Confined Youth

Reader weigh in on youths in state homes and behind bars.

In the Group

Heartbreaking: These dayhab places are the biggest scam on the planet ["The Recruit," by Paul Knight, June 11, 2009]. Having gone through three since my son graduated from the public school system in May of last year, my heart is broken by the appalling lack of anything viable out there for a day program, never mind a living situation. I shudder to think of these guys living with the folks who run these programs.

As for D&D Care Homes, which you glowingly reviewed in the paper — it looks like you got the same tour that I did. There were closer to 80 people (not 45) of all abilities shuffled into rooms, and at absolutely no time during my son's four months there were they ever doing anything at any time when I dropped by. The music room? The exercise room? The "jobs"? Nada. It was heartbreaking, and I finally could no longer ignore it when my normally pleasant son refused to get out of the car and made the sign for crying when I tried to take him there.

That place is even worse than the ones that look crappy on the outside. At least we know the others will be subpar, but to pretty it up with a slick front man extolling how different it is...that is a crime in itself. Better yet, good luck getting any of the services promised. In my son's short tenure, he had three different nurses, none of whom could speak English and none of whom knew anything about him. The best thing about the place was a gentleman who I am still not sure is an employee or "consumer," as they call them. He worried about my son and told me not to worry too much because "he would watch out for him."

The sick thing is, I am an active, concerned parent who is reasonably intelligent and I fell for the slick PR campaign. After they get the bucks from the state, good luck and don't bother calling the woman who gives the tours — she does not speak to you or return calls after the forms are signed. Instead, you interface only with those in the minimum wage pay grade. Take a gander at the incident/violation report kept by the state — they are right at the top. This is pitched as the best place available!

Name withheld by request
Sugar Land

An online reader weighs in:

Success stories: My daughter, Kate, has four other friends who were in state "schools" but managed to get out. They first were placed in group homes, then went to apartments with roommates before graduating to having their own apartments. Well, except for the two who got married and have their own home. The only roommates for the other friends are their cats.

All these friends live in the community, pay their own bills, buy their own groceries and clothing, go out to eat, go to movies and anywhere else they want to. Why, they can even go walking in their neighborhood and visit with neighbors. They participate in swimming, basketball, track and bowling — in a league and in the Special Olympics. They go to the church of their choice where they have made friends and are treated like the rest of the parishioners. One sings in the choir. We are very fortunate that there is public transportation that they can call for rides to reading, money, computer and exercise classes. These community services have helped to teach the necessary skills for them to be so independent. They are also volunteers and very active advocates for everyone to have the choice to live where they want as long as they are safe.

This report says the state "schools" cost $125,000 per year per client. The legislature has voted to pour even more money into a broken system. At the same time, there are 18,000 people on waiting lists for community services.

One thing that advocates for community living requested is to have the money follow the client from the state "schools" into the community. Just think how many clients would grow and blossom the same as Kate's friends have. Remember, they are former state "school" clients.

Comment by Jeanne Cecil from Fort Worth

Young and in Solitary

Torture: It is a sad state of affairs in society when youth commit heinous crimes ["For Their Own Good," by Chris Vogel, June 4]. There is a saying that "a society is judged by how it treats its very young and very old."

A juvenile offender who allegedly commits a violent crime is subject to treatment that is tantamount to torture. Here is the torture, Johnny: solitary confinement in a Harris County jail cell.

I agree with the commentary provided by Craig Haney regarding juvenile offenders, in which he states that "the prevalence of mental illness or emotional problems among juvenile offenders is very high." It should be no surprise that juvenile offenders, who are more susceptible to mental illness, attempt to commit suicide when placed in a solitary confinement jail environment.

The certification process in Harris County needs to be changed, and I support the bill introduced by Representative Sylvester Turner that would require judges to state specific reasons for certifying a juvenile as an adult. Attorney Christene Wood commented that Judge Pat Shelton was sleeping during a certification hearing for a juvenile to be deemed an adult, thus subjecting the juvenile to solitary confinement. I found the alleged behavior by Judge Shelton to be egregious. Judge Shelton should be held accountable if Wood's allegations are correct.

Is there a legitimate reason for keeping youth isolated in solitary confinement when, according to Harvey Hetzel, head of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, there are "enough beds to have certified youths" at the juvenile facilities? If this is true, the practice of housing certified juveniles needs to cease and desist.

I applaud the pro bono efforts of the Jones Day law firm in representing a certified juvenile. Currently, I am a law student who is planning on graduating in May 2010, and as a future member of the bar, I will seek to assist those who are isolated from achieving justice and equality.

Jerry D. Lee III
Houston

An online reader weighs in:

Tired of excuses: I feel different about the whole pity party regarding kids committing serious crimes. My story is, my nine-year-old child was sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old who already had a past history of felony assault in which he stabbed his mother. I spent six months going to trial every week to follow what was being done in my son's situation, and every week the CPS person stood in front of the judge stating that my son asked for what happened, that the 14-year-old just had a bad upbringing and that it wasn't his fault. The CPS worker wanted to release this 14-year-old back to his mother, even though she also violated her probation by fist-fighting with this kid. One week before trial, he pled guilty.

The point of my story is the first occurrence should have been the last, but the system failed him, his family and ours. So if these kids are certified as adults due to their actions, then it is time to face the music — that is why it is called jail. And at 14 years old, you should know right from wrong. Jail is not a playground, and when you commit serious crimes, you should be punished accordingly. Maybe sitting in solitude, they will have plenty of time to think about their actions, and due to the severity of confinement, maybe we won't see this kid in jail as an adult.

The only thing I feel may need to change is counselors visiting these kids on a regular basis to make sure they are dealing with the situation. That is where the state needs to be more effective and provide that to these inmates. I am so tried of excuses.

Comment by k from houston

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