Youth worth more than state savings

As Will Harrell, Texas Youth Commission ombudsman, highlighted positive changes in the agency’s policies and procedures last week, lawmakers in Austin were working to drastically reduce Texas Youth Commission’s two-year budget.

Lawmakers argue that since the agency has reduced the number of youth residents by half, the number of staff should also be reduced.’

An internal audit projected numbers for the next two years per year at 2,300 youths and 4,000 employees, which is a significant drop from 2007, when there were 4,100 youths and 4,600 employees.’

In the wake of abuse scandals dating from March 2007, State legislation mandated that the agency have a ratio of 12 youths to one staff member.’ ‘

In order to meet this, the agency must have at least 200 employees, assuming these employees are security staff who directly supervise the youth.’

That would leave 3,800 other employees of TYC whom lawmakers deem unnecessary.’ These employees are specialized staff such as case managers, teachers, medical staff, maintenance workers and administration.

The cost of incarcerating youth compared to adults is much higher because of the rehabilitative and educational programs provided. Effective implementation of these services requires more staff than the basic 12-to-1 security ratio.

Cutting costs will affect the quality of the staff hired and the performance of services rendered to youth. Competitive pay is a must for these specialized staff.

If the state wants the agency to perform to the highest standard, it must be willing to pay for it. Competitive pay ensures that employees feel appreciated and in turn perform better.

Without the previous increase in budget stemming from the mandated reforms, TYC would have not been able to establish an ombudsman office and would not have been able to identify and rectify problems with underperforming detention centers.

The closing of The Coke County Juvenile Justice Center in Oct. 2007 demonstrated the necessity for well-educated and well-paid employees. The facility was shut down immediately after an unannounced audit and youth were immediately sent to other facilities without a moment of hesitation concerning the agency’s finances. The youth came first. These types of administrative employees are in the number that lawmakers seek to reduce.

I was once a resident of Coke County Juvenile Justice Center when it was an all girls’ facility.’ I hope that today’s lawmakers will have the same courage to put the welfare and rehabilitation of the young people in the care of the Texas Youth Commission before finances.

Jennifer Toon is a communication senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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