KCBD Investigates: Texas Juvenile Justice Department reports 71% turnover rate putting strain on county resources

Published: Nov. 9, 2022 at 8:51 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2022 at 10:32 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Texas Juvenile Justice Department is in turmoil, according to the latest report on the agency.

Right now, there is a waitlist to get into those state facilities. That means violent juvenile offenders are sitting at county detention centers, including the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center, until they can be transferred.

“There are 115 total kids across the state waiting to go to TJJD,” said Chief Juvenile Probation Officer William Carter.

Carter said there are seven juveniles sitting in his facility, waiting to be transferred to a secure state facility.

Carter said five have death-related offenses and another has a sex offense.

Juvenile violent crime is up statewide. In Fiscal Year 2019, the State of Texas had 66 juvenile homicide referrals. So far this year, there have been 152.

According to the Sunset Report, aggravated robberies and assaults rose by 80 percent in that same time frame.

Carter said juveniles are sitting in county detention centers for more than 120 days because TJJD is only intaking eight to 12 juveniles a week.

The reason for this intake backlog? Critical staff shortages.

The report says TJJD turnover rates are the worst among large state agencies, with a 71 percent turnover rate reported in Fiscal Year 2021. About 30 percent of officers hired in Fiscal Year 2022 left the agency within their first month of employment.

TJJD issued lockdowns, leaving juveniles isolated in their cells for the majority of the day because they did not have enough staff to monitor them. Some juveniles admitted to hurting themselves just so they could leave their cells to use the restroom, after waiting more than three hours.

Sunset staff believes the lockdowns are partly to blame for the increase in aggressive and suicidal behaviors reported by TJJD. From fiscal years 2019 to 2021, the agency reported almost 10,000 assaults on youth and staff at its secure facilities. It also reported more than 6,500 suicide alerts in 2021, a 40 percent increase since 2019.

The report says available staff was so busy with suicide risk assessments, routine programming, including counseling, had to be canceled.

Carter said he too is struggling to hire and retain employees, but that has not impacted juveniles’ access to critical resources.

“Since we are able to get the kids out in programs on a daily basis, that helps their mental psyche. If kids at TJJD were locked down in their cells for more than 20 hours a day, that would tear on me, too,” Carter said.

The Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center reported a 44% turnover rate in Fiscal Year 2021. Carter said right now, the center has 11 officer vacancies, which is preventing them from using 12 of their beds.

“We are seeing them leave within just a couple of weeks of hire here. They just realize the severity of the kids we have here is not their cup of tea and they move on to something else,” Carter said.

Carter said as county detention centers deal with their own staffing struggles, the issues at the state level have them rethinking where to send adjudicated youth.

“Talking to other directors across the state, they are making the tough decisions to not send kids to TJJD, simply because they are able to get them into services quicker if they go to a private residential treatment center, or they have just lost confidence in some of the treatment that can be provided at TJJD,” Carter said.

Carter said the state has made improvements, but there will likely be more to come.

The Sunset Commission will issue its final TJJD recommendations to the legislature Thursday.