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011w al Aerti st e t EDITORIAL Shades of Abu Ghraib t’s rare to see government move so quickly. A little less than two weeks after the Observer broke the story of an alleged sex abuse scandal and cover-up at the West Texas State School in Pyote \(see the Texas Youth Commission’s executive director had resigned, and the governor had removed the chairman of the agency’s board. In a moment of high drama, Chip Harrisonone of the TYC supervisors named in Nate Blakeslee’s storywas suspended during a Senate committee hearing on the scandal. And there appears to be plenty more evidence of abuse beyond the allegations of misconduct by two former supervisors at Pyote. TYC admits it has handled at least 90 disciplinary cases involving sexual misconduct by staff and contractors since 2000. Something is clearly rotten in how the state deals with youthful offenders. The Senate was so outraged that on February 28 it reconsidered its afternoon adjournment to hold an evening meeting, rare this early in the legislative session, to call for a Legislative Audit Committee investigation, and to consider asking the governor to put the TYC under conservatorship. A conservator would take over the agency and would likely remove many of its senior staff. At press time, House Speaker Tom Craddick had endorsed the idea, but Gov. Rick Perry was unenthusiastic about taking over the agency, which through its 13 schools houses about 3,000 kids under age 21, preferring instead to appoint an independent inspector general. A spokesman for Perry told The New York Times, “Leadership starts at the top, and the governor believes the very top leadership has failed:’ The Houston Chronicle reported that the governor’s office was alerted to the scandal at Pyote as early as 2005, but failed to act. Perhaps Perry had more important concerns than the victimization of these youngsters under the care of the state, like running for re-election. But it’s not really fair to place the blame for this mess solely on Perry, aka “the guy at the top.” The real culprit is George W. Bush. In 1994 candidate Bush used a spike in juvenile crime to attack Gov. Ann Richards in his ultimately victorious election campaign. The crime surge was already declining, but the public hadn’t realized that yet. A year later, then-Gov. Bush pushed through the Legislature an ambitious reorganization of the TYC that stressed corrections over rehabilitation. Over the next five years, the number of kids in the TYC system ballooned by 2,200, and the average length of incarceration increased by about 40 percent. Bush’s reforms put more kids into the system, creating a culture where supervisors habitually used “indeterminate sentencing,” which allows TYC officials to control the length of incarceration based on the behavior of inmates. Blakeslee reported that at least one supervisor involved in the alleged abuse used this power to coerce kids into sex. The changes at TYC served as one of the cornerstones of Bush’s record in Texas as a “compassionate conservative.” He would trumpet his handling of juvenile criminals in his run for the White House in 2000. In what now, unfortunately, will have a completely different meaning, Bush called the reforms “tough love Like the prison-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, Bush created a punitive environment with little oversight. He gave officials absolute control over a vulnerable population. Yet somehow we continue to be surprised that the eventual result is official abuse. In the coming months, the Legislature, with or without Perry, will attempt to clean up this sordid system. After Blakeslee’s story pulled the string, it’s time to let the whole mess unravel. THE TEXAS OBSERVER I VOLUME 99, NO. 5 I A _Journal of Free Voices Since 1954 Founding Editor Ronnie Dugger Executive Editor Jake Bernstein Managing Editor David Pasztor Associate Editor Dave Mann . Publisher Charlotte McCann Associate Publisher Julia Austin Circulation Manager Lara George Tucker Art Director/Webmaster Matt Omohundro Investigative Reporter Eileen Welsome Poetry Editor Naomi Shihab Nye Copy Editor Rusty Todd Staff Writer Forrest Wilder Blogger Matt Wright Administrative Assistant Stephanie Holmes Legislative Interns Megan Headley, Patrick Michel Web Design Intern Daniel Carter Editorial Interns Jun Wang, A.J. Bauer Contributing Writers Nate Blakeslee, Gabriela Bocagrande, Robert Bryce, Michael Erard, James K. Galbraith, Dagoberto Gilb, Steven G. Kellman, James McWilliams, Char Miller, Debbie Nathan, Karen Olsson, John Ross, Andrew Wheat Staff Photographers Alan Pogue, Jana Birchum, Steve Satterwhite Contributing Artists Sam Hurt, Kevin Kreneck, Michael Krone, Gary Oliver, Doug Potter Editorial Advisory Board David Anderson, Chandler Davidson, Dave Denison, Sissy Farenthold, Lawrence Goodwyn, Jim Hightower, Kaye Northcott, Susan Reid Texas Democracy Foundation Board Lou Dubose, D’Ann Johnson, Jim Marston, Mary Nell Mathis, Gilberto Ocafias, Bernard Rapoport, Geoffrey Rips, Sharron Rush, Kelly White, In Memoriam Molly Ivins, 1944-2007 Bob Eckhardt, 1913-2001, Cliff Olofson, 1931-1995 The Texas Observer \(ISSN 0040-4519/ righted 2007, is published biweekly except during January and August when there is a 4 week break between non-profit foundation, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Telephone E-mail World Wide Web DownHome page . Periodicals Postage paid at Austin, TX and at additional mailing offices. Subscriptions One year $32, two years $59, three years $84. Full-time students $18 per year; add $13 per year for foreign subs. Back issues $3 pre paid. Airmail, foreign, group, and bulk rates on request. Microfilm available from University Microfilms Intl., 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Indexes The Texas Observer is indexed in Access: The Supplementary Index to Periodicals; Texas Index and, for the years 1954 through 1981, The Texas Observer Index. POSTMASTER Send address changes to: The Texas Observer, 307 West 7th Street, Austin, Texas 78701. Books & the Culture is funded in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts. MARCH 9, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3