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TYC Leaders Straining Public Coffers; Agency Still Problematic

Administrators at the already-troubled Texas Youth Commission (TYC) have succeeded in creating a new scandal. Only 18 months ago, Texas citizens and lawmakers were rocked by revelations that two senior TYC officials, Ray Brookins and John Paul Hernandez, had been molesting young boys at the West Texas Youth Facility in Peyote. [See: PLN, Feb. 2008. p.1].

Also, in January 2008, the U.S. Dept. of Justice filed suit in federal court against administrators at TYC’s Evins unit, alleging they had “engaged, and continue to engage, in a pattern or practice of failing to ensure that the youth at Evins are adequately protected from harm.” The state entered into a settlement agreement to resolve problems at the facility. [See: PLN, Oct. 2008, p.50].

Since that time state legislators have supposedly imposed greater oversight, and the TYC’s population of juvenile offenders has been cut by more than half. Lawmakers are now shocked by the fact that TYC administrators are doing less work for considerably more money. The salaries for top agency officials have increased almost 25 percent to $18.7 million annually, while the population in TYC facilities has dropped from 4,500 to about 2,200.

TYC general counsel Stephen Foster, who was hired in 2007, started at a salary of $104,000 a year. A recent raise bumped his pay to $111,000. Melinda Hoyle Bozarth, general counsel for the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which has a population of 158,000 prisoners, makes about $8,000 a year less.

TYC media relations director Jim Hurley earns $100,000 annually, compared with $77,000 paid to his TDCJ counterpart, Michelle Lyons. Tim Savoy, TYC’s second media spokesman, earns $75,000 a year – almost $12,000 more than Jason Clark, who occupies a similar position with the TDCJ.

When TYC facilities held over 4,500 juvenile offenders in 2007, the agency employed 321 administrators. Now, even though TYC’s population has dropped to 2,200, the number of top officials has grown to 368.

“It’s an agency of high-priced employees in the central office trying to protect salaries and turf,” stated Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the joint committee on prison affairs.

Hurley said the salary comparison was unfair. He cited the fact that the cost of living in Austin, where his office is located, is higher than in Huntsville where Ms. Lyons works.

However, while TYC administrators are protecting their own jobs and paychecks, they don’t mind laying off line staff. The agency has had three rounds of staff reductions, most recently in February 2009. Over the past seven months the TYC has cut 720 job positions – although some of those positions were vacant.

“While it is hard to take this action during these difficult economic times, it is imperative that we are good stewards of Texas taxpayers’ dollars and continue to build an agency that is effective and efficient,” said TYC executive director Cherie Townsend, who earns $125,000 a year.

Salaries aren’t the only concern involving the TYC. A recent report indicated that TYC’s educational system is still dysfunctional. The report called the agency’s academic programs poorly designed, and the teachers overwhelmed. It also noted that in spite of a considerable investment of time and money, TYC still does not have adequate treatment programs in place.

For example, according to a November 2008 report by the Sunset Advisory Commission, “Despite the documented need for more treatment, in fiscal year 2008, the agency only used 61 percent of its specialized treatment budget. TYC received funding for an average daily population (ADP) of 934 specialized treatment beds, and only served an ADP of 571 youth, leaving 363 treatment beds vacant. While the agency explains this as a result of its reduced population, staffing vacancies, and closed facilities, failure to use these beds meant that youth in need went untreated.”

In a joint letter, Senator Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden contacted the state auditor’s office about the connection between salary increases for TYC officials and the agency’s substandard education and treatment programs.

“Instead of spending money retaining and attracting new [juvenile facility staff], TYC has chosen to increase central office personnel. In addition, we have seen evidence that large salary increases are being given to executive staff members. Yet today, our juvenile correctional system sits without a functional classification system or proven treatment and educational programs,” the lawmakers wrote.

Former TYC conservator Richard Nedelkoff called the criticism unfair. “Reforms take years and years,” he said. In an effort to stave off further complaints, Nedelkoff promised last year to freeze pay increases for senior level management, and expressed an interest in eliminating up to 30 central office positions.

Governor Rick Perry removed the TYC from conservatorship in October 2008; until then, Nedelkoff had received an annual salary of $160,000.

On the positive side, TYC has added 11,000 surveillance cameras to communal areas in juvenile facilities. An Office of Special Investigations and an ombudsman have been established to protect juvenile offenders. TYC has further increased training for guards, and the agency’s guard-to-prisoner ratio has improved.

Yet beyond the salary and education/treatment program issues, other problems still remain. The first quarterly report for FY 2009 from the TYC’s ombudsman’s office found that large numbers of mentally ill youths were being incarcerated. The ombudsman estimated that 30 to 40% of TYC offenders have serious mental health problems. In March 2009, a 14-year-old boy hanged himself with his underwear at the Crockett State School, a 265-bed TYC facility.

Earlier this year the state Sunset Advisory Commission voted to merge the TYC with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission as a way to cut costs. The proposed merger was later called off, though legislation amended in April 2009 would create a Texas Juvenile Justice Board to oversee operations by the TYC and Juvenile Probation Commission (HB 3689 / SB 1020).

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Waco Tribune,

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