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Single agency to deal with youth offenders recommended

AUSTIN -- The scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission should be abolished and merged with another major agency dealing with youth offenders to create a consolidated and seamless juvenile justice system, the staff of a legislative advisory board recommended on Wednesday.

The recommendation by the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission urged that the TYC be consolidated with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission in a move that would close several facilities and cut more 587 staff positions.

The Sunset Commission, a 12-member legislative panel that reviews the performance of state agencies, will act on the recommendations in mid-January after a public hearing next month.

The TYC underwent went a radical makeover by the 80th Legislature in 2007 after allegations that inmates as young as 11 were sexually abused by adult supervisors in TYC prisons and halfway houses.

The scandal began unfolding in February 2007 after a Texas Ranger accused TYC officials of covering up his investigation into alleged sex abuse at a West Texas facility. Those and other disclosures sparked a public outcry that dominated much of the legislative session, leading to a new law and the ouster of TYC board members and top staff members.

Senate Bill 103, which Gov. Rick Perry signed into law after the session, imposed stricter training guidelines for correctional officers and ended the practice of sending youths to TYC facilities for misdemeanors. It also required that offenders be segregated by age and the nature of their crimes.

In October, Perry removed the TYC from conservatorship and appointed veteran juvenile justice official Cherie Townsend of Austin as executive commissioner, expressing confidence that the culture at TYC is "substantially different that it was 18 months ago."

The TYC operates 12 prisons, nine halfway houses and 12 contract care residential programs. About 2,270 offenders, between ages 10 to 19, were sent to TYC facilities in 2007.