On The Scene: Some Youths Need Access To Services Outside TYC
By DAYNA WORCHEL
In a recent article, I reported on an Associated Press story that discussed current state law mandates that the Texas Youth Commission release juveniles who have served their sentences and are not making progress in the Commission's mental health treatment program.
The story specifically mentioned the stabbing death of John Tyler High School Teacher Todd Henry, and how the youth who is accused in the stabbing was released from the TYC without receiving follow-up mental health services.
My goal here is not to specifically discuss the Tyler youth, or to criticize the TYC. The job the professionals have there can be enormously challenging. I want to get across how crucial it is for these juveniles to have access to these services once they are discharged from the system.
Jim Hurley, public information officer for the TYC, said the agency is required to release juveniles to their parents or guardians who have completed their minimum confinement period and if the youth have a primary brain disorder that keeps them from progressing in treatment. He said it is up to the TYC mental health professionals to make the determination of whether or not the youth is making that progress.
It was one comment Hurley made in the course of my interview with him that really hit home:
"Even when they are discharged, we cannot force a parent to make sure they get treatment," he said.
My first reaction upon hearing this statement was a feeling of utter hopelessness and futility. And then I felt worried, both as a parent and as a member of the society in which these youth will be released. My worry stems from the kind of world in which we are all going to be living when these young people, who do not receive appropriate follow-up care, continue to commit crimes which will affect us all. Some of these crimes may be vicious, such as the one in which the Tyler youth is accused.
Although there are no guarantees that receiving such follow-up care will stop a crime from happening, it certainly can help a troubled youth to get on the right track. It could also mean the difference between life and death for a potential crime victim.
Of course, there are a million different circumstances -- many of the youths who serve their time and are released still needing these services may not go home to parents at all. They may be returned to homes and situations where there is a guardian, perhaps an older sibling or other relative who must work at more than one job in order for the family to survive. It can be a struggle in such families just to put food on the table, much less see that a child receives follow-up medical care, no matter how badly it is needed.
But the mission of the TYC is unique from the state's adult prison system -- first, because it serves youths, and second, because it focuses on rehabilitation, education, and medical treatment.
In fact, the agency's mission statement on its Web site states in part "the juvenile corrections agency, promotes public safety by operating juvenile correctional facilities and by partnering with youth, families, and communities to provide a safe and secure environment where youth in the agency's care and custody receive individualized education, treatment, life skills and employment training and positive role models to facilitate successful community reintegration."
The key words are "partnering," "families," "communities" and especially "successful community reintegration." It takes parents or guardians, institutions, and communities working together to see a youth successfully rehabilitate so that he can be a productive and contributing citizen in society, if such rehabilitation is possible. The only other choice is for the child to go back to the same behavior which put him in the TYC in the first place.
It would appear there is a bright spot on the horizon. Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, authored HB 4451 in the last legislative session. The legislation authorizes a child with mental illness or mental retardation who is discharged from the TYC after having served his sentence to be eligible to receive continuity of care services from the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments.
But McReynolds, who is a retired educator, admits that the issue is complex and in his words "has many moving parts." As the Chair of the state's Corrections Committee, he said he has plans to hold interim hearings on the topic before the legislature meets again in 2011.
"I would like to see us do the best we can to redeem these young lives," McReynolds said. On that point, all of us can agree.