Senators Weigh in on Sunsetting TYC
Whitmire backs closing agency, Hinojosa wants more time
By Richard Whittaker,
3:30PM, Fri. Nov. 14, 2008
Pretty much everyone agrees: how Texas treats juvenile offenders has been historically useless (if it worked so well, why do two out of three kids in Texas Youth Commission facilities go straight back?). That's why the Sunset Advisory Commission staff report issued Wednesday recommended turning TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission into one agency.
But what about the legislators that might implement that? Senate Criminal Justice Committee chair Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has already said he backs the plan, and told Newsdesk it's the only real way to get the necessary reforms in place to put the emphasis back on rehabilitating kids. But Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, isn't ready to get on board yet, and said, "It would end up confusing the roles of the agencies."
Author of Senate Bill 103 – the omnibus TYC reform bill from last session – Hinojosa wants some more time to see whether the existing reforms are going to take, because they have so much work to do. "TYC was in so much turmoil for many years and it was so well hidden from the legislators and the general public," he said.
Not that he's saying someone waved a magic wand to fix TYC. While he's happy with the lower number of kids being sent there (not packing kids off to the middle of nowhere for misdemeanors really helped), separating children by age and offense, and opening the agency to oversight by the Office of Inspector General, the new ombudsman, and stakeholder groups were all great steps forward. There's a lot of praise floating around for the new children's advocates pilot program, which gives new processes to get student voices into their therapy and rehabilitation.
But Hinojosa is still worried by the lack of the basics: quality medical care, education and counseling. He's also got pretty short shrift for anyone that argues that closing remote facilities is off the table because it will hurt local economies. "My position is that we should never use the incarceration of children as an economic driver is a wrong approach," he said. "The idea that your motivation is jobs in the community is backwards"