Texas takes $30 million from troubled juvenile justice department to fund border initiative Operation Lone Star

Abbott funneled federal COVID relief dollars from the CARES Act into state salaries and operations offsetting hundreds of millions across the government.

By Paul Flahive, Texas Public RadioMay 11, 2022 12:18 pm, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is now paying for his controversial border mission Operation Lone Star with money from the state’s cash-strapped Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

About $31 million of the nearly half billion dollars he raked from a half dozen state agencies earlier this month to fund national guard troops on the southern border came from the state’s juvenile justice fund.

RELATED: Did Texas misspend federal COVID aid by reallocating funds to Operation Lone Star?

The move perpetuates a system that hurts Texas children, and could hurt the state when Justice Department officials finish their investigation of the agency. The Justice Department announced an investigation last October into Texas’ five secure detention centers over sexual and physical abuse of youth by staff and other children.

Since 2017, more than two dozen TJJD employees have been arrested for sexual assault, having sexual contact with children, or oppression — which often involves physical abuse of youth in its care.

Violence is also a regular occurrence at the department’s rural, secure detention facilities, with the agency’s quarterly reports showing dozens of assaults on guards, on youth as well as the use of physical restraints.

One reason has been personnel. TJJD identified the need to raise salaries as a major reason people were leaving the department in a September 2021 self-evaluation for the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission — which regularly audits and reviews state agencies.

According to a spokesperson, TJJD increased salaries 15% since then. But it wasn’t enough — jobs that were already hard to fill pre-pandemic, became nearly impossible to staff as the agency hemorrhaged people.

“In a four-month period, I think it was November, December, January, February, we recruited 57 employees, but we lost 70,” said Shandra Carter, a-then deputy executive director of TJJD at a February 2022 board meeting. She was recently elevated to interim executive director.

At the time she said that all the state’s secure facilities were overcapacity.

“And we’re not seeing a way out of it with the current resources and situation that we’re in,” she said.

So it surprised many when Gov. Abbott removed $30 million from the agency, redirecting funds to the now $4 billion dollar “Operation Lone Star.” The controversial border security state initiative has been criticized from both the left and the right of the political spectrum. The numbers of apprehensions and drug seizures have been challenged by media reports that showed Abbott was taking credit for arrests with no connection to the border.

Abbott funneled federal COVID relief dollars from the CARES Act into state salaries and operations offsetting hundreds of millions across the government. The $30 million taken from TJJD was actually one of the lowest among the top six state agencies.

“These transfers are meant to support the deployment of the National Guard with $465.3 million and to support border operations in other state agencies with $30 million,” said a press release from the Governor’s office.

The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment about this story by the time of publication.

Republican leadership is essentially saying— yeah that money was on TJJD’s books — but it was more than the $600 million the legislature gave them for the combined 2021 and 2022, so it wasn’t really TJJD’s money.

Then TJJD executive director Camille Cain along with five other agency heads wrote letters requesting the money offset by federal dollars be transferred to the state’s disaster fund — which is funding Operation Lone Star.

Cain — who fought for four years to increase funding and change the culture of the organization — resigned the next day.

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