AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN
Sunday, March 04, 2007
There are two scandals at the Texas Youth Commission, one involving sexual abuse of minors by state employees, the other a devastating failure of state leadership.
The first, as found by a Texas Rangers' investigation in 2005, is that two supervisors at the commission's West Texas State School in Pyote, about 24 miles east of Pecos, were repeatedly having sex with teenage boys in their custody.
The other scandal is what didn't happen next.
After the Rangers' report, the assistant superintendent and the principal at West Texas State School resigned, but the local district attorney has yet to file charges.
And a subsequent TYC internal investigation found that members of the prison's staff had complained about possible abuse, to their own bosses and to officials in Austin, for more than a year — but nothing was done.
In a report by the American-Statesman's Mike Ward published Friday, we learn that some TYC officials in Austin appear to have altered the original version of the internal report to cover up their own inaction.
Only in the past week, with the Legislature in session, news of the Rangers' report getting out and a media spotlight shining bright, has a radical shake-up begun. By the end of last week, there were also reports of sexual abuse of teenagers held at TYC's Brownwood facility.
The disclosures raise horrifying questions: What else is going on at TYC that has been ignored or covered up? Who else in state government was told of the problems but looked the other way, and for how long?
The 4,800 or so youths, from age 10 to 21, held in TYC facilities and programs are no angels. They have committed crimes — including violent ones. But they won't be reformed by state-paid perverts and their enablers.
A six-member commission governs the youth agency and appoints its executive director. Gov. Rick Perry appointed all current commissioners.
The governor's staff said it first heard of the Rangers' investigation at Pyote in early 2005 but didn't realize until last November — after a House member started asking questions — that charges had never been filed. Perry finally acted last week, naming a new chairman and telling the commission to appoint a new acting executive director of his choice, which it did.
The Senate voted to go much further, by putting the agency into conservatorship, which would have meant dismissal of all commissioners and the appointment by the governor of a special master to run it. The governor, however, took the much lesser step of keeping his commissioners, appointing a special master to investigate the abuse and directing the new acting executive director to develop a rehabilitation plan.
The Senate is right, though. The commission's leadership — commissioners and senior management — is deeply compromised, even if some are individually blameless. Executive Director Dwight Harris abruptly resigned Feb. 23, and more departures might come soon. And Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle began investigating the commission, too.
Every large employer will occasionally and inadvertently make a bad hire. But at an agency responsible for holding youths, management has a profound moral responsibility to act swiftly on any suspicion of sexual contact between staff and those youths.
The state has failed those youths, and the Legislature must determine how and why.
The editorial found here.