AUSTIN – Today, the board of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) announced closure of three juvenile correctional facilities: Al Price State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont, Crockett State School in Crockett and Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex Unit II in Brownwood. Additionally, McLennan County StateJuvenile Correctional Facility Units I and II in Mart will be consolidated. Leading juvenile justice advocacy organizations in the state—Texans Care for Children, Texas Appleseed, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Disability Rights Texas—jointly released the following statement in response:
Although these facilities are being closed in response to the 82nd Legislature’s budget decision to remove $117 million from TYC, shuttering lock-ups has the potential to be positive for Texas. Institutionalizing youth is ineffective and expensive. For most youth, community-based treatment works better than institutional lock-ups in efforts to reduce recidivism, and it comes at a lower cost to taxpayers. Indeed, when Texas has reduced the number of youths in institutions in the past, the result has been both lower costs and greater public safety. Today Texas has an opportunity to continue recent momentum toward making rehabilitation central in juvenile corrections.
What is not yet known is what will happen to the hundreds of youth housed in the three facilities that will be closed today—whether they will be moved to the remaining seven facilities or served in other ways. The agency has flexibility to de-institutionalize many of these youths, including specialized populations, such as those with mental health issues. In these instances, TYC is authorized to re-direct youth into community-based services, such as those offering mental health treatment.
Other youth could also reside in non-secure settings, such as halfway houses appropriate for youth who are nonviolent and low-risk, and those who have already made significant rehabilitative progress at TYC. We look forward to working with the agency and the legislature to support the maximum use of this flexibility to de-institutionalize youth and to ensure rehabilitative needs are met.
If youth are simply moved to remaining facilities, the agency, Legislature and public should expect conditions inside facilities to worsen. Youth lock-ups that house more youth are more likely to have staff-on-youth, youth-on-youth and youth-on-staff violence, like what the state saw prior to the TYC reforms initiated in 2007. Returning to those conditions would undo what progress has been made and create a shaky start for the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department, set to replace TYC and TJPC later this year under SB 653 by Whitmire.My condolences to those who'll lose their jobs. I know this has been hard on everyone involved, but at least now everybody can make plans and move forward. The downsizing of Texas youth prisons even as juvenile crime continued to drop has been a remarkable achievement, despite the tumultuous atmosphere it's created at the agency. Let's hope that good fortune continues as Texas' juvenile justice agencies are merged and the Juvenile Justice Department's new leaders are chosen.
MORE: Thanks to a reader for pointing to TYC board materials posted online about facility closures.
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