The Austin Chronicle

TYC Ombudsman Meets With House Corrections Committee

By Richard Whittaker, October 26, 2007, News

"I'll never be the same, having been out to these facilities and talked to these kids," Texas Youth Commission Ombudsman Will Harrell told the House Corrections Committee on Oct. 17. In his first public meeting with members since he took the post, he praised Gainesville and Giddings state schools, and condemned the recently closed Coke County Juvenile Justice Center. While no facility was as poorly run as the Coke center, Harrell said every site has issues, and singled out Victory Field Correctional Academy as the worst of the rest. The former human rights attorney said that, due to state hiring practices, he still does not have the full staff needed for site inspections. He also raised concerns that the commission's emergency complaint line is confusingly run and not always answered. Harrell is also concerned that his informal reports are being distributed; he called them a starting point, not the final actionable report, and said both staff and inmates fear retribution for their allegations. Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, countered, however, that it is only because House staff had access to an unedited preliminary report of abuses at the West Texas State School in February that reforms began.

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