Can Texas Youth Agency Reform Itself? Critics Doubtful


Ten months after its self-destruction after years of beatings, rapes, and depravities that made it a national disgrace, the Texas Youth Commission is stumbling toward reform, reports the Dallas Morning News. It has new programs ordered by the state legislature, and new management in place. Parent Jon Halt complaints that, “They still treat kids like dirt.” Halt’s 16-year-old son was sexually assaulted by another inmate in March. His frustration with the agency’s response led him to join a watchdog group formed by inmates’ families in the wake of this year’s scandal.

Insiders say the agency operates in chaos. Guards describe prisons out of control. Youth advocates say inmates fare only marginally better now than in the agency’s era of notorious brutality. Experts believe the agency is sticking to an outmoded model – one based on punishment that is dealt from large, remote prisons. “The way they’re going, a correctional model, is a dead loser,” said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. “That’s not going to get them anyplace. It’s never gotten anyone anyplace, except court.” Krisberg was a member of the TYC-appointed task force whose report the agency rejected this year. The task force advocated, among other things, a “home-like environment” for inmates. The agency came apart in February, when the News and the Texas Observer reported that administrators at a West Texas youth prison had been accused of sexually abusing inmates. Inmate abuse allegations have risen, staffing shortages persist, and controversy remains over the use of pepper spray on juveniles. “In some respects they seem better off,” said David Springer, chairman of the advisory task force. “In other regards, I think the agency has taken a step back.”


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