the pendulum has swung too far. Texas has come to rely too much on those lockups, Dr. Tracy believes. "We send too many kids there. We send them too soon. And we leave them there too long," he said.
Sending the pendulum back the other direction may be quite a challenge, however.
This overuse of incarceration was one of the key findings of a blue-ribbon panel that studied the troubled Texas Youth Commission. Dr. Tracy is a member of that task force.
TYC created the task force. But it ended up rejecting many of its findings, saying some are politically infeasible and some are beyond its control.
Dr. Tracy agrees that the task force came up with ambitious recommendations. "That's why we called it 'Transforming Juvenile Justice in Texas,' not 'Tweaking Juvenile Justice in Texas.' "
The report calls for putting far more effort into turning around young offenders within their communities before resorting to the drastic step of sending them off to TYC prisons. Counseling, family intervention, school tutoring, community service, intensive probation – those sorts of things.
"People worry about the cost of that, but I guarantee that it's a whole lot less than housing them at TYC and then ultimately at TDCJ," Dr. Tracy said, referring to the adult prison system.
Research shows that 75 percent of inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice were previously in the juvenile justice system. "We're obviously not doing a very good job at the juvenile level," Dr. Tracy said.
Our problem, he said, is that early, minor offenses are treated too lightly. Then the hammer falls too hard. "You can't just slap them on the wrist, then suddenly ship them off to prison," he said.
This isn't about going soft on crime. It's about getting smarter, Dr. Tracy said. "Everything we have recommended is a best-practices model that has been proven to work somewhere."
In its own blundering way, TYC may have actually helped hasten reform. By rejecting most of the recommendations – by refusing, in fact, to even release the task force report – TYC brought far more attention to it.
Had officials accepted it with the usual hollow ceremonial praise, the report could have died on the shelf with most other blue-ribbon studies.
And TYC could have gone right on turning little criminals into big ones.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Architect of Bush TYC policies now critical of outcome
Dr. Paul Tracy of UT-Dallas, one of the architects of Gov. George W. Bush's juvenile prison expansion in the mid-'90s, now thinks the policies he helped craft have gone too far, he told Dallas News columnist Steve Blow ("Get tough guy among TYC advisers: Get smart, too," Sept. 20). Tracy now believes that: