Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

December 19, 2013

Corsicana State Home to get new life as transition center

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The Corsicana State Home will remain a part of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) said Thursday the State Home will become what he described as an “education and transitional facility” for youth who are aging out of the TJJD system.

Cook’s remarks came in an update to the Corsicana and Navarro County Chamber of Commerce board Thursday, four days after the TJJD announced it was moving the remaining youth at the State Home and the mental health treatment program that served them to the TJJD facility in Mart.

Cook said the mission of the new transition center, expected to serve as many as 190 youth between the ages of 16 and 19, would be to help prepare for life outside the TJJD.

“I view this as an extremely positive string of events for our community,” Cook said.

The announcement of the repurposing of the Corsicana facility marks a new beginning for the State Home. After a TJJD study recommended closure of the facility this summer, Cook along with local leaders worked with members of the state’s Legislative Budget Board to find an alternative to address the needs of the youth and the state.

Cook said support of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was instrumental in leading to Thursday’s announcement.

“We have the commitment of the Speaker and the Lt. Governor, and that’s what we needed,” Cook said.

Cook told chamber board members that Navarro College would play a role in the success of the transition facility.

“Working with Navarro College through college courses, dual credit and vocational training, prepare these kids to be successful in life,” Cook said.

Courses would be offered online and through video link to the campus, said County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr., adding some instructors could also visit the campus.

“These should be kids that want to get ready to get back into society,” Davenport said.

The TJJD announced Monday that most of the State Home’s employees were being transferred to Mart to continue to work with the youth formerly housed in Corsicana. Some employees will remain in Corsicana as the facility now prepares for the transition. Others, Cook said, would likely be offered other positions in the TJJD. When the transition of the Corsicana facility is complete, some employees will come back, Cook said.

“None of these employees are to be ‘let go’ during this process, according to the Lt. Governor,” Cook said.

Corsicana Mayor Chuck McClanahan, who along with Cook and Davenport met with Dewhurst last week to discuss the proposal, echoed his approval of the plans.

“We are making the ‘best’ out of a change,” McClanahan said. “We were able to secure funding for it to be a transitional facility, and we felt like that was a good ‘save’ for Corsicana.

“We’re excited for the opportunity of keeping (the facility) here, for the employees keeping their jobs, and to still serve the students in a manner that we feel like has not been done in the past,” McClanahan added. “We think this transitional time will give them a much better opportunity to be able to transition into society in a more positive way.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) said he’s ready to help with the transition of the State Home.

“Considering the rapidly growing population of our state, I have consistently opposed the closure of the CRTC or any of the six TJJD facilities,” Birdwell said Thursday in an email statement. “This was one of my cited reasons for voting against Senate Bill 1, the budget legislation which mandated the closure of a TJJD facility.

“Now that the decision has been made by the LBB to follow the TJJD recommendation of moving the mental-health youth to another site, I am eager to assist in repurposing the CRTC swiftly and efficiently into a transitional facility which will be to the betterment of our young offenders and will allow Corsicana and Navarro County to continue to play a key role in the execution of a critical state function.”

No specific timeline has been set for the transition of the State Home, other than the move of the existing youth to Mart, which should be completed this week.

Jim Hurley, a spokesman for the TJJD, said Thursday the agency was waiting for word from the Legislative Budget Board about the announcement.

Cook said he did not know the status of the TJJD employee training program at Navarro College, or whether it would continue after the transition.

“Right now, their focus is on getting these kids safely moved,” Cook said.

Cook said he was grateful to everyone who worked on developing the plan for the State Home’s new purpose.

“We should embrace this in a very positive way,” Cook said. “It is going to be a big benefit.

“Honestly, had we not done this, those kids would be gone, and the facility would probably be locked up and empty,” Cook said.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com