More than 100 youths surveyed at one of the state's largest juvenile correctional facilities said their most important concern is attacks from their peers, according to a report released today by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.Reports Grissom:
"They had a lot of concerns about staff being really negative to them, and they had a lot of concerns about youth-on-youth violence," said Benet Magnuson, juvenile justice analyst at the coalition, which advocates for incarcerated youths.
Magnuson and a team of interviewers surveyed 115 youths at the Giddings State School in January and asked them about living conditions, services and treatment at the facility, which housed about 270 youths on average in 2011. The majority of youths reported that they felt safe and were hopeful about their future. But they also noted negative interactions with staff and worries about fights with other youths.
In the survey, 89 percent of the youths said they felt OK, kind of safe or very safe at the Giddings facility. Only 2 percent reported feeling very unsafe.Looking at the report, this tidbit stood out:
But the youths also reported a significant amount of fighting and gang-related activity at the facility. About 85 percent of the youths said they had been in a physical fight during their stay. And 70 percent said that gangs had either a lot of power or a huge amount of power at Giddings.
"There’s too much fighting on this campus. Fights, riots, gangs – trying to see who’s tougher. It makes me feel less safe," one youth wrote in a survey response.
Although positive family involvement significantly improves outcomes both during and aft er placement in secure facilities,1 the youth reported that the long distance between home and the state secure facilities caused family visits to drop precipitously following commitment to the state secure facilities. 62 percent reported receiving visits at least once per week while in county facilities, but only 15 percent reported receiving visits at least once per week while in a state secure facility.TCJC also expressed concern that Giddings' rural location limited access to mentoring opportunities, though noting that "TJJD reports that mentored youth in its state secure facilities achieve significantly better education and recidivism outcomes than non-mentored youth." This was cited as one of several arguments for enhancing and funding policies to keep kids closer to their home counties instead of being sent to rural TJJD lockups.
Another notable recommendation arising from the survey:
From the perspective of the surveyed youth, negative staff interactions increase misbehavior, hinder treatment, and create a perception of favoritism and unfair rule enforcement. Based on informal conversations with staff and administrators, those negative interactions also increase staff turnover, injuries, and job dissatisfaction. Not surprisingly, the surveyed youth identified negative staff interactions as the greatest barrier to their rehabilitation. Policy-makers and TJJD should support positive staff interactions by increasing funding for training programs at state and county facilities, such as Bexar County’s successful Restraint and Seclusion Reduction Initiative training program. (Emphasis in original.)A press release accompanying the survey said "The Giddings facility has been in the news lately following a riot on the campus in late November and a report last month that youth-on-youth violence at the facility was increasing. [TCJC attorney Benet] Magnuson says the survey results are a wake-up call for leaders to double down on reforms to expand local programs for kids in trouble."
See the full report here (pdf).