New report cites TYC safety improvements
Houston County Courier
‘What I saw in 2007 was an agency in crisis...’ The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) has substantially increased the safety of youth in its care during its three-year reform efforts, according to a report released Nov. 19 by the Washington, D.C.-based Moss Group, Inc. The Moss Group’s investiga-tion included an on-site assessment at the Crockett State School Sept. 29-Oct. 1. The report specifically cites the reforms contained in Senate Bill 103 (80th Legislature) and subsequent actions taken by the agency’s leadership that improve youth safety. “In our experience, the Texas Youth Commission has undertaken one of the most ambitious reform efforts to address and prevent incidents of abuse in juvenile correctional facilities,” said Anadora “Andie” Moss, president of the Moss Group, Inc. “We are very pleased with the agency’s commitment to youth safety and the measures in place to address sexual abuse. The agency’s leadership was very responsive to our requests and suggestions. We also commend the stakeholders who were valuable resources during our assessments.” The Moss Group is nationally recognized for its criminal justice expertise, especially in the field of sexual abuse. Contracted in May 2010 by TYC leadership, the Moss Group conducted systemic safety assessments at each of TYC’s 10 secure facilities and nine halfway houses. Their review assessed policies and practices, reporting culture, trends and other operational issues related to the prevention, detection, and response to sexual abuse. They also conducted numerous interviews with youth, staff, stakeholders, volunteers and advocates. The report notes that TYC has adopted national best practices in its efforts to assure the safety of youth in its care. It states that youth and their families are well aware of the agency policies on sexual abuse and the various avenues to report such action and that the cultures at all facilities encourage and require the reporting of any suspected sexual abuse. Prevention strategies such as Safe Housing plans, initial risk and need assessments and programming all combine to effectively protect youth from sexual abuse. The report states that there is excellent oversight in the medical and pharmacological programs, with numerous audits and reports looking at specific indicators, including knowledge of sexual abuse response protocol. Other reforms increasing youth safety cited in the report include: Implementation of a hotline for reporting abuse; Creation of an Office of Inspector General; Installation of an extensive video monitoring system; Increased staff training; and Appointment of an experienced juvenile justice leader as the TYC executive director. The Moss Group also provided recommendations on how best to continue improving youth safety. They noted that while there had been a significant downsizing of the overall youth population in TYC, the remaining youth have a much higher need for mental health services, intensifying the need for expanded services. The report recommends TYC continue reviewing all mental health programs to increase access for vulnerable and sexually aggressive youth, ensure mental health staff participate in ongoing in-service trainings, and ensure Prison Rape Elimination Act training is a core training component. Other improvement recom-mendations include increasing prevention measures within special populations, increasing specialized staff training, and strengthening reform cultures within each facility. One member of the Moss Group team was Tom Stickrath, currently the Director of Public Safety for the State of Ohio and former head of the Ohio Department of Youth Services. “What I saw in 2007 was an agency in crisis,” Stickrath said. “It’s rewarding to see the evolution of TYC and the dramatic effect of the reform measures that were implemented. I commend Cherie Townsend and the TYC Board for undertaking this most recent analysis.” In 2007 at the request of Texas Governor Rick Perry, Stickrath consulted with Texas state leaders and lawmakers on how best to implement reforms at TYC. The Moss Group, Inc.’s report is available online at: www.tyc.state.tx.us.