and Guns: Time To Reinvest in Prevention and Crime Control

        Houston leads in homicides by black youths

        Judge declines to free boy after verdict tossed

        � 2008 The Associated Press
        Dec. 19, 2008

        HOUSTON � A judge ruled Friday that even though the conviction of a 14-year-old boy accused of shooting his father four years ago was reversed last week, the teen will have to stay behind bars.

        The teen's attorneys argued that he should be released from the Texas Youth Commission on bond while waiting for prosecutors to appeal the decision, according to a story on the Houston Chronicle's Web site Friday.

        Last week, Houston's 14th Court of Appeals ruled he should get a new trial because the trial judge didn't let jurors hear evidence that he thought he was defending himself and his brother.

        Rick Lohstroh, a doctor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, died in the 2004 shooting outside the Katy home of his ex- wife.

        Court records show that the boy met with a psychologist hours before the shooting and told authorities several times that he was scared of his father.

        Jurors decided in 2006 that the boy committed an act of delinquent conduct, which is similar to a guilty verdict in an adult criminal court, and he was committed to the Texas Youth Commission for 10 years. He is set to be eligible for parole next year.

        Lohstroh, 41, had gone to his ex-wife's home to pick up the boy and his younger brother. The boy got into his father's SUV with his mother's .45-caliber pistol in his backpack and fired through the driver's seat.

        Judge declines to free boy

        December 18, 2008

        West Texas locals view TYC as jobs program

        During prison building boom in the '90s, Texas pols came to view new prison units as a way to prop up the economy in depopulating rural areas, hoping to slow the rapid urbanization that transformed the state in recent decades.

        However, siting corrections units in remote, rural areas created many practical problems: It's difficult to find staffing, even more difficult to find medical specialists or mental health providers, and for juvenile corrections there's little access to specialized programming that might help kids succeed.

        Equally frustrating, because the only reason the state put prison units in tiny rural towns was to prop up their economy with political pork, locals inevitably came to see those agencies as mere jobs program instead of fulfilling a state function. That dynamic may be seen in this Odessa American story ("Possible Pyote Closing," Dec. 16) about the possible closure of TYC's West Texas State School:

        Less than a year after the last battle, David Cutbirth is ready to fight again to keep the West Texas State School in Pyote. With a drop in the oil and gas markets, the Monahans mayor said there's an even greater need for the Texas Youth Commission facility and the 153 jobs it provides. "About the time we need jobs, they shut it down," Cutbirth said. "That's the damn state for you."

        Cutbirth was upset over a recommendation in a report by the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission, a state agency created to eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency in government. The group called for the TYC facility, located 15 miles west of Monahans in Ward County, to be closed, citing a difficulty to keep the juvenile prison staffed. Due to a lack of workers, the Pyote school is budgeted for 96 youth, even though it has 240 beds, the Sunset commission said in its report. It currently has 92 students. Closing it would save the state $9 million.

        Cutbirth clearly could care less about TYC's juvenile justice functions, and he certainly doesn't care that the local DA isn't interesting in prosecuting sex crimes at the unit. His only concern is that "we need jobs."

        However that's not remotely TYC's responsibility to worry about - it's got enough troubles managing its own business. Anyway, a far bigger blow to the West Texas economy are layoffs in the oil industry; by comparison, TYC is small potatoes.

        The biggest irony is that Cutbirth actually lost this fight in 2007 and apparently didn't realize it.

        The Legislature only budgeted the Pyote facility through fiscal year 2008, and the unit is currently being operated on leftover savings because of understaffing at other TYC units. (The same is true for the Victory Field unit in Vernon.)

        While the Sunset staff projected budget savings from those closures, in fact that was an erroneous analysis - closing those facilities won't reduce TYC's budget from the current amount, but keeping them open would cost the state more.

        Bottom line: The Pyote and Victory Field units are already living on borrowed time.

        Prisons are not jobs programs - that's true for both TDCJ and TYC.

        If the state wants to invest in jobs programs, prisons have a relatively small economic multiplier effect (see this report from the Sentencing Project) while other investments - in education, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure, for example - will give much more job-producing bang for the buck.

        To the extent TYC should be salvaged, it's because it fulfills an important state function, not soley to put money in the locals' pockets.

        Where that's the goal, there are many more beneficial ways to go about it.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Labels: TYC

        December 17, 2008

        TYC Tidbits

        Two items related to the Texas Youth Commission deserve attention from Grits readers interested in juvenile justice: A guest column in the Abilene Reporter-News asks, "Is TYC Worth Saving?," while the Waco Tribune Herald reports that authorities are investigating five inmate on inmate sexual assaults at the TYC unit in Mart.

        In other TYC-related news, Sunset Commission Chair Carl Isett announced they would leave the public comment period for Monday's hearing open until Friday at 5 p.m., so anyone who wants to get in their two cents worth about TYC, TJPC, or the Office of Independent Ombudsman (for that matter, also the Texas Commission on Jail Standards) should let the committee know what they're thinking.

        You can email comments to them at sunset@sunset.state.tx.us

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Labels: sex crimes, Sunset, TYC

        Teen gets life sentence in parking lot murder

        By Steven Kreytak
        December 12, 2008

        An 18-year-old accused gang member will spend the rest of his life in prison after a Travis County jury late Thursday found him guilty of capital murder in a December 2007 killing at a North Austin apartment complex.

        Terrell D. Maxwell, was one of three young men who set out to rob someone December 15, 2007 and in an apartment complex on Rutland Drive encountered Fernando Santander, 31, returning from an area nightclub, according to a police affidavit.

        Maxwell shot Santander, at right bottom, in the head while Santander sat inside his white Ford van, leaving the Mexico City native who worked for a remodeling company slumped over the steering wheel, the affidavit said.

        The jury reached its verdict after three days of testimony in state District Judge Bob Perkins� court. Maxwell was not eligible for the death penalty because of his age at the time of the offense so automatically received a sentence of life in prison without parole.

        Capital murder charges are pending against Maxwell�s co-defendants � Michael Jamerson and Rashad Dukes.

        Maxwell has a criminal record that includes theft, burglary, robbery and weapons possession that dates back to April 2004, when he was 13, according to court filings by prosecutors.

        In October 2004 he was in a gang-related fight at Dobie Middle School and was later suspended from Lanier High School for gang violence, prosecutor Amy Meredith wrote.

        Teen gets life

        Friendswood boy who killed dad may get retrial

        Appeals court rules that judge erred in excluding evidence explaining fear

        Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
        Dec. 11, 2008

        A Friendswood boy who was 10 when he shot his father deserves a new murder trial because the trial judge didn't let jurors hear evidence that the child thought he was defending himself and his brother, an appeals court ruled Thursday.

        Rick Lohstroh, a physician at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, died in the 2004 shooting. In October 2006, jurors decided the boy committed an act of delinquent conduct. He was committed to the Texas Youth Commission for 10 years, and is scheduled to be eligible for parole next year.

        The boy met with a psychologist hours before the shooting and told authorities several times that he was scared of his father, according to court records.

        Lohstroh, 41, went to his ex-wife's home to pick up the boy and his younger brother. The boy got into his father's SUV with his mother's. 45-caliber pistol in his backpack and fired through the driver's seat. Court records show the boy, "came back in the house with a gun in his hand. With his other hand, (he) made an 'OK' sign," according to court documents. He told his mother, "I shot him."

        Houston's 14th Court of Appeals ruled state District Judge Michael Schneider erred when he refused to allow expert testimony regarding whether the boy believed he was in danger of imminent harm when he shot his father.

        "The average lay person had no basis for understanding why (the boy) would fear for his life by simply getting into the car with his father," the opinion reads.

        The boy was so afraid for his life, the appellate court noted, police had to be called to force the boy to go with his father at least three times in the months before the shooting. At least once the boy jumped out of a moving car to avoid going with his father, court documents show.

        Court records show the boy, whom the Houston Chronicle has not named because of his age, suffered through his parents' bitter divorce and believed he and his brother had been sexually assaulted by their father.

        Although authorities investigated allegations of sexual abuse and no charges were filed, jurors should have heard arguments about whether the boy believed he was defending himself and his brother, the appeals court said.

        History of violence

        Lohstroh's ex-wife, Deborah Geisler, has said police were called to the family's home about two dozen times during their marriage and that the boy had seen each of his parents arrested.

        After the divorce, both parents had custody, and the brothers would live with each parent for alternating weeks. The appellate court focused on the boy's reluctance to go to his father's house each week. Hours before the shooting, the boy met with a psychologist and said he was afraid of his father and that he didn't feel safe at his father's home.

        Defense attorney Chris Tritico said the boy, now 14, is "extremely happy" about the court's decision.

        "It's an absolute win for us," Tritico said.

        Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry, who heads the DA's appellate division, said the DA's office could ask the court of appeals for a rehearing, or ask the Texas Supreme Court to review the decision.

        Curry said the DA's office has at least two weeks before deciding its next move.

        If the ruling stands, prosecutors would have to decide whether to retry the case or free the boy.

        Geisler declined to talk about the developments, saying she remains under a gag order.

        Richard and Joanne Greene, Lohstroh's parents, could not be reached for comment.


        Friendswood boy who killed dad may get retrial


        Justice system ill equipped to handle mental illness

        In the San Angelo Standard Times, a mother tells the tragic story of her son's mental illness and ultimate suicide, including numerous run ins with the law along the way.

        Lisa Hatch and her husband were both law enforcement officers, but that didn't stop the hand of fate from dealing their family this terrible blow. Her moving column urges parents to seek help early and never give up trying to help their child. She also expresses gratitude for the numerous law enforcement agencies who dealt with her son over the years: "We feel like he was treated well by those in charge of him ... Andrew was a bright, lovable soul, but he could frustrate a saint."

        Hatch urges readers, "Tell your elected officials, that now is not the time to cut funds to our limited mental health system." The justice system does an especially poor job handling these cases, but in the present environment where there aren't adequate mental health services for seriously troubled youth, too often that's where the responsibility falls.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        The Story is posted below...

        Viewpoints: Hope, resources exist for mentally ill

        By LISA HATCH
        Special to the Standard-Times
        November 27, 2008

        My family is reeling and struggling to recover from the lifelong battle we waged to save our youngest son, Andrew Hatch, who suffered from long-standing, serious mental illness.

        We lost the battle Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, as he committed suicide by hanging himself.

        I want to reach out to other frustrated families that have been unable to find beneficial mental health treatment from what we trust to be The System.

        The help we received here from the Tom Green County Sheriff's Office and the mental health offices in the Concho Valley has been excellent. But the main problem is that by the time we got him here to this area, it was already too late for him to get much benefit.

        Let me assure you, this area has more caring and competent agencies than most.

        Multiple suicide attempts We moved to the Concho Valley in 2001, and by that time, Andrew was 15 years old and had already had multiple suicide attempts and a file at the mental health agency (in the town we moved from) about six inches thick from where we took him faithfully for therapy, prescriptions, medical doctors and multiple psychological evaluations.

        He already had a juvenile record by this time, and unbeknownst to us, had been the person responsible for several bomb threats at his old high school. He had admitted to contemplating killing one of his brothers with a kitchen knife while he slept, mixing chemicals into our food, shampoo and toothpaste, and a psychologist warned us that we must wire our house with a fire alarm system if we intended to try to keep him in our home.

        What did he mean, if?

        We had nowhere else to send him, no other resources available, just our immediate family surrounding him 24 hours a day and us getting up all hours of the night to check on him.

        Disease's unspeakable toll We lived in terror of what we might find.

        Our two older children were burdened with helping us care for a mentally ill brother, and they have equal credit in keeping him safe and alive, as they were mere children themselves. As those with a seriously ill family member know all too well, this takes an unspeakable toll on everyone.

        Since Andrew was too disturbed to be accepted in any of the residential treatment facilities, we dedicated our lives to learning all we could and setting up 24-hour care for him at home, in shifts.

        People asked us, "Why don't you just commit him somewhere?"

        Well, folks, let me tell you, it is never that simple.

        We were told at that time, by a caring MHMR counselor who gave me the few paltry referrals we had to go on, that the MHMR system was limited on what they could do. And we would not be able to get any real help for him until he entered the criminal justice system as an offender and they could help get him diagnosed and rehabilitated.

        Even worse, a Texas Youth Commission counselor, after listening to our quandary and lack of resources, advised us that we could give up custody of Andrew to the state of Texas, which could take over his care and put him into intensive treatment that would not be available to us as his parents and custodians.

        His father and I were law enforcement officers.

        I had already resigned my position to stay at home and supervise his care and safeguard the others.

        They warned us that we would probably face jail time and loss of our occupational licenses and employment for criminal charges of abandonment, even though we would be doing it to get him better care. Can anybody imagine that this could happen in the United States of America? Believe me, it does. We chose to continue fighting for him on our own.

        Help is available Let me share with you what did help him.

        I contacted West Texas Boys Ranch in 2001, and a kind and loving lady, after we determined that he was too mentally ill to be taken in there, faxed me a huge list of all the other residential treatment services available in Texas and the United States. She listened to me cry but gave me comfort and hope.

        She put me in touch with the Meridell Center at Liberty Hill, which deals with rage/aggression disorders, and we were able to get Andrew evaluated and given high-tech brain scans that showed where the problems were in his limbic and frontal lobe regions, and showed the micro-seizures that were occurring.

        Dr. Larry Fischer, who lectures at River Crest, took Andrew's history and present findings and diagnosed him with several disorders, including rapid cycling bipolar, rage/aggression and oppositional/ defiant conduct disorders.

        He also made medication and school recommendations on his learning disorders based on his findings.

        We were so grateful that we cried. Before, we were never able to get a good, solid diagnosis besides attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.

        Subsequently, we made sure that each judge, jail, mental health hospital and state jail facility Andrew ended up had a copy of this, and hoped maybe they would be vigilant to take our warnings about his behavior seriously.

        For the most part, they have. Occasionally, medical personnel would change his medications, or feel the need to not give it to him.

        Walking away from opportunity Andrew threatened and attempted suicide everywhere he ever went. They managed to keep him alive in spite of himself. I have been told he created a lot of havoc in Tom Green County jail, and I appreciate all they did to take care of him.

        I sent a letter of thanks to Sheriff Joe Hunt for several of his deputies, supervisors and mental health constables, as well as our heartfelt apologies for Andrew injuring a deputy while she was responding to one of his suicide attempts at our home.

        He was already 17 by then and in the adult criminal system.

        The probation department here tried to help him pull it together, as did the Concho Valley MHMR, but he walked away from several good opportunities.

        Andrew had been given arrangements for a place to live, work and attend school, but rebelled against all authority and continued to avoid taking his medication, which they provided, nor comply with their (what I thought was reasonable) conditions.

        This is typical of mentally ill people, and medication only works if the patient takes it. That unmedicated state exacerbated his irrational behavior.

        It's a vicious circle.

        After a few more lengthy state and county jail stays, he ended up on felony probation in Houston. He did the same thing to those nice people, walking off from several great places to stay and refusing to report in to MHMR or probation. He knew he would be going back to jail and staged yet another suicide attempt. This time, they were too late to cut him down and save him.

        We feel like he was treated well by those in charge of him, and having those records from Meridell in their possession helped them to understand why they had such a hard time reaching him and rehabilitating him. Andrew was a bright, lovable soul, but he could frustrate a saint.

        Seek help and never give up As for things that help those of us with seriously mentally ill loved ones, I registered online with NAMI, which is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org).

        NAMI is a grassroots advocacy organization that has a group that meets in San Angelo once a month at the Concho Valley MHMR.

        I used the online services and support forum to look for any services available that Andrew might use.

        You don't have to pay a fee to join and be on the forum, and you get a tremendous amount of help and resources. You can pay an annual fee of $35 and get additional services, but all of the basic services are free. NAMI has been instrumental in getting the new mental health parity legislation moved forward.

        Tell your elected officials, that now is not the time to cut funds to our limited mental health system.

        I truly believe that among his many problems, Andrew was a high-functioning autistic. I know this was not widely recognized several years ago, but with the exponential increase in autism, we cannot afford to cut services to our children.

        With the jobless rate increasing and people losing their homes, we need outreach programs more than ever.

        There is no pain on this earth to compare with watching your child, who is locked into themselves, give up on life because they almost connect with the world; yet, a good, full life is still just beyond their reach.

        Please, please, don't give up, and keep searching for answers. Somebody, somewhere, has a referral that will help you.

        For all of you who have lost a loved one to suicide, God love you.

        In better days, I was a funeral director and was privileged to take care of many families that have been where we are. We went through the same valley of pain and grief that I share with you, and now, I "get" what you all have told me. You have told me what a huge comfort the funeral was for you and having others tend to your needs.

        For many years, fear, heartache and disappointment has numbed our lives to the point that we just withdrew into ourselves.

        But, Ray and Jeff Harper, John Halfmann, and Myrtis Loudermilk, as well as every one of my beloved family/staff at Johnson's Funeral Home, held us in their arms and loved us through this trying time of grief and anguish.

        It was like having a warm rescue ship pull us out of the icy sea. Our middle son, Lorenzo, is a seminarian for San Angelo Catholic Diocese, which immediately surrounded us with love, prayers and kind, soft words of comfort.

        Bishop Michael Pfeifer so lovingly led us across the abyss of grief that all suicide survivors must cross. We had forgotten what true love was about.

        As we were taught by this tragedy, you don't have to cross it alone.

        God will stay beside you and never give up looking for help.

        And lastly, allow others to help you and don't be embarrassed by your situation.

        Thank you for allowing me to "pay it forward."

        Lisa Hatch is a San Angelo resident.

        Resources exist for Mentally Ill

        Juveniles get longer terms as arrests dip

        Stays had been cut to alleviate jail overcrowding

        Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
        Nov. 20, 2008

        Young offenders assigned to Harris County's juvenile detention facilities will be spending a little more time in lockup now that a reduction in arrests has eased chronic overcrowding in the system, juvenile probation chief Harvey Hetzel said.

        The average stay at the residential facilities that serve as jails for youths has fallen in recent years from four months to 10-12 weeks as authorities have struggled to make room for scores of offenders waiting for placements.

        At one point in May, 320 juveniles were jammed into the 250-bed downtown detention center, where inmates are held while they await trial or placement in a residential facility. The department had to set up cots in recreation rooms and other common areas.

        Now, however, the county's five major facilities all are far below capacity, in large part because of a 14 percent decrease in the number of youths referred to the department, Hetzel said. That has allowed authorities to begin gradually extending each offender's stay by reintroducing treatment programs or restoring time that had been cut from them, he told the Juvenile Board this week.

        Some Juvenile Board members, including County Judge Ed Emmett, questioned whether holding the offenders longer would help or hurt their rehabilitation. Hetzel and other department employees said shortening the stays forced them to cut corners to move kids through the system more quickly.

        "Whenever we've had a kid a longer period of time, they tend to internalize the values when they're there," Hetzel said. " ... And hopefully, as they internalize the values, then whenever they're released, their nature are those value systems and not a quick reversion back to what they had before they came into the program."

        Timetable restored

        Officials at the Harris County Youth Village, a 170-bed facility for 15- and 16-year-old boys, recently lengthened the first step of its five-step program to 30 days, after shortening it to two weeks to release offenders more speedily, Assistant Superintendent Obi Nweke said.

        That gives therapists, caseworkers and other team members more time to evaluate the new residents and get them the drug counseling or therapy they may need. The program requires offenders to meet a series of behavioral benchmarks to earn their release, he said.

        "It takes longer than 30 days to detox the kids anyway, if they came in with drugs," Nweke said. "Now, we get a chance to actually look at the kid and give him more services, like drug counseling."

        Youth Village residents also are able to participate in more one-on- one, group or family therapy sessions, which officials had scaled back because of time constraints, Nweke said.

        Juvenile court judges, prosecutors and the Juvenile Probation Department have been working with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation for about a year to find ways to reduce the number of youth detainees without putting the public at risk.

        Among the new tactics are diversion programs that identify low-risk offenders who would benefit more from outpatient mental health treatment than from being incarcerated, Hetzel said.

        For example, through a grant-funded program called Operation Redirect, every young offender referred to the agency undergoes a psychological screening. A case manager can use the results, available within 48 hours, to advise the prosecutor, judge and defense attorney about community-based programs available to help that youth.

        Decline a mystery

        "We're able to divert kids from custody and place them back at home with the appropriate support that's there," Hetzel said.

        But Hetzel said the biggest factor easing overcrowding is the drop in juvenile arrests, which fell from 19,791 in the first 10 months of last year to 16,976 during the same period this year. Arrest numbers were down in almost all categories, particularly drug offenses, which declined 50 percent to 338 in the felony category and 74 percent to 14 among Class C misdemeanors.

        Hetzel said he was not sure why arrest numbers are falling here and across the country.

        Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff's Office officials said they don't closely track juvenile crime across categories and couldn't comment on the decline.


        Juveniles get longer terms

        Panel recommends abolishing Texas Youth Commission in favor of new system

        November 12, 2008
        Associated Press

        AUSTIN � A state advisory panel recommends abolishing the Texas youth prison and probation systems and replacing them with a new agency.

        State lawmakers already drafted major revisions to the Texas Youth Commission in 2007 after the agency was racked by a sex scandal and alleged coverup.

        Wednesday's report by the Sunset Review Commission, which reviews state agency performance, said the TYC and the state Juvenile Probation Commission should be brought under the same agency to consolidate funding and services for juvenile offenders.

        The panel's recommendations now go to the Legislature.

        Panel recommends abolishing Texas Youth Commission in favor of new system

        November 04, 2008

        TYC Sunset report coming soon, new notification rule on meds released

        Some readers may be interested in the Texas Youth Commission's new rules regarding giving youth psychotropic medication, particularly the part of the directive that declares:

        If a youth is prescribed psychotropic medication, the youth will be verbally notified and the parent/guardian will be notified via the Medication Notification Letter, Word Document HLS-190, of the diagnosis, name of the drug, purpose of the drug, potential side effects or complications of the drug, and safety precautions (if applicable).

        If a prescribed psychotropic medication is discontinued, the youth will be verbally notified and the parent/guardian will be notified in writing on the HLS-190.

        The policy goes on to spell out rules regarding hoarding and other types of noncompliance by youth.

        In other TYC news, new Executive Commissioner said in an email to employees dated Oct. 28 that she'd be:

        participating in the exit conference with Sunset Advisory Commission staff on behalf of TYC this week. This exit conference is the last step before the Sunset Advisory Commission staff will write their final report and make recommendations to the Commission. The final report on TYC is expected to be released November 12th and will be considered by the Sunset Advisory Commission in December.

        So we can expect the Sunset report on TYC to come out perhaps as early as next week.

        New notification rule on meds released

        TYC prison contract canceled

        � 2008 The Associated Press
        Oct. 24, 2008

        AUSTIN � The state's troubled youth prison system has canceled a contract with a Florida company following criticism taxpayers were paying $22,500 a day to lease empty prison beds, officials said.

        The Texas Youth Commission terminated the contract Thursday with Youth Services International. No one at the company could be reached for comment Thursday, the Austin American-Statesman reported in its Friday online edition. Previously, a company official had indicated the payments were reasonable.

        "This is what I asked for_ cancel that contract. We need to get our money back. It's a good day for taxpayers and the Youth Commission that they corrected this big mistake," said Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

        Whitmire was among the lawmakers demanding the contract be canceled when they learned the embattled agency was leasing Eagle Lake prison, near Houston. It sat empty for three months despite the state paying the company nearly $1.3 million in startup costs, which covered part of July and all of August. Checks for September and October were withheld by TYC, which wants to negotiate a refund for much of what it already spent, the San Antonio Express-News reported Thursday in its online edition.

        On Oct. 17, officials moved 18 teen offenders into the Eagle Lake prison but sent them Thursday to others around the state. Cherie Townsend, the commission's new executive commissioner, said in a statement the company will be asked for a detailed accounting of all state money spent so far on the contract.

        Commission officials were criticized for inking the deal when its existing lockups have dozens of empty beds. The number of teenage lawbreakers in commission lockups has declined from more than 5,000 to about 2,700 in the wake of a reorganization and management shakeup that followed a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal in 2007.

        In a statement Thursday, Townsend said the agency "is evaluating its youth population, future trends and future needs."

        The contract is the latest trouble for TYC. Gov. Rick Perry recently moved the agency out of the state conservatorship put in place in 2007 following allegations of inmate sexual abuse and a cover-up by agency officials.

        TYC prison contract canceled

        Texas Youth Commission vows to halt 'start-up' fees for empty prisons

        October 17, 2008
        The Dallas Morning News

        AUSTIN -- The Texas Youth Commission, under fire for spending more than $1 million over three months on an empty juvenile prison, said today that it will no longer pay start-up fees to companies it contracts with.

        TYC spokesman Jim Hurley said the agency signed the contract with Youth Services International in July, and agreed to pay up front to cover hiring, renovations and other preliminary costs at a Houston- area facility � which was chosen in an effort to move juvenile offenders closer to home.

        News of the early expenditures � which total $1.26 million -- prompted outrage today from lawmakers and from Gov. Rick Perry, who removed the scandal-torn TYC from conservatorship earlier this week.

        �There�s no excuse for it, and someone needs to investigate it,� said Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate�s Criminal Justice Committee. �It continues to show me that this is a dysfunctional agency.�

        The TYC, still reeling from 2007�s sexual and physical abuse scandal, continues to take hits. Top TYC officials today vowed that start-up costs, which were first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, would not be included in any future contracts. The contract was not signed under current executive commissioner Cherie Townsend, but under the TYC�s most recent conservator, Richard Nedelkoff.

        �Taxpayers don�t pay the startup costs for any other small business owner, and they shouldn�t be doing it here,� Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said. �We didn�t know this was happening, and we�ve made it very clear that this should not happen in the future.�

        Mr. Hurley said the first juvenile offenders are arriving at the facility today, which has the capacity to house 119 youth. He said October was always the target date to open the prison. But he said it�s unclear how many offenders will eventually end up there, because Ms. Townsend is reviewing the entire contract.

        �This whole thing was about regionalization, about getting kids closer to home,� Mr. Hurley said. �That said, providing startup costs is a practice that will not be a part of our operation anymore.�

        But Sen. Whitmire, a leading proponent of putting juvenile offenders in small, intimate settings close to their homes, said this facility wasn�t what he or other lawmakers had in mind. It�s 60 miles away from Houston. These youth need to be in urban locations with role models who can relate to them, he said.

        �We need to make decisions that are outside the current model,� he said. �This public agency that has been in the public eye for two years now still needs major reforms from top to bottom.�

        TYC vows to halt 'start-up' fees for empty prisons

        Texas' youth prisons draw fire from state lawmakers

        October 1, 2008
        Associated Press

        With an alarming report that appears to be based on faulty databases and a general confusion over what should be basic information, several state lawmakers said Wednesday they are still frustrated by the Texas youth prison system and questioned whether it will ever regain the public trust.

        "I don't have confidence in anything the agency is doing," said Sen. John Whitmire, the Houston Democrat who co-chairs the joint Senate and House committee charged with oversight of the Texas Youth Commission.

        Panel members were concerned by a report issued last week by TYC's ombudsman Will Harrell that said scores of allegations of mistreatment of youth may have been closed without proper investigation over the past 14 months.

        On Wednesday, TYC officials said the report was based on an old and incomplete database. An internal follow-up investigation did not find the same problem, although officials said they are still reviewing the cases.

        Whitmire, who said last week he was shocked by the initial report and lashed out at TYC officials, turned his criticism toward Harrell on Wednesday.

        "I think we're finding out it's a high-tech typo. This is way too serious to be dealing with it so casually," Whitmire said of Harrell's report.

        Lawmakers have been closely watching the TYC since allegations of sexual abuse of inmates and a cover-up by agency officials erupted in early 2007.

        Harrell, a former head of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, was hired that year as the TYC ombudsman, who serves as an agency watchdog office and youth advocate.

        Harrell's report indicated scores of abuse cases were either not investigated properly by the agency or turned over to law enforcement, while others were left in limbo.

        Agency officials blamed the finding on a faulty database that simply isn't up to date and not set up to have all the relevant information. A followup of cases showed that most of the information showing how a case was disposed was available in paper files, but not in the computer system.

        The agency identified 564 cases to review. Of about 300 reviewed so far, only about 19 warrant further investigation and only one probably should have gone to law enforcement that has not. The inmate in that case is no longer in the TYC, said Bruce Toney, the agency's inspector general.

        TYC Conservator Richard Nedelkoff said a new, more complete database is supposed to be ready by December.

        Nedelkoff said the existing database doesn't meet the agency's needs and isn't adequate. "We rely too much on paper," Nedelkoff said.

        "In a perfect world, you should be able to click" on a computer screen for the information, Nedelkoff said.

        Whitmire and other lawmakers criticized Harrell for releasing the report when they said it was clear the database was likely to provide unreliable information.

        "Don't jump to conclusions. We shouldn't alarm people," Whitmire said.

        Harrell said he used the best information he had and believes his office has a legal responsibility to report problems it finds.

        "With the history (of TYC), we weren't prepared to roll the dice," Harrell said.

        After the meeting, Harrell said he believed the agency review will ultimately find many cases that were not correctly handled. He said his office has been telling the agency and lawmakers that it was finding problems as far back as February.

        "If this is nothing more than a high-tech typo, we'll be the first to celebrate, but I don't think that will be the case. The data that was presented to us demonstrated a serious problem," Harrell said.

        The panel suggested an outside review by the state auditor may be needed.

        There also seemed to be confusion over the number of inmate-filed grievances under review. Harrell's office said there is a backlog of more than 1,000 grievances that are considered overdue, while a TYC official said the number was closer to 550.

        Then lawmakers learned that's because there's two separate databases that handle those cases.

        "I need an aspirin," said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. All the confusion led Whitmire to complain that the agency seems as broken as it was two years ago when lawmakers were scrambling to fix it.

        "Anybody strolling in here and listening to this would think they ought to replace all of us," Whitmire said. "It's what I don't know that still scares me the worst. That's what I said two years ago."

        Texas' youth prisons draw fire

        Web Posted: 09/25/2008

        TYC hit again with blistering report

        Lisa Sandberg - Express-News

        AUSTIN � More than 18 months after the state's juvenile corrections system was nearly torn apart by a sex abuse scandal, the agency's youth advocate said Wednesday that scores of abuse and neglect cases appear to have been closed over the past year without being properly investigated.

        Texas Youth Commission ombudsman Will Harrell identified 85 cases of alleged abuse or neglect that � according to the agency's own records � were closed without being investigated by the agency's administrative arm, the Youth Rights Division, or by any law enforcement agency, in violation of procedures.

        Another 88 recently closed abuse and neglect cases were investigated "by a law enforcement agency, but not by the Youth Rights Division as required by policy," Harrell said in a blistering report he delivered to the state's top leadership Wednesday.

        A total of 564 cases alleging mistreatment of youths were closed by the agency without any record indicating how they were disposed, the report says.

        In some instances, abuse allegations were assigned to the alleged perpetrator to investigate, Harrell said. Other cases were left hanging after being assigned to people who had been transferred to other departments and not notified, or to people who had left the agency.

        TYC conservator Richard Nedelkoff said in a statement that he was "appalled" by the report's findings. He said he had been assured that the main problem is that the agency's database does not reflect final dispositions for the 564 cases.

        "Uncertainty in the area of the treatment of youth simply cannot be tolerated," said Nedelkoff, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry late last year after a top-to-bottom agency reorganization. "We will not be satisfied with anything less than 100 percent accountability on this issue."

        Perry was "very disappointed" in the report's findings, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. "This system should have been addressed," Allison Castle said.

        Harrell said the abuse and neglect cases examined by his office include the most serious allegations � such as sexual or physical assault of youths by staff members, youth-on-youth violence and medical neglect.

        "We're not talking about grievances like the food is too cold," he said.

        Harrell said his staff put in hundreds of hours over the past several weeks examining the agency's records. The results disturbed him so much, he said, that he felt legally compelled to bring the issue to the immediate attention of everyone from the governor's office on down.

        He cited a law passed last year requiring him to report "flagrant abuses" to top elected officials.

        Though he didn't name any individual at the agency, Harrell went out of his way in his report to defend the agency's inspector general, Bruce Toney. Over the past year, Toney repeatedly raised some of the concerns to agency officials "to no avail," Harrell said.

        His findings come more than 18 months after the agency nearly imploded on allegations of staff members physically and sexually abusing youths at facilities throughout the state, with some administrators turning a blind eye to the problem. The Legislature last year ordered sweeping reforms.

        TYC spokesman Jim Hurley said in a statement that the agency had already taken steps to revamp the system for reporting alleged abuse and neglect. All cases are now being reviewed under the command of the agency's law enforcement arm � the Office of Inspector General � rather than its administrative arm.

        And all 564 cases will be independently reviewed again, Hurley said.


        Posted Sep. 19, 2008

        U.S. should revisit life terms for juveniles

        J.C. Lore III is a clinical associate professor
        at Rutgers Law School, Camden

        > The United States leads the world - by far - in sentencing children to die in prisons. It's the only country in the world where children are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, and Pennsylvania leads the 50 states in the category.

        > At least 2,380 American prisoners - 450 of them, or nearly one-fifth, in Pennsylvania - were sentenced as juveniles and will never be considered for release. They will never have the opportunity to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated. They are effectively guaranteed to spend their entire lives behind bars for things they did as children.

        > The Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania Senate is holding hearings Monday to reexamine this practice in light of psychological and developmental research, international standards, and national trends to the contrary.

        > Brain-development research shows that children as a group are less culpable than adults. During the last decade, brain-scanning research has confirmed what psychologists have known for years - that the key parts of the brain associated with judgment and decision-making remain undeveloped throughout adolescence.

        > Parts of the brain controlling impulse behavior are the last to mature, making children more susceptible to peer pressure. This diminished capacity for understanding long-term consequences also explains why children are more capable of rehabilitation than their adult counterparts. As their brains evolve and change, they are more capable of growth and reform.

        > These principles have long been the foundation of our country's century-old juvenile courts, and the primary reason for distinguishing between children and adults.

        > Israel, the last country outside ours to abandon juvenile life sentences without parole, recently granted sentence reviews for seven prisoners serving such terms. That makes the United States the only country in contravention of international standards.

        > The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that has been ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia, explicitly prohibits execution and sentences of life without parole of children. Perhaps more troubling, the Committee on Human Rights found the United States to be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified in 1992.

        > Some states, including Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and Oregon, expressly prohibit juvenile life sentences without parole. Others, such as New Jersey, New York, Utah and Vermont, have no prisoners known to be serving such sentences.

        > Some of the children serving these sentences committed horrific crimes. But others were sentenced under felony-murder statutes, which means that they did not intend to kill anyone, but that someone was killed during the commission of a less serious crime. A significant number were also convicted under a theory of accomplice liability, meaning they were not the primary actors in their crimes.

        > These sentences disproportionately impact African American and Latino children, who are as much as 10 or 20 times more likely than white children to be sentenced to life without parole.

        > Eliminating such sentences would not mean that these individuals would be - or even should be - released from prison. However, it would give them the opportunity to demonstrate growth, development and rehabilitation. The American Bar Association recently adopted a resolution urging states to allow for the possibility of parole and consider the youth of offenders.

        > At least 135 countries have abolished these sentences. The United States and Pennsylvania should change their policies to comply with international standards and an emerging national trend.

        E-mail comments to J.C. Lore III at

        August 28, 2008

        New TYC executive director hired

        According to an email sent out by the conservator today to all Texas Youth Commission staff, TYC has finally hired a permanent executive director. Wrote Richard Nedelkoff:

        I am pleased that I am able to tell you today that I have hired Cherie Townsend as the agency�s new Executive Director. While she officially comes on board October 1, Cherie will be attending some agency functions prior to that time.

        Cherie brings a wealth of background and expertise in juvenile justice, having established a national reputation as an agent of change. I�m pleased someone of her caliber is joining us at TYC to help lead the agency forward, and I feel very strongly that she will provide the agency with the leadership needed to complete our reform efforts.

        Cherie�s experience in juvenile justice spans more than three decades, including 18 years in previous positions at TYC. Most recently she served as director of the Clark County Juvenile Court Services in Las Vegas, NV where she was responsible for the leadership, planning, management and delivery of court services in one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. Prior to that, she served as director of Juvenile Court Services for the Superior Court of Arizona�s Juvenile Court Center in Maricopa County.

        During Cherie�s 18-year tenure at TYC, she served as director of community services where she developed and updated programs to meet the changing needs of youth and families and to improve results and better manage at-risk youth in communities.

        I know nothing about Ms. Townsend, but before her gig in Nevada, according to this brief bio:

        Ms. Townsend served as Director of Juvenile Court Services in Maricopa County, Arizona. She has worked for the Texas Youth Commission in various capacities, including Director of Community Services. She also served as Director of Victim-Witness Services for the Travis County District Attorney in Texas. Ms. Townsend has earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Texas.

        Her past experience with TYC may help some; certainly you wouldn't want someone with no Texas experience at all leading the agency through the Sunset process at the lege next year. But otherwise it's hard to say from this information whether they've selected the right long-term leader for the troubled agency. I hope so. Time will tell.

        UPDATE: See TYC's press release on the announcement. Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Labels: TYC

        Our kids in adult jails And prisons

        Aug 27, 2008

        On contemplating suicide in adult prison:

        Richard I., who was 14 at the time of his crime and entered prison at age 16, spoke about his suicidal thoughts and his repeated practice of cutting his arms with razor blades:

        "When I went to prison, I was around all the�up all night�all the violence. I was like, `man I gotta get out of this�how am I gonna get out of this prison?' I can't do no life sentence here at that age. And so I thought of that [killing himself]. Gotta end it, gotta end it . . . I've got so many cuts on me. . . . Razor blades. They give us disposable razors, you pop it out."

        �Interview with Richard I., East Arkansas Regional Unit, Brickeys, Arkansas, June 21, 2004 (pseudonym)

        On rape and other physical violence in adult prison:

        Brian B. wrote about what happened soon after he entered prison in Pennsylvania at the age of 17 with a life without parole sentence:

        "Sheriffs took me to the Western Penitentiary. They lied to the warden telling him I were eighteen, which I had not yet become. I were housed in an open poorly supervised unit, and that evening a group of large adult men rushed into my cell, holding me down, they began pulling my clothes off while another took a syringe over to a spoon that another inmate were holding a lighter under. He drew up whatever was in the spoon. I were then injected with whatever it were. And then raped. Once found by the officers I were taken to a holding area, cleaned up, and placed on a van to another prison at around 3:00 am."

        �Letter from Brian B., Albion, Pennsylvania, August 28, 2004 (pseudonym)

        Warren P. wrote that when he first came to prison, at the age of 15:

        "I was the target of covert sexual predators. Adults would pretend to be your best friend to get close to you, then they would try you. . . . Officers would be hard on me more so than the adults for they believe that the younger inmates need rougher treatment." �Letter to Human Rights Watch from Warren P., Marion Correction Institute, Lowell, Florida, March 2, 2004 (pseudonym)

        On rehabilitation:

        Charles L. came to prison at age 19. He spoke with obvious pride about what he was learning on "hoe squad" in the Arkansas Department of Corrections:

        "I ain't ever had no job. But now I'm on hoe squad. Know how to plant everything. Cantaloupe, squash, onions, green beans, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, peas, sweet potatoes . . . everything they grow, eggplant . . . they grow everything. There's a lot I know since I been here."

        �Interview with Charles L, Varner Unit, Arkansas, June 22, 2004 (pseudonym)

        Troy L., who was 15 when he murdered his abusive father, was interviewed for this report at age 24 in June 2004. He wrote in a subsequent letter:

        "I would be ever grateful, in fact, for the chance to spend my life now for some good reason. I would go to the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan or Israel, or jump on the first manned mission to Mars. . . .[I]f the state were to offer me some opportunity to end my life doing some good, rather than a slow-wasting plague to the world, it would be a great mercy to me."

        �Letter to Human Rights Watch from Troy L., Grady Arkansas, July 2004 (pseudonym)

        A legislator's, prosecutor's, and judge's views on the sentence: Florida State Attorney Harry Shorstein, who prosecuted 14-year-old Joshua Phillips for killing his eight-year-old female neighbor in 1998 said:

        I oppose mandatory sentences and the Legislature' s tying the hands of judges and prosecutors. No matter how tough you are on crime, you can't say a fourteen-year- old is the same as an eighteen-year- old. �Paul Pinkham, "Court upholds life in prison for teenager," Florida Times-Union, February 7, 2002, p. B-1

        The judge who sentenced 15-year-old Henry L. to life without parole for first degree murder said at sentencing:

        The sentence that I must impose is mandated by law. I don't have any choice in the matter. I'm not at all comfortable with this case, not because the Defendant didn't receive a fair trial. I think that he did. . . . [But] it's obvious to me that we can't, as a society, say that fifteen-year- old children should be held to the same standards as adults. Our law provides this. I think the law is wrong."

        �Honorable David Scott DeWitt (deceased), excerpt from sentencing transcript in People v. Lashuay, 75th Circuit Court, Midland County, Michigan, June 25, 1984 (on file with Human Rights Watch)

        August 25, 2008

        Back to School: Fight Crime, Invest in Kids

        As Texas kids head back to school today, it's worth raising the question of whether too much public debate is focused on crime and punishment and too little on investments in education and mental health care that might prevent more incarceration.

        That's the gist of the "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids" initiative proposed recently by a national coalition of police, prosecutors and crime victims. I agree with Doc Berman that education and crime are too seldom linked in the public discourse. That's not just a "framing strategy," as Dan Filler put it it's a valid interpretation of the data that's become unpopular in recent years because of political arguments labeling its proponents "liberal" or "soft on crime." However, that doesn't invalidate the stance or reduce its import to mere clever political posturing. From the group's press release:

        Research shows that high school dropouts are three and a half times more likely than graduates to be arrested and eight times more likely to be incarcerated. Nineteen of the top 25 largest U.S. cities have school districts where 40 percent or more of students do not graduate on time. Nearly 70 percent of all inmates in our nation's prisons failed to earn a high school diploma.

        The law enforcement leaders are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national anti-crime organization made up of over 4,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, and violence survivors. They called on Congress and state lawmakers to expand pre-kindergarten, one of the most effective strategies to increase graduation rates.

        "If kids get strong start early in life, we can cut our dropout rate and improve our communities, " Lynch said. "To help more kids get that strong start, we need to fund early childhood education programs and ensure that every child that qualifies is able to enroll."

        The Fight Crime: Invest in Kids members released a report called "School or the Streets," showing that increasing graduation rates by 10 percentage points will prevent 3,000 murders and 175,000 aggravated assaults in America every year.

        To the extent those estimates are accurate, failures by Texas public schools on a massive scale contribute mightily to the expanding prison population.

        In May, former Secretary of State Collin Powell's organization, America's Promise, issued these data regarding dropout 4-year graduation rates in the largest Texas cities:

        Dallas: 44.4%
        Houston: 54.6%
        San Antonio: 51.9%
        Austin: 58.2%
        Fort Worth: 55.5%

        As Grits argued in reaction to that analysis, there are particular subgroups among dropouts who account for a disproportionate amount of crime and public safety resources:

        Straight-up illiteracy is a key criminogenic factor. It's long been known, for example, that while dyslexics make up about 10% of students, they make up 30% or more of those in prison.

        As far as reducing crime, an even more important subcategory are kids with incarcerated parents, who tend to be 6-8 times more likely than their peers to wind up incarcerated themselves. Making sure those kids stay in school and have real opportunities to succeed might be the single most important contribution society could make to reducing future crime.

        Texas' massive prison system shows it does a good job of holding its citizens accountable (one in 21 adult Texans are in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole), but these high dropout rates show there's been little progress made holding schools accountable for their frankly lousy outcomes.

        I spend a lot of time on this blog looking at the back end of the system's failures and how we manage those who've already violated societal rules. But there's little question reducing those massive dropout rates would reduce crime and systemic pressure on the front end better than anything that could be done after people have already offended. Worth contemplating, certainly, as everybody heads back to school.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at
        Labels: Crime prevention, dyslexia, schools

        Aug. 25, 2008

        The children are in prison

        "How are the children? The children are in prison."

        It has been said that if you want to learn about a society, visit its prisons.

        In the case of American society, a visit to the prisons speaks to the attitudes that are held toward African American males and the manner in which that part of the population has been abandon by family and the social institutions that should be helping them learn how to live and survive in the world.

        According to Becky Pettit, University of Washington sociologist, one in every 100 Americans is behind bars. This is about 2.4 million people with more than 45 percent of them being African American.

        The overall black population is around 12 percent. The rate of African Americans being imprisoned is increasing, and this is largely because the legal system has become more punitive than it was 30 years ago.

        There are more custodial sentences being given for victimless crimes, according to the Pettit study.

        Even though the number of African Americans continues to soar, we have known for many years of the large disparity between the black prison population and the total black population. There are many factors that can be used to explain this disparity. We have primarily constructed our race relations around a system of inequality and prejudice.

        But the disparity is less critical at this point than whether or not we have the will to change the pattern of continuing to use young African Americans, mostly males, and other young people of color, to maintain the industry the prison system has become.

        "Do you want to be healed?" This profound question asked by Jesus to the man at the Pool of Siloam who lamented that no one would help him into the pool sums up the dilemma for us at this modern moment regarding how we will choose to resolve this huge issue.

        When we take a close look at our prisons and the prisoners, we can see what it says about us. We have designated this group of folks as dispensable and set about to lower our expectations, withhold resources from them, and to make sure they stay on the path that leads them to the place that has been designated for them.

        We are all complicit in this matter, and all of us need to step back and take a good look at what we are saying about ourselves and our world as we continue to participate in this very immoral and unproductive enterprise of locking people up for decades at a time.

        Since we know there are states basing their number of prison beds on the number of third-grade children who fail, it is clear we need to refocus our lens. Our culture needs a new set of glasses through which to view this matter.

        Let me be clear, I am not for opening prison doors and sending everyone home, but this discussion does not need to degenerate into that kind of nonsense discourse; it needs to stay at the level of asking "what are we going to do with children in their early life, perhaps before birth, but certainly at birth through high school, that can help keep them from being in prison? The amount of money that is necessary to spend to keep the thousands in prison each year could be used to create very innovative and productive means of working with the folks that we keep sending to fill prison beds.

        I doubt there is anyone reading this column who believes people of color have some character flaw that makes them the largest number of those incarcerated. And since you cannot really think that is the case, there must be other explanations.

        These explanations have to do with family structures, mental-health needs, educational systems that begin to exclude children before they have a chance to find out how to survive the system. There are also economic systems that didn't make any space for them because they are not expected to show up - except to support the prison industry.

        This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly.
        E-mail her at: kayma53@cox.net.

        The children are in prison

        August 14, 2008


        The Case for Juvenile Courts

        This country made a terrible mistake when it began routinely trying youthful offenders as adults. This get-tough approach was supposed to deter crime.

        But a growing number of government-financed studies have shown that minors prosecuted as adults commit more crimes and are more likely to become career criminals than ones processed through juvenile courts.

        The value of specialized courts for young people is underscored in a new report from the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

        After evaluating the available research, it concludes that transferring juveniles for trial and sentencing to an adult criminal court has increased recidivism, especially among violent offenders, and has led many young people to a permanent life of crime.

        The juvenile justice system was one of the great reforms of the Progressive Era. The push to go back to trying children as adults began in the mid-1990s, when state lawmakers fixated on a few, high-profile crimes by young people and convinced there was a youth crime wave came up with a politically convenient solution.

        Young people who commit serious, violent crimes deserve severe punishment.

        But reflexively transferring juvenile offenders many of whom are accused of nonviolent crimes into the adult system is not making anyone safer. When they are locked up with adults, young people learn criminal behaviors.

        They are also deprived of the counseling and family support that they would likely get in the juvenile system, which is more focused on rehabilitation. And once they are released, their felony convictions make it hard for them to find a job and rebuild their lives.

        Nearly every state now has laws that encourage prosecutors to try minors as adults. The recent studies of this approach should lead legislatures to abandon these counterproductive policies.

        The New York Times

        August 09, 2008

        NY Times: Texas not providing federally guaranteed education to disabled kids in TYC

        "Texas has both a moral and legal obligation to remake a system that is crippling, then writing off, the state�s most vulnerable children," the New York Times editorialized yesterday in reaction to the recent Ombudsman's report (pdf) on carceral education at the Texas Youth Commission, analyzed earlier by Grits here. Noting that "more than 40 percent of the students in custody have been identified as having disabilities that make them eligible for services and protections under the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act," the Times opined that:

        The State Legislature will need to do at least two things if it hopes to correct these problems. First, it needs to require localities to provide disabled children with the school services they are entitled to under federal law, instead of just dumping them onto streets. Then lawmakers must strengthen the educational programs within the juvenile system itself by hiring better-trained employees and providing stronger central oversight.

        The point about holding public schools accountable as well as TYC is a good one. TYC will be rightfully blamed for longstanding failures in education once kids are incarcerated - particularly the fact that, as the Times said, "Children are routinely asked to essentially teach themselves through �self-directed reading� � even though a substantial percentage have limited reading skills." But those kids were already many grade levels behind their peers in school before they got to the Youth Commission. Too often, as the Times put it, school districts are "dumping" their problems rather than beefing up services for disabled or emotionally disturbed kids.

        The Dallas News earlier this year reached the same conclusion, editorializing that Texas had "inadvertently constructed a pipeline to youth prison." They argued that:

        An increased investment in our schools, especially at the elementary level, can pay huge dividends further down the road because it's in those formative years when things start to go wrong, experts say. An upfront investment in prevention can ultimately reap huge savings � and salvage lives � down the line.

        Instead, Texas favors a disciplinary- referral program that targets children � even in pre-kindergarten � to be removed from classrooms for misbehaving. A 2005 Texas A&M study found that the single most important predictor of future involvement with juvenile justice is a history of disciplinary referrals in school.

        The Texas system puts certain kids � particularly blacks and Hispanics � on a fast track for disciplinary referrals. Since 2003, Texas school districts have isolated thousands of students in disciplinary referral, including 500 pre-K and kindergarteners, and 2,100 first-graders. Are we setting these kids up for shame, inferior education, failure and a possible life of crime?

        So the mechanisms by which kids are functionally ousted from school at increasingly early ages, and for increasingly less serious offenses, had already been identified and been the subject of vocal criticism. The new Ombudsman's report, as the Times rightly points out, builds on that critique to add that disabled and emotionally disturbed kids predominate among those "dumped" by the schools into alternative disciplinary programs and ultimately into the juvenile justice system.

        Whether such systemic flaws violate individual kids' federally guaranteed right to education, I don't know, but the Times is right the Ombudsman's report raises the possibility that they could. Certainly TYC isn't meeting those minimum standards, but something tells me that, for the most part, the school district these kids came from weren't doing so, either.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
        Labels: schools, TYC

        Aug. 08, 2008

        Gov. Perry Awards $1.7 Million in Grants to Juvenile Offender Accountability Programs

        AUSTIN � Gov. Rick Perry awarded more than $1.7 million in grants to 25 programs dedicated to promoting greater accountability in the juvenile justice system. The grants are awarded through the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program and distributed by the Governor�s Criminal Justice Division (CJD).

        "These grants are an important step in helping young Texans and protecting our communities," Gov. Perry said. "By funding these services, the state helps Texas adolescents who engage in self- destructive and criminal activities find their way back on the road to becoming productive."

        JABG funding ensures juveniles are provided options such as restitution, community service, victim-offender mediation and other methods of rehabilitation and reform through the juvenile justice system. Local probation departments, detention facilities and courts use this funding to improve services within the juvenile justice system. The grants also fund crime control and prevention training for law enforcement officers and court personnel, substance abuse treatment and case management through juvenile drug courts, and risk assessments of young offenders.

        Each year, CJD administers more that $113 million in state and federal funds to support criminal justice, juvenile justice and victim restoration programs.

        The awards for the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) include:

        Award | Recipient | Project Title

        $12,865; Bell County; Bell County Crime Coalition
        $105,000; Bexar County; Bexar County Juvenile Drug Court
        $81,066; Bexar County; Early Intervention
        $16,989; Cameron County; Juvenile Surveillance Program
        $10,874; City of Corpus Christi; Municipal Juvenile Court
        $18,311; City of El Paso; Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program
        $131,401; City of Houston; Juvenile Accountability Court Program
        $172,763; Dallas County; Dallas County Juvenile Drug Court
        $24,548; Denton County; Juvenile Impact Program
        $127,500; El Paso County; El Paso County Juvenile Drug Court Program
        $36,466; El Paso County; Probation Supervision Tools and Interventions
        $19,089; Galveston County; Prosecution of Juvenile Offenders
        $287,542; Harris County; Harris County Juvenile Crime Enforcement

        Plan - Juvenile - Probation

        $10,000; Jim Hogg County; Juvenile Justice Detention and Intervention Services
        $25,701; Lubbock County; Multi-Jurisdictional Truancy Mediation Program
        $17,432; McLennan County; Violent Offender Intensive Supervision Program
        $168,313; Midland County; Justice Court Alternative Sentencing Program
        $19,744; Nueces County; Probation Rules Enforcement Program
        $92,050; Office of the Attorney General; Gang Resource System
        $16,996; Smith County Juvenile; Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP)

        Behavior - Interventionist/Truancy Abatement Program

        $141,187; Tarrant County; Tarrant County Coordinated Enforcement

        Plan for Reducing - Juvenile Crime

        $117,500; Travis County; Drug Court and In-Home Family Services Expansion
        $80,889; Travis County; Juvenile Assessment Center
        $16,680; Webb County; Juvenile Prosecution Project
        $24,035; Williamson County; Substance Abuse Treatment Program

        Grants to Juvenile Offender Accountability Programs


        Texas Youth Commission still staggering toward reform
        Youth Commission efforts to expand facilities makes some sense but falls short

        August 07, 2008

        The Texas Youth Commission is still struggling to right itself after last year's eruption of a scandal involving allegations of sexual abuse of minors by several employees, including some in supervisory positions, and the failure of the agency's senior administrators to act � even, it appeared, to ignore or cover up the wrongdoing below.

        An angry Legislature demanded change, forcing Gov. Rick Perry to put the agency into conservatorship, dismissing its six-member commission and replacing much of its top leadership. The number of youths in custody was reduced.

        The problems at the Youth Commission grew for years, so perhaps it's not surprising that even after 18 months of reform, serious problems remain. The agency has gone through several executive directors and conservators and even now the conservator, Richard Nedelkoff, doesn't seem to have won the confidence of key lawmakers.

        This week, the agency released a proposed "regionalization" plan that would shrink, but not close, several units, while opening new lockups and halfway houses. The plan includes a major facility, costing as much as $25 million, to be built in the Houston area and to house 150 youths.

        As Nedelkoff reasonably points out, "A significant number of youth and their families live in or near large urban areas. However, TYC facilities are rarely located within reasonable traveling distance from those urban areas."

        Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, criticized the plan with a pointed remark: "Twenty-two percent of their beds are vacant right now, and they're proposing to build a bunch of new units run by the state? That's crazy."

        The commission, Whitmire said, should have recommended closing some units in "remote, rundown rural areas" and put more emphasis on developing community-based programs rather than locking up youths.

        It's going to take legislators, though, to take on the job of actually closing Youth Commission units in rural areas. They are there because some lawmakers over the years pushed to get them to provide at least some state job opportunities for constituents in high unemployment areas.

        Nedelkoff is right to want youths whose offenses are serious enough to lock them up kept closer to home � even if society is quite willing to ship them to the wilds of West Texas. It's one thing to give up on a 35-year-old lifelong criminal. We shouldn't quit on a 15-year-old yet.

        Still, the agency and the Legislature remain too much at odds. The worst abuses done to offenders may have been stopped, but reform is a long way from complete.

        Texas Youth Commission still staggering toward reform

        Texas juvenile prisons led nation for sexual violence

        July 31, 2008
        By DOUG J. SWANSON
        The Dallas Morning News

        A survey by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Texas juvenile prisons led the nation in incidents of sexual violence during 2005 and 2006.

        The department's Bureau of Justice Statistics cautioned that the survey was "not designed to rank systems" but provides "an understanding of what corrections officials know [and] what information is recorded."

        The survey was released Thursday. It said Texas reported 21 substantiated allegations of staff sexual misconduct with youths in 2005 and 2006. No other state reported more than nine.

        Also, Texas reported 26 substantiated allegations of "youth on youth nonconsensual sexual acts." The next highest was Wisconsin, with nine.

        Texas accounted for 29 percent of such substantiated allegations nationwide, though the state's share of youth incarcerated was only 11 percent of the national total.

        The Texas Youth Commission, the state agency that incarcerates juvenile offenders, collapsed in 2007 after revelations of widespread sexual and physical abuse of inmates.

        Top TYC managers resigned or were fired, and the Legislature enacted a sweeping agency overhaul. TYC spokesman Jim Hurley said Thursday that many improvements have been made to combat sexual assault, including the installation of surveillance cameras and complaint hotlines and a strengthened TYC inspector general's office.

        "We have a number of safeguards put into place to address those situations that were occurring in the past," Mr. Hurley said. "I'm sure we would look a lot better now."

        Texas juvenile prisons led nation for sexual violence

        TYC inmates receiving poor schooling, report says

        July 30, 2008
        By DOUG J. SWANSON
        The Dallas Morning News

        More than a year after the state tried to reform the Texas Youth Commission, many inmates in TYC prisons receive poor schooling from overwhelmed teachers plagued by badly designed programs, a new report claims.

        "We found the instructional practices to be generally poor," said a review compiled by TYC's Office of the Independent Ombudsman. For example, the report said, some instructors spent most of their time "trying to maintain control in the classroom," and "many teachers reported that they felt unsafe." In other cases, teachers allowed youths to do nothing beyond such activities as "watching Hollywood movies in math class."

        Also, students who can't read well are expected to learn by reading independently. And "many of the observations" by the ombudman's researchers "revealed a lack of instructional activities whatsoever."

        The 82-page report, to be released today, was assembled by the ombudsman's staff and Michael P. Krezmien, an assistant professor of special education at the University of Texas at Austin.

        Ombudsman Will Harrell said Tuesday that he hopes TYC, which incarcerates juvenile offenders, will change its approach to education. "What concerned me most is how disruptive the punitive nature of TYC is to education, the very thing that is crucial to rehabilitating these youth," Mr. Harrell said.

        The Legislature passed a sweeping reform of TYC last year after agency guards and administrators were found to have sexually and physically abused young inmates. All high-ranking agency managers resigned, retired or were fired, and TYC was placed under a conservatorship.

        The conservator, Richard Nedelkoff, said in a written statement that TYC already has begun a review of its educational system with a planned overhaul. That review will address many of the same problems identified by the ombudsman's report, Mr. Nedelkoff said.

        That response cheered Mr. Harrell. "It's not often that an agency will take this kind of criticism and embrace it," he said.

        State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, said Tuesday that the ombudsman's findings raised anew issues that surfaced last year.

        "It reinforces what we've said for a long time," said Mr. Madden, one of the sponsors of reform legislation. "It shows the disjointedness that was there two years ago. The problem is, it's still there."

        TYC inmates receiving poor schooling

        Texas Youth Commission leader recommends ends to conservatorship

        July 21, 2008
        Associated Press

        AUSTIN � The conservator of the Texas Youth Commission has told Gov. Rick Perry that the embattled state juvenile prison system is almost done with changes needed to operate on its own again.

        Richard Nedelkoff has recommended that the agency be removed from a conservatorship by July 31, almost 16 months after the TYC was put into forced management amid an inmate sex-abuse scandal and revelations of possible cover-ups.

        TYC spokesman Jim Hurley said the recommendation to Perry and other legislative leaders was "based on completing those things that need to be done" to ensure that the agency is repaired.

        "If those are not completed (by July 31), then that pushes that date back," Hurley told the Austin American-Statesman. "If we're not on that schedule, we're probably no more than a week to 10 days off" from completing them.

        Perry spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said the governor had not made a decision on Nedelkoff's recommendation.

        "Obviously, the governor would like to end the conservatorship when the time is right, but that decision is one we'll need to work out with the legislative leadership," she said.

        News of Nedelkoff's recommendation drew silence from legislative leaders, some of whom said as recently as two weeks ago that the agency was still lagging on several key initiatives.

        Those include implementing new rehabilitation programs and a new classification system, ramping up the training of correctional officers, removing youths serving time for misdemeanor crimes, and installing new security cameras at lockups, among other things.

        House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, a Richardson Republican who is co-chairman of a joint legislative committee on agency changes, declined to comment on Nedelkoff's recommendation.

        "I will say there are lots of steps that need to be taken before they come out of conservatorship, " he said.

        The agency has been under fire since early 2007, when allegations that administrators at the West Texas State School in Pyote sexually abused inmates. Next came reports exposing lax medical care, youth beatings and a culture of retaliation against whistleblowers.

        Several top officials resigned and the agency was put in conservatorship status as state lawmakers overhauled it. Key changes included more staff training, creating a family "Bill of Rights" for visits, conduct and complaints, and adding a new ombudsman position to advocate for inmates.

        Nedelkoff is the third conservator to work on the agency's troubles.

        Texas Youth Commission

        The Texas Youth Commission has been under fire since early 2007 when allegations of widespread abuse at several facilities became public.

        It is the state's juvenile corrections agency, whose mission is to promote public safety by operating juvenile correctional facilities.

        �In 2006, the latest year available, the system housed about 4,800 youths.

        �The average stay was slightly more than 20 months.

        �Ninety percent of inmates are boys

        �Median age at commitment is 16.

        �Forty-nine percent were in juvenile court on two or more felony-level offenses before being committed to TYC.

        �The program has had three conservators since March 2007.

        �New legislation overhauling the system passed in May 2007. It included more than $70 million in new funding, along with 600 community-based juvenile slots, an ombudsman as a child advocate and other safeguards to make assaults at the remote youth prisons harder to cover up.

        Texas Youth Commission; The Dallas Morning News research

        Texas Youth Commission leader recommends ends to conservatorship


        Help for Victimized Children

        Published: July 19, 2008

        Of the some 1.5 million children who will run away from home this year, tens of thousands will spend time working for sexual predators and selling their bodies on the streets. According to one federal estimate, the average age of a child first used as a prostitute is between 11 and 14, but victims as young as 9 are not uncommon. Many of the sexually exploited runaways have been neglected or abandoned by families that will never report them as missing.

        These battered children would have a much better chance to build normal lives if the country stopped treating them as criminals and began to see them as the victims that they clearly are.

        States need to stop reflexively charging children as young as 13 with prostitution and locking them up. And Congress must rework the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act to make sure that states and localities provide sexually exploited children born in this country with the same protections and services that are routinely granted to international victims.

        Some states are beginning to wake up to the problem of child prostitution. New York�s State Legislature passed a farsighted bill under which children arrested for prostitution would be presumed to be victims of sexual trafficking and given protection and social services � except in cases where the child is a repeat offender or has failed to comply with previous court orders.

        The bill provides for counseling services, short-term safe houses and long-term housing that would be run by nonprofit agencies that work with sexually exploited children. By some estimates, this could cost about $25 million a year.

        But that�s a small price to pay for saving some of New York�s most vulnerable children. Some of the money could be redirected from elsewhere in the state�s bloated juvenile justice system. Gov. David Paterson should sign this bill.

        The California Legislature has recently passed a more modest bill that would create a pilot program for helping sexually exploited children. This bill, too, deserves to become law. But California still needs a more ambitious plan for helping exploited children.

        A study released earlier this year by The Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at the Emory University School of Law exposes the full sweep of this problem.

        Nearly all states allow children of just about any age to be prosecuted for prostitution � even though children are too young to consent to sex with adults.

        By charging children with crimes, the report notes, the system compounds the harm done to them and deepens feelings of guilt and worthlessness that inevitably haunt victims of sexual exploitation.

        The real crimes in these cases are committed by the adults who push children into selling their bodies and the adults who knowingly patronize them. The country needs to invest in proven outreach, treatment and education for these children � their only hope for viable lives.

        Help for Victimized Children

        Texas Officials Withdraw Parole For 150 Juveniles
        Many Had Served Minimal Time for Violent Crimes

        July 13, 2007

        The commission was already under scrutiny for allegations that inmates had been sexually and physically abused at the West Texas State School in Pyote, and that employees who knew about the problems did nothing to stop them.

        Questions about the parole recommendation were raised by state adult parole officials, who supervise released juveniles and reviewed the files. The adult parole officials told lawmakers that many of the young offenders on the list could pose a threat to the public.

        One juvenile on the list had served less than three years of a 40-year sentence for the killing of a classmate. Another was serving time for molesting six children and was reprimanded for indecent exposure and possession of a weapon while incarcerated.

        "Some of these crimes were horrendous. There's no way these offenders should be on the street," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, who on Thursday demanded the juveniles' cases be reviewed again.

        Texas Youth Commission spokesman Jim Hurley said all those on the list met the standards for release on parole.

        "But after further consideration, " Hurley said, "we are not comfortable with our recommendation, and we are pulling all of them back for a much more in-depth review. We are going to take a good, hard look at all those files."

        Current policies require several agency employees, such as psychologists and superintendents, to approve such paroles. Hurley said neither acting executive director Dimitria Pope nor conservator Ed Owens had approved any of the youngsters for release.

        After the abuse allegations surfaced early this year, state lawmakers overhauled the juvenile system. They voted to improve the staff-to-inmate ratios, set up a new citizen oversight board, strengthen investigative powers and name an ombudsman for inmates.

        Several agency officials resigned, and two were indicted. An official appointed to review the agency also began case reviews to find inmates whose sentences had been extended unfairly.

        "It's incredulous to me that this could happen after all the work the Legislature did last spring to clean up this agency," Madden said.

        The Texas Youth Commission in