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Rep.Springer, Drew

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"CLOSING THE STATE SCHOOL IN GAINESVILLE WOULD BE WRONG FOR TEXAS" EDITORIAL BY REPRESENTATIVE DREW SPRINGER  print page

by: Rep. Springer, Drew
03/08/2019

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD's) primary focus is safety—for the youth who are under its care and supervision, for the dedicated employees who work at the agency, and for the public at large. In the last fiscal year, roughly 53,000 youth entered the juvenile justice system. The vast majority of them, roughly 99%, receive a warning or interact solely with the local juvenile probation department. Some go to halfway houses. But a very small number, about 750 each year, or about 1%, are sent by a judge to one of five secure facilities, including the Gainesville State School in House District 68.

There is no denying that the facility has had serious issues over its long history. Still dealing with the scandal from 2017, the Gainesville facility has had ongoing issues with safety and operations, and in October a new superintendent was appointed to run the campus. Unfortunately, reform is not easy or quick, particularly in an area as challenging as juvenile justice. Despite problems, there is reason for optimism.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Camille Cain, who took the job last January, there has been a strong focus on increasing the level of staff supervision for youth. For example, in February 2018, the population at Gainesville was 220; a year later, in February 2019, the population had decreased to 165, allowing for better supervision. Other reforms have been implemented as well, including the use of body-worn cameras for staff to increase safety and accountability and a new program that ensures the youth have enough sleep time at night and healthy snacks during the day to increase their health and wellness.

All of this shows promise and a recommitment to treating youth with dignity and respect in a structured environment that helps prepare them to return to their communities and lead fulfilling, productive lives. That is something all Texans can support.

As the Legislature is currently meeting in Austin, we have the chance to provide funding for significant reform. Simply closing the Gainesville facility would cause a level of burden on the juvenile justice system that would seriously jeopardize safety. That is why keeping the Gainesville State School open is so important. Now is not the time to discuss closure—instead, we need to focus on the reform efforts that TJJD is working hard to implement. I thank the House Appropriations Subcommittee for voting against the idea of closure.

When a young man is ready to leave the Gainesville State School, he has a chance to ring a large bell on the grounds. The bell rings loud and clear across the campus, and it signals the chance for a fresh start and the opportunity to write a new chapter in his life. That is what I want for Gainesville and TJJD as a whole: the chance to write a new chapter in the agency’s life.

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