LAWMAKERS DECRY ABUSES WITHIN TEXAS YOUTH COMMISSION
(AUSTIN) — Saying he is "outraged" by reports of abuse at Texas Youth Commission facilities, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst appeared with Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire, and Finance Chair Steve Ogden to say that the Senate is looking at these problems and will soon take action. A recently released report by the Texas Rangers accuses two administrators at a TYC facility in Pyote of sexual abuse of minors under their care, leading to the resignation of the TYC commissioner last Friday. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing today to question the TYC interim director and consider a bill filed to address various problems with the agency. Whitmire said the Senate will work tirelessly to right any wrongs committed within the TYC. "The three of us, and our colleagues, will not rest until this agency has been shaken up from top to bottom and assurances put in place that [abuses] are not taking place today and won't take place in the future, and those who have offended in the past will be held accountable," he said.
|(L-to-R) Senators Glenn Hegar, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, and John Whitmire listen to testimony from Texas Youth Commission Interim Director Neil Nichols relating to the abuse of minors under the care of the agency.|
Ogden said the Finance Committee is prepared to use the power of the purse to influence change at TYC, saying "We're going to be watching over the next several months, to see what changes are going to occur at TYC, and those changes will dictate how we appropriate money to that agency." He said significant changes will have to occur within TYC, enough for him to have confidence to recommend to his committee members that "any appropriation" should go to the agency.
Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa began the hearing with a bill he said comes from hearings to address possible abuse of minors at a south Texas TYC facility. Those hearings, he said, revealed a number of severe problems with the way the commission conducts business. Hinojosa said facility guards are under-trained, only receiving 80 hours of training, as compared to 300 hours for state penitentiary guards. Turnover at facilities was high, in some cases topping 50 percent, and facilities were understaffed. Also, the hearings showed that often minors with widely differing ages were being housed together in spite of six- or seven-year age differences. Hinojosa said certain administrators suppress complaints and intimidate employees who threatened to report internal wrong doing to oversight authorities.
Senate Bill 103 would increase the training requirement for facility guards from 80 hours to 300; commiserate with other state incarceration facilities. It would also create an office of inspector general to investigate criminal activities within TYC, and would require the Texas Rangers to make unannounced facility inspections to ensure no abuse is being committed. Finally, the bill would prohibit housing minors under 15 with youths of 17 or more years.
Chairman Whitmire severely questioned acting director Neil Nichols, who served as chief council for the agency until Friday, asking him how the man that hired one of the accused TYC employees and subsequently helped to cover up abuse allegations against him is still supervising 3-4 TYC facilities. "That's totally unacceptable to this committee and the leadership of Texas," he said. Whitmire added he is very close to recommending a complete reorganization of the agency. "I don't think members of the Legislature have confidence in how the agency is being run, and I'm asking for a guarantee that these kinds of abuse are not happening in TYC today, but you can't give me that guarantee," he said to Nichols. Whitmire was also unhappy that none of the Board of Trustees of the TYC attended today's meeting. "I needed your board to be here to answer some of these questions I'm asking you. I'd love to be able to ask them what they knew and when they knew it."
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, February 28 at 11 a.m.