Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Plano) faced a considerable challenge last session in reforming the scandal-ridden Texas Youth Commission (TYC). This week we talked with him about the ongoing process to repair TYC and improve the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) as both approach sunset.
: Starting with TYC, how would you say the focus will be different this upcoming session versus last session? What problems have been successfully addressed? What problems still need to be fixed?
: Clearly we don’t have the criminal charges issue that was overwhelming in the last session, and there’s actions that have started to be taken against those people who perpetrated the criminal activities at the youth commission. So although I’d like to see those things going faster with the prosecutions, those things are at least taken care of. And we do have in place the Inspector General’s group out there who is clearly doing a good job. We have been working with the Special Prosecutor’s Unit, and I think that process is going very well, so that these cases are being referred for prosecutions in the right manner. So we’re very proud of the things that we did during the last session.
We also obviously set up the hotline for the reporting [of abuse]. I can report with a great deal of pride that that’s working well and those people are working hard. There’s lots of reports that have come in over the last year and a half … and that seems to be operating quite well. The people get information, and those things are investigated. …
The security camera system, where it is operational, is excellent. They can see what’s happening, they’ve got recordings of what’s happening, and they’re using those now to a much greater degree and being able to use those to do any disciplinary actions that may be necessary. … It’s not quite up in all facilities yet; and that’s a major piece that needs to be finished, in my opinion, before they go out from under conservatorship…We [must be] certain that the security cameras are working. … The facility that didn’t have them done yet was Corsicana. That’s supposed to be done here this coming month…All the other major facilities had them operational, and they were looking good.
They’ve got the CoNEXTions program working. [T]hey’ve run that at [Al] Price [State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Beaumont]; they’ve done the pilot there. And they are starting the implementation of that system-wide, and we got a great report on that about a month ago from TYC. [CoNEXTions] is basically their evaluations and their alteration of thinking type skills program that they have for the youth at TYC. It’s their process of making changes in the attitude and the overall character of the youth. So that’s a positive step that they’ve done there, although it’s not operational everywhere and I think it’s way too early to judge the effectiveness of it.
We’ve obviously reduced the population significantly, getting it down under 2,000 in the institutional division. They are down to…under 20 [misdemeanants] the last time we checked, and that number was decreasing every day. Hopefully the whole process of the misdemeanants is taken care of here in the next couple of weeks.
… There are additional steps that we still probably will have to take on some of the 19- and 20-year-olds [yet to be removed from youth facilities]. But they have made good progress also on that area.
The management team has, I think, implemented some good changes… [TYC Conservator] Dr. [Richard] Nedelkoff has done some very interesting and, I think, positive things for the overall organization. But it still has a long way to go. They still have high workers’ comp claims. They still have the questions about their program of securing the youth. We still have a couple instances in the last few months where kids were up on the roof, and out of control. They’ve had some cases where it appears that there were handling problems with the youth and the institutions. And it may have been mishandled causing some injuries to the youth. So there are still questions that are serious ones about the youth commission, but they’re close to the point where I think we can end the conservatorship.
: Speaking of management, there was a lot of talk last session and since then that the Austin-based TYC bureaucracy was too “top-heavy.” Do you think there has there been any progress in making TYC’s management more efficient?
: No. No. It still has a very large staff. We had to take steps here about a month and a half ago on salary increases that they were doing out there. We have some serious questions on the overall size of the staff at the headquarters and the overall management of the agency, those things are still very much there. Although we do have a new executive director coming on board, [Cherie] Townsend, who appears to be a very strong individual from what we’ve seen. … I believe she’s going to take a very close look at the organization when she gets there.
… The Sunset bill will be a major piece for TYC. We’ll certainly look at facilities, and what to do with the facilities and what to do with the location of kids — that’s still an issue. I know my friend Sen. [John] Whitmire [D-Houston, Criminal Justice Committee chairman] wants to do some major changes to the overall organization, and we’ve looked at some of those also.
: Well, reducing at least the number of overall facilities and significantly moving youth around to be closer to their homes and to smaller facilities. That’s obviously a point that’s of interest to us.
… I don’t think we’ve come to any specific conclusions on any of those as far as what we would do [about] the cost … There’s obviously a place in the system that we would have to have for kids that have done the serious type of offenses that many of them are at TYC for. And they’re beyond probably the scope of a county to handle those. So there needs to be something as a tool for the local counties and others to have for those kids that are serious problems for them. …
: It sounds like you don’t see TYC regionalizing completely.
: Well, not at least at this time, no.
: On the adult side, how successful do you think the prison diversion programs have been in preventing major capacity problems at correctional facilities?
: I think that they’re doing an excellent job so far. It’s at what I would say is Phase 2 of a four-phase project. The first phase was what we had to do in the way of legislation. The second phase is basically in the bidding for and opening up and implementing the programs at the facilities. The third phase is the carrying out of the program of the actual diversionary treatment, etc, and the fourth phase is measuring our results.
We’re basically at the second phase, and we’ve been maybe moving into the third phase in some of the areas and some of them have been implemented totally, like adding the DWI beds, like expansion of the in-prison therapeutic treatment program. Those things were the easiest things to do because we had the facilities, we just had to put the program in place. We have had the others in the way of SAFPs [Substance Abuse Felony Punishment facilities] and intermediate sanction facilities where the letting of contracts is ongoing. So we’re still basically at least in part in Phase 2, with Phase 3 starting in some of the programs.
: So the prison diversion programs are helping to preclude any major capacity problems at prisons?
: Absolutely. … We’re making progress. And I’m very enthusiastic and very optimistic that the results we’re going to receive are going to be those like predicted by the LBB [Legislative Budget Board] when they made our prison bed predictions now saying we’re not going to need to build at least anytime in the near future any additional prisons.
: As you know, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston has asked for a 20 percent increase in salaries for Parole Officers (POs) and Correctional Officers (COs). Your thoughts?
: I think that the most critical problem we have down there is the staffing with correctional officers. And I think that recommendation is very well thought out and very well done. And I think whether we do it at 20 percent obviously depends on other funding restrictions we might have, but it’s a good idea and a good recommendation.
: Clearly criminal justice is not the only issue on your plate. Any others that you’d like to discuss?
: We did a bill last session with Sen. [Florence] Shapiro (R-Plano) on nurse-family partnership, and we’re looking very closely at how do we make sure that that continues to move forward. We think it’s an excellent, excellent program, and we need to make sure that that continues to provide more and more support for more and more low-income first time mothers in the state. We think that that has a great payback for us both in criminal justi
ce and education and child protective services and the whole works. So it’s one of those programs we’re very proud to be supportive of. We’re working on that.
… There’s a high school that they have open in McKinney. It’s a school basically for youth that have had drug problems that have broken their drug problems but need to have a special place to go. We’re looking at seeing if we can expand that with either an additional pilot at one or two locations in the state, similar to what they’re doing in McKinney. So that’s going to be an interesting project we’re also working on.
On that we just keep our nose to the grindstone and just keep working on all the other stuff that’s out there. … We’re looking forward to the next session.
... written by No Wright Amendment , September 21, 2008
Normal crack-pot Jerry Madden sounded half smart in this interview!
... written by Deanie , September 22, 2008
Yes, he sounds good, but I have a question: What did Mr. Madden know about the problem at Pyote, and when did he know it?
... written by Watching , September 22, 2008
Chairman Madden is a fundamentally kind and compasionate fellow with a sharp mind--even if he doesn't verbalize so well. His reform efforts with the adult system has saved individuals, families and tax dollars. I think he is missing the point on TYC, but still respect him and admire those who voted for him last election. His opponent was an idiot!
... written by Deanie , September 23, 2008
Maybe he's compassionate, but I'm afraid he is not helping. Mr. Madden's committee was among the first to know about the alleged abuse. What did Mr. Madden do about it then? When did he last visit a facility? He'd better bring his rose-colored glasses along.
... written by Truth , September 23, 2008
There are some high ranking lawmakers whose names will be attached to the sex abuse cases, if they go to court. So...they will not go to court. The cover-up involves some above the actual sex abusers and their bosses. Its all part of the game/plan...fool the public into thinking something is being done; knowing all along that there will be no real trials. Time helps hide many crimes. Too many top folks have a rope near their own necks to let this go to trials.