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Tyc 2009 First Quarter Ombudsman Report

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Office of the Independent Ombudsman
for the Texas Youth Commission

Quarterly Report
Office of the Independent Ombudsman
for the Texas Youth Commission
September through December 2008


This report is the First Quarterly Report of FY 2009 to be submitted by this office under
statute and is intended for the Executive Commissioner of the Texas Youth
Commission, the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, members of the Texas
Legislature, and the Auditor for the State of Texas. This report will serve to provide a
description of the activities of the office during the first quarter of FY 09 spanning
September to December 2008, and will address the following areas as specified by
Senate Bill 103 (SB103):


the general scope of work of the Office of the Independent Ombudsman (OIO);
trends observed as the result of reviews and investigations of facilities and
contract care programs that have been undertaken by this office;
recommendations to improve the efficiency of the operations of the Texas Youth
Commission and the OIO.

Overview of the Work of the Office of the Independent
Accounting of Site Visits, Youth Contact and Individual Cases
Site Visits

Youth Contacts

Resolved Cases

Pending Cases





6400 East Highway 290, Suite 202 · Austin, Texas 78723
(512)533-2770 · (512)533-2702 fax
SB 103, Sec. 64.002. " The office of independent ombudsman is a state agency established for the purpose of investigating, evaluating, and
securing the rights of the children committed to the commission, including a child released under supervision before final discharge."

OIO Staff Training
OIO staff have participated in the following trainings:

Behind Closed Doors: Preventing, Responding to, Investigating and Prosecuting
Sexual Abuse in Juvenile Justice Facilities, Texas Juvenile Probation
Strengthening Youth and Families: Ideas, Tools and Practices for Success
CoNEXTions Overview, TYC
Working Groups

Alleged Mistreatment Incident:
In response to a report issued by the OIO last quarter, the TYC formed a working group
to overhaul the AMI system. A new policy and procedure that will transform and greatly
enhance the AMI system is pending approval by the Executive Commissioner.
Cultural Diversity Training:
The Chief Ombudsman provided comments on a new TYC training module on cultural
diversity. He also solicited the input of advocacy groups including the Texas Criminal
Justice Coalition and the Texas NAACP.
Prison Rape Elimination Act Policy:
Assistant Ombudsman Kim Bennink provided extensive commentary on TYC’s
proposed PREA policy.
Public Education
The Chief Ombudsman made a presentation at the following public forums:

Teacher Educators for Children with Behavioral Disorders Conference,
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
Behind the Cycle, Open Society Institute, Washington, DC
Children’ Law Symposium, Children at Risk, Thurgood Marshall School of
Law, South Texas School of Law, and the Houston Bar Association,
Houston, TX
Cradle to Prison Pipeline Follow-Up Forum (Keynote), Children’s Defense
Fund, Houston, TX

In an effort to generate greater transparency and community collaboration, the
OIO has provided a bridge between advocacy groups and the Texas Youth
Commission leadership. The OIO has offered its third and fourth meeting of its
Advocacy Community Briefing Series. On December 1, 2008, the OIO convened
a meeting of over a dozen advocacy groups to dialogue with Executive
Commissioner Cherie Townsend. On January 9, 2009, the OIO convened a


briefing in which TYC representatives provided an overview of the CoNEXTions
program. Future briefings will include the following topics:


Behavior Modification Program and Use of Force Reform
Release Review Panel Procedure
Gender Specific Programming

Trends Observed as a Result of Site Visits and Research
Conducted by the Office of the Independent Ombudsman

SB 103’s Impact on Adult Certifications of Youth:
At the behest of Senator Juan Hinojosa, the OIO, with the assistance of OIO
Graduate Researcher Rex Baker IV (UT School of Law), has completed an
exhaustive analysis of an alarming trend regarding adult certifications of youth,
which we believe is attributable to SB 103’s provision lowering the age of TYC
youth from 21 to 19. Texas juvenile courts certified 30.9% more children to stand
trial as adults in fiscal year 2008 than in the year before, despite the fact that
referrals went down about 11%. This memo built upon a memo prepared last
spring by OIO Graduate Researcher Terry Schuster (UT School of Law) which
critiques the TDCJ Youthful Offender Program.
Suicide Alert:
The OIO has raised concerns regarding the TYC process of handling youth selfharm and suicidal ideation. We have submitted a memorandum prepared with
the assistance of OIO Graduate Researcher Amanda Barstow (UT LBJ School of
Public Affairs) to the agency for its consideration.
Gang Prevention and Intervention:
During confidential interviews, several TYC youth have expressed their belief that
approximately 40% of youth enter the TYC with some level of gang affiliation, yet
possibly greater than 80% leave with gang affiliation. OIO Youth Ombudsmen
wrote a memo on this topic which was forwarded to the agency. We have also
provided a memo developed with the assistance of OIO Graduate Researcher
Elsa Falkenburger (UT LBJ School of Public Affairs) on the topic and have
provided recommendations to the agency.
Religious Freedom:
The TYC has an excellent volunteer program. Many volunteers are affiliated with
religious institutions and faith based organizations who provide very holistic and
rehabilitative programming for TYC youth. However, the vast majority of those
services are designed for Christian youth and not minority faiths. With the
assistance of OIO Graduate Researcher Olubunmi Oyewuwo (UT School of
Social Work), we have provided the agency with a memo on this topic with
recommendations on how to diversify options made available to youth. The OIO


has also initiated a dialogue with the NAACP and the TYC volunteer program
coordinator to explore the possibility of the NAACP creating a mentor program.
1550 Mental Illness Discharge:
The OIO has grave concerns regarding the statutory requirement that a youth
serve a minimum length of confinement before she or he is eligible for a mental
illness discharge. We are currently developing a multi-media presentation for
interested legislators to inform them of this problem. That presentation should be
finalized in the next few weeks. OIO Graduate Researcher Jen Steenbergen (UT
School of Social Work) has developed a research paper regarding the use of
isolation with mentally ill youth in TYC.
Last quarter, with the assistance of OIO Expert Consultant Dr. Michael Krezmien,
the OIO issued a report raising serious concerns regarding the educational
services provided by the TYC. In response, the agency developed a magnificent
corrective action plan. We continue to monitor the plan’s implementation, and we
are pleased with the agency’s responsiveness and commitment to enhance
educational services.
The OIO has serious concerns regarding barriers facing youth who attempt to reenter public schools upon their release from TYC, and we applaud the interim
study recommendations issued by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in this
regard. OIO Expert Consultant Courtney Robinson is currently conducting and
evaluating obstacles these youth face and is developing recommendations.
Specialized Treatment Services, Assessment and Classification Process,
and Youth Placement:
Upon the recommendation of House Corrections Committee Chairman and Joint
Select Committee Co-Chairman Jerry Madden, OIO staff have spent
considerable time this quarter evaluating this aspect of TYC operations in close
collaboration with TYC staff. Our report is forthcoming.
Upon the request of the Office of State Representative Sylvester Turner, the OIO
conducted an evaluation of systemic issues which may have contributed to a
series of incidents of sexual assault at the Mart I Orientation and Assessment
Unit. We submitted the evaluation to TYC on January 9, 2009.


Recommendations to Improve the Effectiveness of TYC
and the OIO

The Sunset Commission staff report stimulated the process of formalization and
refining OIO-TYC inter-agency communication and collaboration. It is important
to acknowledge that the OIO has been satisfied with the responsiveness of TYC
in most cases, especially since January of this year.


It is also important to note that Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend has
insured an unprecedented level of open collaboration between TYC and the OIO
and has already begun to incorporate OIO observations into upper management
considerations. She has invited the Chief Ombudsman to address the Executive
Management Team twice a month. Deputy Commissioner James Smith has
extended a standing invitation to the Chief Ombudsman to attend monthly
superintendent meetings. Ms. Townsend has met with the full OIO staff to hear
their concerns and to discuss enhanced collaboration, and she meets in-person
with the Chief Ombudsman every two weeks and whenever otherwise necessary.
During the first standing meeting between Ms. Townsend and Mr. Harrell, which
predated the Sunset staff report, she raised the same issues identified in that
report and committed to formalizing and enhancing inter-agency communication
and collaboration. Finally, Ms. Townsend has designated a TYC staff person to
provide administrative assistance to the OIO and act as the formal repository of
all OIO site visit reports, special reports, and individual cases and track TYC
responses on a part-time basis.
The OIO plans to evaluate our work and then formalize interagency relations and
communication was proposed in January of this year by the OIO and Ms.
Townsend has endorsed the plan and triggered its implementation. We have
engaged an external expert, Professor Michele Deitch, to assist with the
evaluation of the work of the OIO and develop a formalized process. Professor
Deitch is highly qualified to assist in this endeavor and brings a fresh and neutral
perspective to the task.
Professor Deitch is an attorney, and teaches courses in criminal justice policy,
prisons and human rights, and juvenile justice policy as an adjunct professor at
the University of Texas--Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the
University of Texas School of Law. Her primary areas of expertise are in the
independent oversight of correctional institutions and the rights of prisoners. As
a Soros Senior Justice Fellow, she spent a year conducting extensive research
on domestic and international independent prison oversight entities. In 2006, she
organized a major international conference that drew together more than 100 of
the world’s leading experts on the oversight issue. The conference was entitled
“Opening Up a Closed World: What Constitutes Effective Prison Oversight?”,
and she was honored with a Resolution by the Texas Legislature for her work on
this conference. Professor Deitch is currently preparing a sourcebook about
correctional oversight. She has also provided featured testimony on the
oversight issue before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission and the
Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, and was instrumental in
helping the American Bar Association Task Force develop its recent
recommendations and report about correctional oversight. Additionally, from
2004 to 2007, Professor Deitch served as the draftsperson of the American Bar
Association’s proposed standards on the legal rights of prisoners.


Last year, Professor Deitch was appointed to serve on the TYC Blue Ribbon
Task Force, which issued a report with numerous recommendations for
improving TYC operations.
Since the inception of both offices, the OIO and the TYC Office of the Inspector
General have fostered a positive relationship and continued collaboration. In
keeping with the Sunset Commissions recommendations, the Chief Ombudsman
and the Inspector General meet bi-weekly and exchange information on a regular



Undoubtedly when the Texas Legislature convenes for its 81st Regular Session,
the leading topic for discussion concerning the Texas Youth Commission will be
the Sunset Commission staff recommendations. While we embrace the report
and concur with most of the observations, the OIO cannot support the
recommendation that TYC and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission be
abolished and a new agency be formed, combining the functions of the abolished
There can be no one more frustrated with the pace of TYC reform than the OIO.
We struggle in pursuit of reform and full implementation of SB 103 each and
every day. While the reforms have been slow, it is our opinion that reform is
decidedly afoot in many ways. We also believe there could hardly be anyone
more capable than Cherie Townsend to lead the transformation of TYC, if she is
given the chance and is provided the support she needs from the legislature,
TYC staff and the community.
The radical reformation of an agency cannot be achieved in an instant. It is a
process and we believe that process would be obstructed by the implementation
of this particular Sunset Commission staff recommendation. That is not in the
best interest of children currently in the custody of TYC, nor those who will follow
during the next three years. We could support a reevaluation of the proposition in
four years.