Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

August 30, 2013

Legislative Budget Board has final word on State Home

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The fate of the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center is now in the hands of the Legislative Budget Board after the Texas Juvenile Justice Department voted Friday to recommend closing it.

The LBB still has to make the final decision. The LBB is composed of 10 members of the legislature, including the Speaker of the House and Lt. Governor. The group doesn’t meet formally, but communicates through e-mails and staff to come to decisions.

“This has been a very difficult process,” said Chairman Scott Fisher, in prefacing the vote. “The reality is this isn’t our decision to close, it’s a legislative process requiring us to close a facility.”

The TJJD staff had prepared a report in June recommending closing the Corsicana State Home, but the vote on accepting that was delayed until Friday. The deadline to make a recommendation on which facility to close is Sunday.

A bill passed in this past spring’s legislative session required the TJJD to close one of its six facilities and cut $23 million from its operating budget. The department has also had to close a number of halfway houses.

Following the unanimous vote, Fisher urged the LBB to make a hasty decision, and if they choose not to close Corsicana, that he wants that body to make a recommendation for which other facility to close.

“This is not what we favored, and we told the legislature that,” Fisher said, adding that he believes it short-sighted because he predicts that there will be an increased need for this kind of intensive care treatment center in the future as the state’s population increases.

“The immediate cost savings may be very cost ineffective in the long run,” he predicted.

Mike Griffiths, the executive director of the TJJD, presented the staff’s recommendation, saying that estimates of how much it would cost to bring the Corsicana facilities up to par would be at least $4.4 million, with some estimates going as high as $55 million.

He recommended moving the clients currently at Corsicana to the TJJD facility in Mart. There, they will be separated from the general population by a fence, and many of the specialized staffers at Corsicana could be transferred to care for them there.

He said the TJJD has kept open a number of positions throughout the state, and most of the Corsicana staff who wanted to stay with the department could move into those jobs.

Corsicana currently has 74 inmates, all of whom have special psychiatric and other needs. Of those, Griffiths told the board that 27 could be moved into less intensive care.

Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell attended Friday’s meeting in Austin, and he spoke following the vote to urge the TJJD not to allow the facility to fall into neglect, but to make sure it’s transitioned into another useful purpose. Birdwell worked for the defense department in closing U.S. military bases, and is familiar with the processes. He said that although the LBB still has to decide, he wants to put his defensive lines down now.

Board Member Judge John Brieden asked the LBB to act quickly regardless of how they decide because the period of uncertainty could lead to more Corsicana staffers leaving, creating an unsafe condition for the youth and staff.

The bill ordering the closure of a facility states that it must be closed by Jan. 1, 2014.

The priorities need to be moving the clients safely and making sure they get the proper treatment wherever they are, then taking care of the employees and then making sure the facility isn’t left unused or unremediated.

Texas Rep. Byron Cook sent a letter which was read into the minutes of Friday’s meeting. He asked that the agency postpone making a decision, which Fisher said the board couldn’t do in good conscience because it would mean defying the legislative mandate. The board agreed with him.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” Cook said in an interview with the Corsicana Daily Sun following the vote. “This was just a recommendation. The Legislative Budget Board has to approve it.”

“We're going to keep working on the Legislative Budget Board. I think that's a decision that's going to take a while,” Cook said.

Among the small handful of people from Navarro County who attended the meeting was County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr.

“I’m disappointed, of course, but we’ll have to wait for the LBB to put the final nail in the coffin, and that won’t come for weeks,” Davenport said. “Then they can address with us how to move forward in repurposing or remediation.”

If the LBB does vote to close the CRTC, this isn’t the end of the state home, Davenport said.

Navarro College has proposed to TJJD making the state home property into a transitional facility to teach youth how to live in the real world and earn certifications to help them get jobs in the future.

“There’s a lot of potential for the facility,” he said. “I still want to keep the jobs if we can but moving onto the next stage of the facility’s life is something we can all be brainstorming about.”

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” to this article? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com