The TJJD leader said the staffing problem is so severe that it could lead to “inability to provide even basic supervision to youth locked in their rooms”.

TEXAS, USA — The Texas Department of Juvenile Justice (TJJD) confirmed to WFAA Thursday that the state’s juvenile detention centers have stopped accepting youth due to critical staff shortages.

TJJD said the suspension of admissions began last week. In a letter from TJJD’s interim executive director to facility managers, the department said all five state security facilities are implementing options for their emergency planning.

The TJJD leader said the staffing problem is so severe that it could lead to “inability to provide even basic supervision to youth locked in their rooms”.

“This could significantly impair the ability to intervene in increases in suicidal behavior that are already occurring in youth struggling with the isolating effects of operating room incarceration,” the letter said.

As of May, the population hovered around 570 young people — one of the lowest levels in a decade, according to state records. A department official told WFAA Thursday that there were 140 committed young people on a waiting list to come to TJJD.

“TJJD is in close contact with juvenile probation departments to keep them informed of the situation. The agency regrets having to take this action and recognizes that many county agencies are also struggling with staffing shortages that reflect a national staffing crisis,” a TJJD spokesperson said in a statement.

TJJD said it is working to resolve the underlying issues and restore consumption as soon as possible.

On June 22, TJJD Interim Executive Director Shandra Carter testified before the Sunset Advisory Commission that children at TJJD face 22-hour lockdowns due to understaffing.

“Our youth spend up to 10 hours each day in their rooms during lockdown,” Carter testified. “These lockdowns are necessary because we simply do not have the staff to safely supervise youth when they are outside of their rooms.”

The Sunset Advisory Commission audits government departments to ensure they are operating effectively.

The commission noted that staffing is the biggest challenge facing TJJD.

Carter testified that employees need to be paid more and that the current staffing requires a huge amount of overtime.

According to the Sunset Commission, TJJD had a turnover rate of 71% in FY 2021.

The next state legislature in 2023 will finally decide whether TJJD survives.

Juvenile attorney and former prosecutor Lisa Herrick of the Sparks Law Firm represents 40 juveniles currently in DFW.

Since 2016, she has defended children in Dallas, Tarrant, Parker, Johnson and Denton counties.

She says the whole situation is a problem.

“It’s an absolute mess,” Gerrick said.

The worst-case scenario, Gerrick said, is for juveniles who receive an “indefinite” disposition of their cases and wait for TJJD to pick them up.

Indeterminate means the juvenile remains with TJJD for rehabilitation. The agency determines when they should be released after they are offered several rehabilitative services through TJJD, such as schooling, vocational training and even drug treatment services.

However, when TJJD is unable to pick up children for such an evaluation, the juveniles are held in detention facilities and do not receive rehabilitative services.

The same is true for “specified” cases, where judges order juveniles TJJD for a specific period of time.

However, the time they spend in county detention services will count as time served, but these juveniles will also not be able to receive rehabilitation services.

“The sooner the system intervenes with a child who has committed an offense; the sooner rehabilitative services are offered, the more likely that child will be rehabilitated,” Gerrick said.

“If they are not offered these rehabilitative services until they reach TJJD, which can be weeks or months after sentencing, they are less likely to be fully rehabilitated,” Herrick continued.

Herrick also said if a teenager turns 19 before he goes to TJJD, he can also miss services.

“If a child is still in a local detention facility on their 19th birthday, they will be released without even entering TJJD,” Gerrick said. “They’re just missing an opportunity.”

In Tarrant County, a juvenile judge told WFAA that 23 juveniles are awaiting transfer to TJJD.

Four of those juveniles are 18 years old and are being held in the Tarrant County Jail.

How long did the juvenile wait to be picked up by TJJD? 118 days. The next longest waiting time was 89 days.

The judge also said there are 27 juvenile homicide cases in Tarrant County. The judge said the most he saw in the county was about 10 people.

TJJD also introduced a 15% wage increase for all direct staff. Direct staff includes youth development coaches (juvenile correctional officers), group leaders (residential supervisors), case managers and case managers, cooks, food service managers, youth safety managers, parole officers and supervisors. The increase will increase the starting annual salary for Youth Development Coaches (JCOs) from $36,238 to $41,700. To apply, click here.

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