To the editor:

What has happened to the juvenile justice system? Almost everyone who reads a paper or watches the news knows at this time the problems that have occurred within the Texas Youth Commission. And I would like to go on record at this time and say this, that any staff who has an inappropriate relationship with an incarcerated youth deserves everything that the justice system can give them in a court of law.

While I can feel sorry for these youth, I must in the same breath feel sorry for their victims and hold these youth accountable for their crimes. That is what the system has forgotten at this time. They are spending so much time making up for a few bad staff that we have forgotten that for almost every youth within the system, there is also a victim for that youth.

It has been said by the Judicial Committee in Austin that the youth in TYC right now are the most violent youth in the State of Texas. And most of these youth have been in front of a judge at least five times before they are sentenced to TYC, unless the crime committee was extremely heinous.

But what are we teaching these youth at this time? All youth committed to TYC have a minimum length of stay, unless the youth is a sentenced offender. At the present time the youth are held for their minimum length of stay and then released back into the public. But what have they really learned while being incarcerated?

Youth are not required to do schoolwork during their stay at TYC. They may sleep or be quiet at their desks as long as they do not disturb the rest of the class. This used to be part of their release program under the academic section. But not at the present time.

Youth are free to make accusations against the staff by filing a grievance or by calling the TYC hotline. If the charge is serious enough the staff may be sent home or moved to a place on campus where they are not around the youth. This means that the staff at this time is guilty until proven innocent.

If the staff is sent home they are paid like they are at work until the investigation is complete. Then the investigation begins, we spend thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to examine and research the allegation. If the staff is found to be innocent they are returned to work.

What happens to the youth who has made the false allegation, and has put the staff and their family through all this? The correct answer would be nothing. Sorry, in t eh free world this would be considered filing a false police report, which would require a little time in jail.

Youth who assault a TYC officer receive no extra time added to their sentence at this time. Recently we had a youth assault two officers. One went to the emergency room and to this date has not returned to work. The youth is under age so no charges can be filed on them and no time can be added to the youth’s sentence.

Recently we had a youth assault another youth, hitting the second youth in the head with a piece of wood, and then the first youth went after the second again with a shop hammer. Time added to the first youth’s sentence: three months.

Dress and hair code for the youth no longer really exist. Youth may braid their hair or wear it pretty much however they feel that day. Youth are no longer put in orange clothing because it makes them feel degraded, like they are a criminal. We used to make all youth who left the campus wear orange so that if they were out in the public you would know who they are. This also no longer happens.

Youth are allowed to to read the Brownwood Bulletin. We the staff feel that our private lives are just that, private. We do not need for these youth to know if we are going through a divorce, getting married, deaths in the family, or what our children look like or what you or your children look like.

Youth are being allowed to leave the campus for certain community events and community service projects. So what does this mean to you? It means that our youth are able to have interaction with you and to be around your children. And as stated above, the State of Texas has deemed these youth the most violent in the state.

Hopefully you are getting my point by now. The state has said that these youth have been committed for juvenile acts of crime. I disagree with this because murder, assault, aggravated assault, drug smuggling, sexual assault, etc. are not acts of juvenile behavior.

So what do we do with these youth? We the State of Texas owe it to these youth to hold them accountable for their crimes, if, for no other reason, almost every youth committed to TYC had a victim. We owe them a chance to be able to turn their lives around, to give them an education, to try and teach them right from wrong so that when they are released from the system they at least have the tools to change their lives.

As of May 19, 2008, the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex is no longer a correctional complex. Seems like correctional is a bad word; we are now a residential treatment center. So not only have we failed the youth but also the victim. Any questions should be forwarded to Governor Perry at (512) 463-2000; the Joint Committee on TYC composed of Sen. John Whitmire at (512) 463-0115 and Rep. Jerry Madden at (512) 463-0544; or you can contact the Texas Youth Commission at (512) 424-6130.

Kevin Ashby