Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

July 22, 2013

TJJD delays State Home decision

By Bob Belcher and Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — The recommendation to close the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center is on hold, for now.

That’s the word from Austin and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The board had been scheduled to vote on a staff recommendation to close the facility at its meeting this Friday. That vote is now on hold for at least a month, said TJJD spokesman Jim Hurley.

“The chairman (Scott Fisher) has asked the staff not to present the recommendation so they can have more time to look at that, also to look at the testimony and the presentations that were made,” Hurley said Monday afternoon after word of the board’s request circulated. “The board has requested the staff not make that recommendation at this board meeting. They want to look over all the information and not have to rush through it.”

TJJD Executive Director Mike Griffiths visited the Corsicana facility on June 28, informing staff there they would be recommending closure of the facility to the TJJD Board of Directors. He told staffers the current residents of the facility would be transferred to Mart, and that TJJD would work with employees in transitioning to new positions within the system.

A contingent of leaders from Corsicana, along with State Rep. Byron Cook and State Senator Brian Birdwell, appeared at a public hearing July 15 in Austin, making a case to keep the facility open because of the nature of services it provides to a specialized group of residents. Officials from Navarro College also spoke at the July 15 hearing, offering up a plan to incorporate a transitional facility within the Corsicana center to aid youth set for release to be able to incorporate into life outside the walls of the home.

The message delivered by Corsicana’s contingent and its local legislators got the TJJD board chairman’s attention, Cook said Monday.

Cook said he also met with Fisher last week, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Birdwell met with Fisher Monday to discuss the recommendation.

“I think what’s happening is that folks are seeing that there are a lot of issues around this,” Cook said.

Cook pointed out that the residents served at the Corsicana State Home require “very specialized treatment,” treatment not readily available at any other TJJD facility.

“Using Mart, which doesn’t have some of the facilities these residents require, is not good for these young people,” Cook added.

“Clearly the message is ‘slow down — let’s look at this,’” Cook added. “There’s no question in my mind that moving these juvenile offenders is not in their best interest.”

Cook said he believes the TJJD board’s decision to delay consideration of the staff closure recommendation is “clearly, a good thing.”

In an email to TJJD employees sent Monday, Griffiths acknowledged Fisher’s request to withdraw the closure recommendation from the July 26 agenda.

“This will allow board members additional time to review and analyze all the information submitted,” the email said. Griffiths said the item will be on the TJJD board’s Aug. 30 agenda.

The state’s Legislative Budget Board still has the final decision on whether to accept the TJJD recommendation — whatever it might be — or send it back to them for more options.

But Cook maintains the fight for the Corsicana facility is far from over.

“Now what you’re seeing is so much information is coming back that it isn’t in the best interest to close Corsicana,” Cook said. “I hope that the TJJD board will fully apprise the Legislative Budget Board of all the different options that should be looked in to, and certainly there is no compelling evidence that closing this facility and moving these kids would be in the best interest of Texas.”

“I find this very encouraging,” said Corsicana Mayor Chuck McClanahan Monday. “Byron’s work has been significant in the delaying of this.

“We’re a community that’s got a history of supporting and mentoring the folks out there and we’ll continue in the future,” McClanahan added.

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