The Austin Chronicle

TYC Sees Light at End of Tunnel

By Richard Whittaker, May 8, 2009, News

While the shadow of the massive abuse scandal that rocked the state in 2007 still hangs over the Texas Youth Commis­sion, the agency appears headed for a reprieve.

On May 4, the House passed House Bill 3689, its version of the TYC Sunset bill. It favors a "wait and see" approach to the reforms set in motion in 2007 by Senate Bill 103 over the Sunset Advisory Commission's core recommendation to merge the TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. Instead, the bill proposes a Juvenile Justice Policy Coordinating Council, which would serve as a link between the two. Sunset Advisory Chair Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, said he asked Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, to carry the bill because she voted against unifying the agencies. Even with that difference, "Ruth had the same vision" of continuity in the juvenile justice system, he said.

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-Mission, authored SB 103 last session and is carrying the Senate's Sunset bill, SB 1020, this session. The bill still carries language unifying the agencies, but he confirmed that's not his intent. Instead, he believes rejecting the Sunset review reaffirms the original intent of SB 103. He explained: "We asked the Sunset Commission to review a study of moving toward regionalizing TYC. They didn't do that. Instead, they recommended they merge." Pilot local programs, he said, will come closer to last session's plans.

The biggest sign of the success of the reform process found in HB 3689 may be the timetable for Sunset review: TYC, TJPC, the new council, and TYC's Office of the Independent Ombudsman would be on the regular 12-year cycle due in 2021. Isett said, "Our frustration was that there was a chasm between TYC and juvenile probation, and clearly they have been working together to close that gap."

But Hinojosa remains concerned that the crimes perpetrated against TYC residents have gone unpunished. "If you don't prosecute and you don't push prosecutions, then the message is, 'Hey, you can get away with abusing juveniles.'"

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