Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Is the TDCJ Youthful Offender Program really an alternative for TYC ?
By Max Rodriguez, Backgate Website
The TDCJ Youthful Offender Program, or YOP for short, was established in 1995 after the Legislature realized it had no where to send those under the age of 18 when they were certified to stand trial and sentenced as adults. The Clemens unit located in far South Brazoria county, was built in 1893 when plantations were still scattered across the landscape and private citizens could rent out prison labor for next to nothing. The unit sits on 8,000 acres of farmland, were it produces crops and has a swine finishing facility. Austin American Statesman reporter Mike Ward recently went on a walking tour of the facility with some of the TDCJ brass in preparation for his story regarding the Texas Youth Commission and how it operates as opposed to the TDCJ -YOP program. The attention is said to be connected to the Sunset Committee hearings held Tuesday June 5th in Austin, and centers around the possibility of TYC being absorbed by the TDCJ.
What Mike Ward didn't get is input from some of the 300 plus employees assigned there regarding the program. Several Correctional Officers sent us input on the program, and how it works. The employees don't bad mouth the administration, and are generally satisfied with the support they get from the admin there. The objections from line staff centered more around the structure of the program itself, and the fact that it was centered on the Clemens unit to begin with. Through open records, and from Correctional Officers assigned there, we have learned the following. Some of which is contrary to what Mr. Ward presented in his story.
1. The Clemens unit is #1 in the state this month for discovery of contraband items, to include cell phones.
2. The Clemens unit, built in 1893, and the add on housing areas in 1972, is basically falling apart from the inside out in the South Texas salt air. Violent YOP offenders are housed in cells that frequently come open on their own due to being outdated and un-repairable, and staff as well as other offenders have been assaulted as a result.
3. YOP offenders must be kept separate from other offenders, and the design of the facility makes it nearly impossible to accomplish that feat on a daily basis.
4. YOP offenders are not assigned jobs, and therefore do not work in outdoor hoe squads or garden squads as stated by Mike Ward. But maybe some labor wouldn't hurt.
5. The program itself is poorly constructed and doesn't take into account that many of these teens have long (40+) year sentences and are housed with offenders serving 5 years or less. Any teen will succumb to peer pressure. The teens come from the streets, many are prone to violence and have no concept of the programs content. Many are continuing disciplinary problems, but cannot be sent anywhere else in the state due to the nature of the program.
These are just some of the issues raised in the emails we received over the past week. Another wrote that two youth counselors were allegedly disciplined and terminated after what was described by the agency as "inappropriate behavior" with the youths. One female counselor was confirmed through the agencies open records policy as having attempted to initiate a relationship with a 17 yr old male Youthful Offender. That employee was terminated but not charged with a crime. Our opinion on the matter is that this program needs to be revamped to include manual labor, and school studies and more closely monitored.
They will try to enter the working world where many companies don't hire felons. So manual labor training may be what gets them through. That facility is obviously not set up for that type of offender. The program should be moved to a newer, more secure 2250 pod style unit where they can be better monitored and appropriately housed. We are told, and then confirmed that the Clemens unit houses Youthful Offender offenders that have been placed in administrative segregation, but records show that the facility has not housed that type of offender there since 1997 when the cells were modified to exclude administrative segregation.
That would mean they are being housed in regular cells not fitted with extra wire and other safety features for staff. We are happy to hear that the employees we spoke to were very satisfied with the current administration at the facility and applauded there efforts in making the unit safe and we understand that the they don't have a say in how the program works or where its located The program itself is not under the direction of the unit administration per se, It's overseen by a program administrator who conducts the daily business and makes program changes as needed through the office of Madeline Ortiz in Huntsville.
In 2006, the programs director brought Houston based rappers Trae and Slim Thug to perform inside the unit for just the Youthful Offenders. At the time, at least one of those rappers was allegedly tied to the gang life in Houston and many of his songs glamorized violence and crime. Not the perfect role models for incarcerated youth it seems.(see another related video at link below)
So you be the judge, is the TDCJ really a better alternative then the TYC itself ?