Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

March 15, 2011

Uncertain future

TYC seeks public input on closures; Corsicana meeting May 7

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — In a memo sent out to all Texas Youth Commission employees, including those at the Corsicana Residential Treatment Facility, the head of TYC announced the agency will be closing three facilities this year. Which ones won’t be decided until this summer.

“We will have to close three secure facilities by Sept. 1, 2011,” the memo from Executive Commissioner Cherie Townsend states. “The decision of which three facilities will be closed will be made in the June meeting of the TYC board and the facilities will be closed on or before Aug. 31, 2011.”

Community meetings to allow residents and local leaders to lobby the agency for each location’s survival will take place this spring. The first meeting will take place in March at Mart, and the last meeting will be on May 14 in Gainesville.

The Corsicana meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 7 in Dawson Auditorium at Navarro College, according to Laura Braly, superintendent at the Corsicana facility.

According to Townsend’s memo, the meetings are to hear from local residents about what is unique about each location, what the agency would lose by closure, how it would impact the community and whether this site could take on more youth should the closures be somewhere else.

“It’s supposed to be for community input,” Braly explained. “The point is for Navarro County to tell TYC why they should stay.”

Part of the presentations should also include whether or not the local facility can take on more youth, since the closure of three sites will mean the expansion of others.

“They’ll have to hire more people, and they want to make sure the resources exist to handle that,” Braly said. Those resources can mean a potential workforce as well as the housing and educational opportunities for that expanded workforce.

Selling points for keeping the Corsicana facility open are Navarro College’s relationship with TYC, and strong community involvement at the facility.

Navarro College trains all new TYC employees, and offers college classes to TYC students throughout the state. Last year, the college trained 564 TYC employees. The college’s partnership with the TYC also offers the staff a chance to get college credit, and TYC youth can attend college both on campus and through video conferencing to get college credit.

In addition, more than 200 local residents volunteer at the facility as tutors, guides, cheerleaders, role models and mentors.

“The community has been very supportive of the facility,” Braly said. “Last year, the community council paid $6,000 just to get our swimming pool fixed. Some places don’t have strong community support.”

Mark Luera is president of the Community Resource Council, which raises funds for the youth incarcerated at the Corsicana treatment center. Through a Christmas letter and the Celebrity Waiter event, the group raised more than $8,000 last year. The money went towards birthday cakes and presents, Christmas gifts and special treats for the kids.

“This community has always been incredibly supportive,” Luera said, pointing to the history of the facility over the years as it went through an evolution from orphanage, to state home for troubled youth to secure facility for emotionally disturbed youthful offenders.

“The second point I’d like to make is maybe more selfish, but it would be a tremendous blow to our economy if the state facility closes,” Luera said. “There are 300 employees out there, and most are from Navarro County. That would be a real sad situation.”

In addition to closing three secure facilities, the state agency intends to close six parole offices in the next two years, and while there may be more cuts in contract care and halfway houses, the agency doesn’t anticipate closing any of those now, Townsend stated.

The Youth Commission is also cutting 55 administrative positions in Austin.

In response to a Sunset Commission recommendation, the Texas Youth Commission is being merged with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission into one agency to be called the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. How much the state will save from the merger is still unclear, Townsend told employees.

“I realize that I am once again delivering news that is not easy to receive and that will likely cause increased speculation,” Townsend stated in her memo. “I am confident that you will continue to strive toward excellence each day as we go through this difficult time.”

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” to this article? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com