AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, the interim director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department told lawmakers her agency is “unable to serve our youth” with its present resources.
Interim Director Shandra Carter said the issues and the waitlist of more than 140 youth waiting to go to a TJJD facility is entirely due to staffing issues at the five state facilities. Carter said some minors have already been waiting as long as three months.
Carter was asked to testify before the interim study committee on criminal justice reform, specifically on the concept of raising the age of kids who can enter TJJD. An April 2021 TJJD analysis found increasing the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 would likely double the population of kids within the agency.
“Should raising the age occur, the five facilities have the physical bed space to absorb these additional youth, but we are confident we would not be able to secure the necessary staffing to utilize those beds,” Carter said.
Carter said right now the TJJD facilities are already 160% over capacity, regarding the levels of staffing, which she said — “compromises our ability to achieve our mission of rehabilitation.”
The interim director said Wednesday she is currently missing 50% of the needed nursing staff, 50% of needed mental health workers, and 30% of the educators it needs. The interim director said the staffing issues aren’t all related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were gaining back some of the loss during COVID – it was really around the great resignation time around April 2021 when you see our numbers tank and we have not been able to recover,” Carter said.
Carter also said the agency is not currently able to be competitive with salary – adding the agency pays comparably to a nearby Buc-ee’s.
Multiple lawmakers on the committee Wednesday expressed concern with the historical underfunding of the state agency.
“Yes, the session doesn’t start until January. It’s going to be a major priority,” Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “My hope is it will be a major item in the session we can address immediately. But even between now and the next session, the next four to five months, we have options. We have available tools at our disposal to devote more resources to make sure our staffing issues are fixed.”