OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE BRIEFED ON YOUTH COMMISSION REFORMS
(AUSTIN) — Members of the Joint Select Committee on Management and Operation of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) heard testimony Wednesday on the progress of reforms mandated by legislation last session. In response to abuses at the Youth Commission, the 80th Legislature passed Senate Bill 103, which removed felony or adult offenders from the TYC, required more training, staff and better facilities, and increased accountability. According to Angela Isaack of the Legislative Budget Board, the population of juveniles housed at TYC facilities has decreased to about 2,300. Of those, 188 are misdemeanor offenders, and 102 are aged 19 or older.
The Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) was expected to see higher caseloads as more offenders were referred there and fewer to TYC. In spite of the reforms, Executive Director of the TJPC Vicki Spriggs says her agency has not seen a significant increase in caseloads. She testified that despite a $57 million increase in funding to her agency, federal funding has decreased by $54 million. She maintains, however, that TJPC is still operating efficiently and closely with county based probation services, and juveniles referred to TJPC have a recidivism rate of 17 percent.
Committee members were less pleased with the reports of reform at TYC. Members were surprised to learn that many juveniles that need psychiatric treatment receive it only via video conferencing. TYC employs four full time medical doctors for the entire state, meaning that some remote facilities are only visited by a doctor for a few hours a week. Facilities do, however, have staff registered nurses around the clock.
Senator John Whitmire, who co-chairs the oversight committee, said more progress must be made. He said that many of the facilities are inadequate or even dangerous for juveniles. He pointed to the 45 percent correction officer turnover, the 50 percent recidivism rate, and told agency officials the level of mental and health care coverage is inadequate.
The Joint Select Committee on Management and Operation of the Texas Youth Commission is co-chaired by Senator John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden, and consists of Senators Chris Harris, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Kel Seliger, Florence Shapiro, Royce West, Tommy Williams, and Representatives Harold Dutton, Aaron Pena, Larry Phillips, Debbie Riddle, Sylvester Turner, and Corbin Van Arsdale.