In the second in a seven-part series, the Austin American-Statesman follows released Texas Youth Commission’s inmate Billy Byers in his dealings with parole officer Virginia Martinez. Fallout from last year’s youth commission scandal resulted in a slew of early releases, which translated into swollen caseloads for parole officers: Martinez’s is now more than 30, versus the 20 or so she once handled. Parole officers always have been disciplinarians, cheerleaders, counselors, guides, and monitors. How much attention they give to each duty tends to mirror prevailing public sentiment on youthful offenders.
The Youth Commission’s current reorganization – should it survive efforts to abolish it – indicates the pendulum is swinging away from the so-called “surveil ’em, nail ’em and jail ’em model” and back toward rehabilitation. Kids also are getting arrested younger and released sooner. In years past, Martinez says, most of her clients were 16 or 17 years old; now they’re 14 or 15. Studies show they’re becoming “hardened” sooner, too – cementing bad habits earlier. “I’m not your mom,” Martinez tells Byers, 18. “But I want you to be successful. A lot of what we’re asking you to do is just normal stuff that we all do. You’re the one in control here. What you’ve done in the past is all in this folder. But the Billy Byers I’m working with now is sitting in front of me.”