BREAKING: New Texas Juvenile Justice Department Executive Director Removes Two Top Officials

From the Austin-American Statesman:

The just-arrived head of the troubled Texas Juvenile Justice Department today removed two top officials from their jobs, in what he hinted might be the first of several moves to change the agency’s course.

One of the two officials who lost their jobs — James Smith, the deputy director of state youth services — was among 11 top agency officials who received pay raises last March, at a time of budget cuts and layoffs at other agencies, in an action that drew demands from legislative to rescind the raises after the American-Statesman disclosed them.

In a message to agency employees late this afternoon, Mike Griffiths, in his first day as executive director, said he has removed Smith and Robin McKeever, the deputy executive director, effective immediately.

“I have made a decision to lead this agency in a different direction,” Griffiths wrote. “I will be decisive in implementing an organizational structure that supports effective communication, responsiveness and accountability through all levels of our department.”

Visit the Statesman’s blog at the link above for more information.

Friday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

New Jersey Juveniles Now Entitled to Hearings Before Transfer to State Prisons, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE)

In August, a state appeals court panel ruled that New Jersey juveniles currently housed in youth detention facilities were entitled to hearings before being transferred to adult prisons, according to The Record.

The three-judge appeals panel overturned the transfer of a Cumberland County man – a juvenile at the time of committing his crimes – who was sent to South Woods State Prison in November 2011. Following the decision, a Juvenile Justice Commission Staff will now be required to hold hearings that will allow the detainee to challenge the legality of the transfer, The Record reported.

Lawmakers fume over raises for top officials at troubled juvenile justice agency, Austin American-Statesman

While other state agencies were freezing positions and downsizing because of the tight economy, the state’s juvenile corrections department handed out pay raises in March to 13 top officials — even as the agency was mired in controversy over its inability to curb violence and gang activity at its lockups.

Angry legislative leaders said Thursday that some of the pay hikes, which ranged from $3,500 a year to $14,700, appear to violate Texas law.

The reason: A state budget law banned raises for at least two of the jobs.

Michael Griffiths: The TT Interview, Texas Tribune

On Monday, Griffiths will become the new executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. The 13-member board voted 7-6 to hire him to replace Jay Kimbrough, who has temporarily led the department since the retirement of Cherie Townsend in May.

[Ed. Note: Click the link above to read an edited transcript of the Texas Tribune’s conversation with the TJJD’s new executive director.]

Texas Juvenile Justice Department Appoints New Director

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) has hired a new executive director:

Michael Griffiths, the highly regarded retired director of Dallas County’s juvenile justice program, was hired this afternoon as the new executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

The vote was 7-6.

Griffiths, who served on the governor’s State Juvenile Justice Task Force and was a member of the Juvenile Justice Leadership Network for the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, was hired over two other finalists: Retired Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood, now a businessman, and Clint Carpenter, who served as education superintendent for the Texas Youth Commission.

The vote on Griffiths came after a closed-door interview on Thursday and two hours of the board meeting in executive session today.

Griffiths takes the reins of an agency that has undergone extensive changes over the last few years. It was a close vote, but I’m glad the board decided to hire a professional with extensive juvenile justice experience. Apparently, the board did not think such experience was necessarily required for the job and interviewed at least one candidate with no juvenile justice experience:

While no public vote was taken, officials said the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s governing board interviewed three finalists — two with experience in the juvenile justice field.

The American-Statesman obtained a copy of an internal agency memo listing the three finalists: Mike Griffiths, director of Dallas County’s juvenile corrections; retired Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood, a former Pepsico and Sam’s Club executive who is now CEO of a company that sells automobiles to U.S. military members stationed overseas, and Clint Carpenter, who served as education superintendent for the Texas Youth Commission.

While Griffiths and Carpenter appear to be the only two applicants with youth-corrections experience, a job description posted online shows none is required.

The only listed requirements: “Master‘s degree in business, public administration, criminal justice, social work, counseling, law, psychology, sociology or a related field and ten (10) years of increasingly responsible administrative experience directing the operations of a large program.”

The agency has faced increasing questions in recent months from legislative leaders over whether its management can operate secure and safe lockups that are free of assaults and gang disruptions.