By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
It’s not the news Corsicana was expecting to hear.
Employees of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center — known locally as the Corsicana State Home — were told Friday that the Texas Juvenile Justice Department will recommend that the facility be closed by Jan. 1, 2014.
TJJD Executive Director Michael Griffiths was in Corsicana Friday meeting with employees of the facility to personally inform them of the staff recommendation. The facility employees 287 people, and about 90 youth residents.
The decision to recommend closure of the State Home is the result of an evaluation of all six TJJD treatment facilities in the state, Griffiths said in a letter to city leaders about the decision.
In the letter, Griffiths cited the changing nature of the TJJD, the condition of the State Home’s physical plant, existing life and safety issues, and ongoing maintenance and operating costs as factors in the staff recommendation. Griffiths also said in the letter there was little room to expand the existing facility.
“TJJD staff feels that this is the only recommendation that will accommodate the long-term interests of the agency and the youth we serve,” he wrote.
Word of Griffiths’ announcement caught Corsicana Mayor Chuck McClanahan by surprise.
“I’m shocked,” McClanahan said. “We’ve been working on this for several months.”
McClanahan said he and County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr. had made several trips to Austin in support of the Corsicana facility, meeting with TJJD staff and State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).
“We were under the impression we had ‘dodged the bullet’ this time, so this comes as quite a disappointment and a shock,” he said.
Davenport also voiced disappointment at the news of the staff recommendation.
“We are greatly dismayed they chose to recommend closing this facility,” he said. “There would be job losses for county residents ... we just hate to see it.”
Cook remains a staunch supporter of the State Home, and the services it provides to troubled youth in the TJJD system. He says the fight isn’t over yet.
“This still has to be approved by the Legislative Budget Board,” Cook said Friday. Cook said the recommendation by TJJD staff is “counter to the findings out of the House.”
Cook praised the work and employees of the Corsicana State Home, saying the decision behind the staff recommendation had nothing to do with the work of, or the workforce at the CRTC.
“The folks out there are doing a good job — this is strictly a ‘facilities’ issue,” Cook stressed.
Cook said the changing “model” of the TJJD calling for a shift from an incarceration facility to a rehabilitation facility doesn’t put any other TJJD facility location ahead of Corsicana to meet that role.
“What they need to do is either build or re-purpose a facility to do that,” he said. “Their recommendation doesn’t address where they want to go.
“Corsicana is as good a candidate as there is in the state for creating a facility that will meet the new mission,” he said.
“We are obviously disappointed to hear of the TJJD’s recommendation which is being made prior to the public hearing process,” said Frank Steed, chairman of the Corsicana and Navarro County Chamber of Commerce. “The chamber has actively worked with local government, Navarro College and State Rep. Byron Cook to keep this facility a part of Navarro County’s history and economy. We will continue to do what we can to impact the decision that will ultimately be made by the Legislative Budget Board.”
Another connection with the TJJD that could be impacted is the agency’s partnership with Navarro College to provide training to employees from its six units across the state. TJJD spokesman Jim Hurley said Friday he didn’t know how that training partnership would be impacted.
Griffiths said in his letter to city leaders that current employees will be eligible for other opportunities within the agency, should the State Home eventually close.
“TJJD will do everything we can to allow our Corsicana employees to continue their TJJD employment at other locations if they choose to do so,” Griffiths wrote. “All non-essential vacant positions in the agency have been frozen to provide Corsicana employees the opportunity to move into vacancies for which they are qualified at other facilities.” He said the Texas Workforce Commission will also provide assistance by holding job fairs on site to place as many people as possible who wish to remain in the Corsicana area.
The public hearing to receive input from city leaders and the public will be held at 10 a.m. July 15 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Austin. City leaders were invited to make a presentation at that public hearing in the letter from Griffiths.
A transcript of the public hearing will be provided to the TJJD board for its review before the July 26 full board meeting, Griffiths added.
Cook said he believes the decision on the recommendation announced Friday is far from final.
“We’ve battled this before, and we’ll battle it now,” he said.
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