Following the passage of the state budget Saturday, Texas Rep. Byron Cook remains cautiously optimistic that the Corsicana State Home has a long future helping high-risk juvenile offenders.
In January of this year, the Texas senate had proposed changes to the Texas Juvenile Justice Division, including closing the Corsicana facility, but during the course of the legislative session that specific order was dropped from the legislation.
The threat hasn’t completely disappeared, however. Now TJJD officials are going to look at all six of their facilities with an eye towards closing one of them by January.
“(The Corsicana facility) is doing a good job,” Cook said. “I visited with the head of the TJJD as well as the ombudsman, who goes and looks at all these facilities to see how they’re functioning. Nobody can point to where they aren’t doing a good job. Nobody can point to where they don’t have crucial services.”
“The only negative they could point to was that it’s an old facility,” Cook added. “The challenge of this very old facility.”
However, cutbacks in the TJJD portion of the state budget means one of the six Texas facilities may be discontinued, at least, that’s the TJJD interpretation of the law.
None of the six existing facilities are out of bounds for closure, said John Hurley spokesman for the TJJD. The 35th amendment, or rider, to the appropriations bill states that TJJD will close at least one facility by Jan. 1 and it will submit its plan for closure by Sept. 1, Hurley said. Since 2007, the state has closed about six different criminal youth facilities. The population in the system has also dropped from about 4,500 to 1,199, Hurley said. The Corsicana facility houses 90 of those youth.
The agency, which was previously the Texas Youth Commission before the legislature merged it with the youth probation division and created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, is moving away from youth facilities where kids are locked up, and is instead concentrating on community-based treatment. The “diversion” of funds from the state agency to county-based programs has helped,
“The community diversion is working,” Hurley said.
Those who are incarcerated within the system are all there for violent felonies, and a large percentage of them have a need for specialized care. “Typically, the youth we’re getting are truly the 1 percent,” Hurley said.
The Corsicana Residential Treatment Center is unique in that it houses those offenders who have other issues beyond their criminal behavior — a psychological or learning disability, for example, and typically more than one issue. As well, Corsicana as a community has pr oven itself supportive not just of the facility but of the kids, as well, through a volunteer group that does everything from pizza parties and Christmas gifts to buying graduation robes.
Cook acknowledges that some of the buildings on the Corsicana campus are older and require more maintenance. The Corsicana Treatment Center was formerly a state orphanage that took in its first kids in 1889. However, it’s also a large site, and could have some real potential as the site for a rehab facility, Cook said.
“The reality is that there’s no place in Texas where a rehabilitation model for high–risk offenders exists,” he said. “If the state determines they want to pursue the rehabilitation model then the long history of Corsicana’s involvement and support of this type of offender makes us the ideal contender. That’s what my argument continues to be.
“Ultimately, I want to see if we can’t figure out the funding to build a model facility that would allow the agency to really start to reach this position of rehabilitating these high–risk offenders, where they can safely reenter society in a positive way,” Cook said.
Because it’s so specialized, Cook is determined that Corsicana not be closed. He has until Sept. 1 to convince the powers that be in Austin that he’s right. Which ever closure is recommended, the plan has to be approved by the Legislative Budget Board.
“It makes no sense for this facility to be on the closure list,” Cook insisted.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com