Abuse reports influence some, but official says prisons
07:32 AM CDT on Monday, April 9, 2007
judges are sending fewer children to the scandal-ridden Texas Youth
Commission for punishment and rehabilitation since reports of widespread
abuse at its facilities were made public.
TYC typically receives
larger numbers of offenders in late winter and early
spokesman Jim Hurley. Now, judges are sending only about half
amount. Last week, Texas courts sent 33 children.
historically, that at this point in the year, we would be getting
60 or 70
referrals a week," Mr. Hurley said. "Now, it's more like 40."
District Judge Erleigh Norville in Kaufman County is among the judges
longer sending children to the youth commission. She recently sent a boy
to a trade school instead of TYC even though a previous trip to the school
did not work.
"Until the TYC cleans it up, and we know it's cleaned
up, we have to do
other things," Judge Norville said.
Investigative Series: Abuse scandal rocks TYC
Although the youth
commission remains overpopulated, it's likely a safer
place than it was
just a few months ago, Mr. Hurley said. And, he said, it's
only going to
"If I had a child going to the Texas Youth Commission,
I would rather them
go now than a few years ago," he said. "This agency is
not going to resemble
anything like it used to be. We'll have a better
electronic surveillance ..."
scandal erupted after The Dallas Morning News and the Web site of
Texas Observer reported in February that agency officials ignored signs
sexual abuse of inmates at the West Texas State School in Pyote for more
than a year.
A TYC internal review found that administrators were
warned repeatedly of
suspicious behavior but that those warnings were
dismissed or covered up. As
of the end of March, officials had opened more
than 1,550 investigations,
and 102 employees were identified to have
felony arrests or charges on their
five counties that send the most juveniles to TYC all show a decline in
referrals since the scandal broke, according to TYC records. Youth
commission officials say the drop from Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Tarrant and
Travis counties is even more pronounced because of the usual upswing in
numbers at this time of year. Travis County has sent only one child since
TYC said most other counties send so few children
it's impossible to tell
whether they have reduced how many offenders they
send. Last year, records
show, judges sent more than 2,700 juveniles to
TYC. During one week at the
end of January, TYC admitted 84
In Dallas County, state District Judge Bill Mazur is cutting
back on how
many youths he sentences to TYC.
"I'm still sending
them, but not quite as freely as I was before," Judge
Mazur said. "There
are some close calls. The close ones don't go."
In Rockwall County,
state District Judge Brett Hall sends only one or two
kids to the youth
commission each year. He said that he wants to make sure
corrected before he sends any more.
"But ultimately, for a serious
offender, you don't have other options under
the law," he
Other area judges echoed his sentiments.
Judge Cheryl Lee Shannon, a juvenile court judge for 12 years
County, said offenses such as murder mean the child needs the
supervision and rehabilitation of the youth commission.
she said, the juvenile has already exhausted options such as
community programs. Other options include at-home probation,
probation, drug treatment centers, trade schools and therapeutic
Judge Shannon said she would continue to send youths to TYC when
appropriate, but added, "I am keeping tabs on what's happened
sources and through the media."
Despite its problems,
the youth commission can do good work, she said. Also,
it's sometimes best
for residents that the youthful offender is removed from
"While the youth commission is having some challenges, there
is a community
out there that needs protection as well. We don't want to
she said. "There are many cases that have come back to me
where I see the
youth commission has done a good job. I don't want to lose
the big picture
while the agency is dealing with the significant problems
they are having."
Effect on juries
This issue isn't only affecting
judges. It's something for juries to
consider, as well.
County, state District Judge Cynthia Wheless said she recently
half a dozen potential jurors because they said they would find a
not guilty in an indecency with a child case even if they believed
molested the child. They did not want to send the boy to the youth
"A randomly selected panel in my county is bound to be
a good idea of the
consensus of the community on criminal justice issues,"
Judge Wheless said.
"We are one of the most conservative counties in the
state and probably in
the nation. Conservatives are willing to spend their
tax dollars on kids.
It's that simple."
The jurors dismissed by
Judge Wheless may be an isolated incident. But many
local judges say they
have not had jury trials involving possible time with
the youth commission
since the abuse was made public.
Judge Mazur of Dallas County said this
could happen in other courtrooms.
Judges, prosecutors and defense
attorneys should be aware of jurors' stances
on the topic.
lawyers would be remiss," Judge Mazur said, if they did not question
potential jurors about their feelings about the youth
Most urban and suburban counties
send TYC only violent offenders or other
felony offenders who have used
all local programs. But counties with fewer
resources also send
misdemeanor offenders. Juveniles sent for misdemeanor
crimes make up about
20 percent of the TYC population.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston,
said he wants to include an additional
$35 million in the state's budget
to fund beds for youthful offenders to
remain in the counties where they
The senator said he does not want to stop sending children to
TYC. He just
wants misdemeanor offenders to stay in the counties where
they live. If
approved, the funding for about 600 beds across the state
could be used for
some felony offenders.
Mr. Whitmire said this
funding would be in addition to other money set aside
for Texas Youth
Commission reforms. He said the $35 million would come from
fund. He could not say how the state would come up with the
"The pressure needs to be taken off TYC," he said. "It's a
win-win. The kids
will be closer to the community, family, role
Staff writers Jim Getz and LaKisha Ladson contributed to this
Are area judges in juvenile courts still
sending youths to the Texas Youth
Commission after following widespread
allegations of abuse? The answers
differ, but all judges say they are
concerned about treatment at TYC
•Collin County –
•Dallas County – One of the two judges will cut back
County – Yes
•Ellis County – Judge declined to comment
County – No
•Rockwall County – No
•Tarrant County –
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research