From AP REPORTS
AUSTIN - The Texas Youth Commission plans to close two youth prisons this summer as part of an overhaul of the troubled agency, a spokesman said.
Jim Hurley, director of public affairs, said the John Shero State Juvenile Correctional Facility in San Saba and the Marlin Orientation and Assessment Unit in Marlin will be transferred to Texas' adult prison system Aug. 31.
The transfers will take place seven months before the Legislature ordered them closed as part of a mandatory downsizing.
"Budget is one reason we decided to do it now," Hurley said Thursday. "And as long as we knew the units would be closed in several months anyway, there would have been a bleeding off of the staff before that time. So now seemed like a good time."
Radical reforms to the state's juvenile system erupted into one of the major issues of the recent legislative session after the disclosure of allegations of sexual abuse of inmates by staff and a possible cover-up by agency officials.
State lawmakers voted for a complete overhaul by improving staff-to-inmate ratios, creating strong new investigative powers to look into claims of abuse, and prohibiting courts from sending youths to state lockups for misdemeanors.
The commission's inmate population has decreased by more than 20 percent since March, largely because of a review that determined many of the offenders did not need to remain incarcerated.
"Our population is dwindling, so we can close these two units now without affecting our operations," Hurley said. "Employees will be offered the chance to transfer to other jobs."
Commission officials said they will evaluate the costs and operations of the remaining 12 juvenile facilities soon. Lawmakers have said they want the commission to shutter some of its remote facilities in favor of new centers closer to urban areas.
The Marlin facility, in Central Texas about 25 miles southeast of Waco, and the San Saba facility, about 120 miles north of San Antonio, will become the first new adult prisons in Texas in more than a decade.
Michelle Lyons, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the prisons will be transfer facilities where convicts are held temporarily as they're moved from one prison to another. Each will house 600 offenders.
The Marlin unit serves as the intake facility for new TYC inmates. Hurley said those functions will be moved in early August to the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in nearby Mart for boys and the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood for girls.