By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
About 30 residents and leaders from Navarro county traveled to Austin Monday to make arguments for keeping the Corsicana residential treatment center open at a hearing by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
A TJJD report released in June recommended closing Corsicana's facility to comply with a legislative mandate to go from six secure facilities to five, and to cut $23 million from its budget.
Among those speaking Monday before a three-member panel was Sheri Short with Navarro College who proposed making part of the CRTC a transitional program for inmates leaving TJJD secure facilities who need help learning to live in the free world while they either go to college or get vocational training. (See related story.)
"This is a long way from settled. We're going to keep working on this," said Texas Rep. Byron Cook, who also testified at Monday's hearing.
Because CRTC is the only facility recommended for closure, the hearing lasted only about an hour. Speaking on behalf of the facility were Corsicana Mayor Chuck McClanahan, County Judge H.M. Davenport, Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell, and Texas Rep. Byron Cook. Navarro College, which provides a series of contracts for TJJD, made a presentation on how to repurpose the facility into a transitional center.
Also providing information were about half a dozen CRTC volunteers, some students who have since left TJJD facilities.
A senate rider orders the TJJD to close one of its secure facilities and cuts the agency's budget by $23 million, explained Scott Fisher, chairman of the TJJD board at the beginning of the hearing.
"This recommendation (to close Corsicana's facility) is not made lightly," Fisher said. The staff’s recommendation to close the Corsicana facility is the logical and fiscally responsible thing to do, he said.
Cook was impassioned when he said that closing the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center was a decision that shouldn’t be considered. Two years ago, the TJJD proposed closing the Corsicana facility when they went from having 10 campuses to six, and at that time they determined that having a special campus just for those children who are most damaged was a wise choice, and Corsicana was best suited to provide that help.
“Unless you have empirical data that there will be savings and better results, then these facilities should not be closed,” he said. “There’s no savings to the state with the closure.”
He urged the board to retract the suggestion of a closure so that employees don’t flee to other jobs, and force the facility to close as a result.
“We don’t want to create an atmosphere of self-closure” Cook said.
He also pointed to the partnerships in the community, between the citizen volunteers and the college, that are key components to what the agency is trying to do with the youth in their care, which is rehabilitation.
Birdwell said that he hopes that the decision is not the final recommendation, but if it is that the state will repurpose both the facility and retrain the employees.
“We’ll take care of both the people and the property of Navarro County,” Birdwell said.
Following the hearing, Birdwell recalled the closure of military bases that created a great deal of work even after congress made the cuts official.
“The harder work is after the decision,” he said.
McClanahan pointed out that Corsicana offers both close proximity to Navarro Regional Hospital and Navarro College, which both serve the youth at the CRTC.
“We agree, it’s all about the kids,” he said. “We need to see them through. We need to see them all the way through.”
Davenport gave a short history of the facility in Corsicana, which traces its roots to a state orphanage established just 43 years after the county was founded. He also spoke about the large group of volunteers who give time and guidance to the youth incarcerated at the Corsicana site.
Volunteers at the CRTC lead religious programs, but also raise money for birthday parties, Christmas gifts, visits from parents, incentive programs, and backpacks for when the youth leave the center. The Community Resource Council, which raises money for the work done by volunteers, has paid to repair the swimming pool, paid for “calming rooms,” and therapeutic pets, and artist’s visits.
Speaking as a volunteer, Steve Jessup pointed out that the treatment of mentally disturbed youth in the TJJD has improved since the Corsicana site became a specialized campus.
“It’s a treatment center, not a prison,” Jessup pointed out.
“On behalf of the citizens of Corsicana, I hope it’s a hard decision to make,” Davenport said.
Fisher, who led the small panel, said that it was.
Mike Griffiths, executive director of the TJJD, was one of the members of the panel Monday. Following the hearing, he spoke to both Birdwell and Cook about what they’d heard.
“We’re going to take everything that was presented today and mold it into a recommendation for the board,” Griffiths said. “And even that plan has to be approved by the Legislative Budget Board.”
The LBB has final approval of any changes, and a recommendation from the TJJD has to be given the LBB by Sept. 1. The TJJD board is expected to vote on a recommendation on July 26. Any closures have to be done by Jan. 1, 2014.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com