Support for TYC Shutdown: Overstated?

Following up on that Austin American-Statesman article I mentioned yesterday, which cited “very broad-based support” for an incipient plan to do away with the Texas Youth Commission: Here’s Grits for Breakfast with some commentary:

In related news, the Austin Statesman’s Mike Ward and Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire tag teamed again today for another story proposing TYC’s outright abolition. The Governor’s new conservator opposes the idea, and House Corrections Chair Jerry Madden told Ward he does not favor “shutting anything down or drastically changing anything until we know what we’re replacing it with.” Still the headline reads, “Plan to close TYC gathers support.” I’m not so sure about that. The main supporters of the plan appear to be Chairman Whitmire and Mike Ward himself.

The irony here: Last year the “Blue Ribbon Panel” appointed by the Governor recommended downsizing TYC and shifting to small regional facilities with a greater emphasis on community corrections. Whitmire and other legislators didn’t take the idea seriously. But now that his personal choice to run the agency is out the door, he’s ready to defenestrate TYC without blinking an eye.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’d be just fine to further downsize TYC (its inmate population has already been cut in half) if, as the story suggests, the Legislature decided to “piggyback some programs with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which funds county-based treatment programs for youths on probation,” and it “would not include any unfunded mandates for counties.”

So it’s not the idea, per se, but proposing it in a fashion akin to uncorking a flash-bang grenade in a crowded theater. The proposal clearly blind-sided the conservator, and has the potential to harm the agency’s all-important recruiting efforts. (Would you go to work for an agency you thought wouldn’t exist in a year?) It also reverses the legislative trajectory coming out of 2007, when millions were sunk into upgrading TYC facilities. No one can predict the future, but IMO Mike Ward overstated both the level of support for the plan and the ultimate likelihood that TYC will be “abolished,” unless by that you only mean “renamed.”

The Joint Select Committee on TYC has scheduled a hearing on April 16, so hopefully then we’ll get more significant details about Whitmire’s proposal, and a sense of what other legislators think of the idea.

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