Turmoil of the Month in Texas

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Youth Today could almost run a monthly column about the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the scandal-plagued network of 22 youth prisons that over the past year has seen administrators fired and criminally investigated for alleged abuse of youth.

In the latest twist, Dimitria Pope, who has been acting commissioner of TYC since the state Legislature passed sweeping reform legislation last summer, was dismissed last month by a higher power: Richard Nedelkoff, a conservator appointed by the governor to oversee the agency.

Pope had drawn the ire of national juvenile justice experts for rejecting recommendations for reform from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice, and for green-lighting a more liberal use of chemical restraints by TYC guards.

“I think the best that can be said is that Dimitria was an adult corrections administrator who did not really get that those experiences are not readily transferable, and may actually render someone incapable of performing effectively on behalf of juveniles,” says Bart Lubow, who served on the blue ribbon panel and oversees the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Pope, a former researcher with the state Department of Criminal Justice, says the criticism and her dismissal are unfair. “I was the stabilizing factor who saw [TYC] through in its lowest point,” Pope says. “All those 18- and 20-hour days that I put in, it was for nothing.”

“The new conservator has a new direction he wanted to take the commission, a direction that needed an executive director with a criminal justice background,” says Commission Public Affairs Director Jim Hurley. These days, that’s about as harsh a comment as any public official is sent away with.

Pope says Nedelkoff could not have made the decision in earnest. “In one month this guy has come and not said 15 words to me,” she says. “Don’t you think if he’s going to work with me, he would acknowledge my presence?” He “is just bringing his friends, he has brought in people from Florida, where he’s from, as per-diem paid consultants.”

Nedelkoff, who worked at the U.S. Department of Justice under President George W. Bush, has not gone unscathed. He caught flack over his initial decision to keep his job as chief operating officer of Eckerd Youth Alternatives, a Florida-based nonprofit that does business with Texas, while serving as TYC conservator. He has since resigned from the organization. Contact: (512) 424-6130, www.tyc.state.tx.us.