Texas Youth Commission

The state budget deficit could force the Texas Youth Commission, the state juvenile corrections agency, to substantially lower the costs of providing services — which may force layoffs and facility closures. The news comes after the agency, which was rocked by a series of child sex-abuse scandals that became public in 2007, received high marks earlier this month from a Sunset Advisory Commission staff report as well as an internal evaluation. “The biggest costs you have are personnel and facilities,” said state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, vice chairman of the House Corrections Committee. “They will get the biggest look as we cut back on the number of youth there.” The population of children in TYC custody has declined from more than 5,000 to about 1,500 since the abuse scandals came to light, while the agency still maintains the facilities and staff from when it had significantly more children in its care. Madden said the agency would have to look seriously at cutting the number of facilities the agency maintains to house children. Longtime critics of the commission said neither report addressed the fundamental issues facing the agency. “The jury is still out on TYC,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “We will always need a juvenile corrections commission, but their mission will be defined by the need.” Whitmire said neither the internal report or the Sunset review addressed the problems of urban youth sent to remote rural locations and minimal health and educational services. During the last legislative session, the Legislature granted about $60,000 a child per year to probation departments in urban communities to see if services could be provided more effectively — significantly less than the $130,000 spent per year on each child in TYC custody. “If you gave the juvenile probation department additional money, you could keep more kids in their community, where they are close to their families, the courts and the services they need,” Whitmire said. “Even though TYC may or may not continue, it will continue to be downsized and will probably house just those the community wouldn’t want because of the nature of their crime.” More than 300 children currently in TYC custody will eventually end up in the adult criminal justice system because of the nature of their crime. Child advocates have long pressed for combining the TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission into one agency, the Sunset Commission staff report recommended that TYC remain its own agency but should be downsized to reflect the fact it is caring for fewer children. Child advocates warn that legislators must focus on the impact that budget cuts will have on the children who are in either TYC or the juvenile probation system. “We need to focus on the ramifications of the budget shortfall on the children, if we don’t do that and the funding goes away, then what do they have to work with?” said Ana Yánez-Correa, executive director of Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “Basically, the children can be put at risk by not giving them the resources that they need.”

News Briefly

The Texas Youth Commission should remain an independent agency for at least another six years after implementing many of the reforms mandated by the Legislature in 2007, according to a Texas Sunset Advisory Commission staff report. “Staff turnover rates are down but the TYC continues to have difficulty staffing specialized treatment positions,” according to the commission’s report. “The agency can still improve the number of youth enrolling in and completing needed treatment.” The commission also recommended Thursday that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality step up enforcement, while not addressing the air-quality permit disputes between the state agency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The commission’s staff also recommended changing the name of the Texas Railroad Commission to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission to better reflect the responsibilities of the agency. The report also suggested the position of commissioner, which is elected, be replaced by a board appointed by the governor. “[The recommendation] isn’t a surprise because it doesn’t have anything to do with railroads anymore,” said Sherri Greenberg, a lecturer at the LBJ School. “Whether or not the Legislature wants to give the governor, any governor, the power to appoint all of the members to the board is another question entirely.”

Horns up: Involving students in budget cut decisions

The Senate of College Councils recently announced it will form student committees to help address college-specific budget cuts for the upcoming year. The committees, which will be known as the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Councils, will consist of a Student Government representative from each college, two graduate students appointed by Graduate Student Assembly President Manuel Gonzalez and three students appointed by the respective college council.

The college councils are groups consisting of students from a particular college that then lobby for student interests. Students must apply and be accepted to join college councils. The newly formed councils will also include some faculty. Of its potential members, only one will have been directly elected by students.

While representation via varying degrees of separation is not ideal, it’s better than no student input at all. Part of the motivation behind forming the councils was the decision last spring to lay off the school’s only Vietnamese language professor, effectively cutting the Vietnamese program.

Students’ most powerful tool in fighting upcoming budget cuts will be transparency. We hope these new councils will be a powerful tool in disseminating information about potential cuts and empowering the student body to take decisive action early in the process.

Horns up: UT is the king of royalties

On Thursday the Collegiate Licensing Company announced that the University of Texas was the highest-grossing university in terms of revenue from royalties. The University made $10.15 million this past year, up from $8.9 million the previous year. The increase has been attributed in part to the football team’s trip to the national championship.

The number is remarkable not just because it makes the Longhorns the most profitable collegiate brand in the country, but because it is believed to be the first time a university has eclipsed the $10 million mark, meaning Texas has had the most profitable year in collegiate history royalties-wise.

What’s especially laudable is that money from royalties goes to the University, rather than being funneled directly to an athletic department that is already flush with cash. At many universities around the country, unprofitable athletic programs are a burden on cash-strapped schools.

As the University’s budget continues to shrink, our school’s traditional obsession with football can be part of the solution. Here’s hoping the team makes another run for a national title, not just for our pride, but for our budgets as well.

Horns down: No hope for reform

Three years ago, in light of sexual abuse allegations at Texas Youth Commission facilities, state lawmakers took action to reform a troubled agency that had become the subject of a federal investigation. Four advocacy groups wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice on Aug. 24 describing, for the second time, allegations of violence and neglect pervasive at the commission’s facilities and encouraged the federal authorities to investigate the state agency again. Then, on Thursday, John Moore became the third independent ombudsman to resign this year from a position created in light of the 2007 scandal. Moore cited health reasons and another job offer as his reason for resigning.

Reactions to the advocacy groups’ letter and Moore’s subsequent resignation ranged from appalled to disillusioned. Saying that last week’s events inspire little confidence in TYC as an agency is an understatement. Given the previous shocking allegations and federal investigation, the notion that any reform efforts are genuine invites skepticism, as does the idea that any reforms could even be lasting without a complete overhaul of the agency’s internal structure.