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Youth center uses right blend of architecture and technology.

The Evins Regional Juvenile Center, the Texas Youth Commission's newest facility, offers a well-integrated blend of architecture and technology. These two elements combine to maximize safety at the center and enhance efforts aimed at rehabilitating young offenders.

Located in the Rio Grande Valley, the center includes nine buildings totaling 65,000 square feet built on 100 acres of South Texas farmland in Edinburg. It houses 48 high-risk youths, including about a third who are committed for violent offenses and many who have a history of recidivism, substance abuse problems, escapes and gang involvement. The average length of stay is six months.

Youths are housed in two dormitories, which provide individual rooms with a central dayroom for leisure activities. A group room offers privacy for therapeutic groups and special activities. An education building provides on-campus school and GED preparation classes. A family visitation center features overnight accommodations. Additional services include the facility's cafeteria, infirmary, and maintenance department. The facility employs 86 staff, who are distributed to provide a one-to-eight ratio for supervision.

Primary youth activity areas are arranged in a centralized manner to ensure maximum security. Easy observation and access is maintained by an outside mobile patrol that can respond to emergencies and provide needed supervision. Support services buildings are set apart from the living areas to secure materials.

Supervision and Security

The dormitories are designed to be as open as possible while still providing privacy and supervision. Staff monitor and supervise all youths' rooms from the front desk area. These staff use an electronic control panel to control room door locks and entry points to the dormitory. The panel also provides staff with valuable information regarding fire and smoke detection, sewage backups and electrical problems.

The facility uses a network of information systems to maintain constant supervision of youths, staff and building conditions. A closed-circuit television surveillance system offers 24-hour monitoring of the areas the youths have access to.

Staff who provide direct supervision carry two-way radios with built-in mercury switches that activate if the radio is placed in a horizontal position. This "man down" quality provides added protection to employees. In addition, a number of "panic buttons" have been strategically placed in dormitories and in the education building's classrooms, and the telephone system doubles as an intercom and a public address system. The various communication channels combine to keep staff supervising youths in constant touch with control center staff.

The control center functions as the facility's central nervous system. In addition to the closed-circuit television monitors, the radio system, the man-down unit monitor and the panic button alert board, electronic fire and smoke detection panels alert staff to any potentially dangerous situations on campus.

All the communication systems produce a collective awareness of campus occurrences and greatly enhance response time and accountability for youths' activities. This serves as a deterrent to inappropriate behavior.

Treatment Approaches

Like most of the Texas Youth Commission's facilities, Evins uses a "limit and lead" behavioral/cognitive restructuring approach. With this approach, youths are asked to examine the offense cycle that resulted in the arrest leading to their incarceration. With this in mind, the center's main classroom was designed with high-tech audiovisual equipment.

Youths make a testimonial video recording that covers the stress factors in their lives, their coping deficiencies and their responses to events that resulted in delinquent activity. These testimonials then are played through a liquid crystal projection television, producing an eight-foot, larger than life image of each youth and his story. The classroom is equipped with a sound system that captures the sound quality of an individual's voice with unmistakable clarity. These videos are evaluated and critiqued by fellow group members and treatment staff. The exercise helps youths evaluate their values and attitudes.

This classroom also is for educational classes and chemical dependency treatment sessions. The classroom is hooked up to a satellite dish, offering the youths a variety of educational and informative programming. Recreational viewing also is used to reinforce positive youth behavior.

The education department also uses computer-assisted instruction and, through the availability of a variety of software packages, a broad spectrum of academic ability may be addressed within a single classroom.

Since opening in August 1990, the Evins Regional Juvenile Center has been able to realize one of the lowest workmen's compensation claim rates for facilities in the Texas Youth Commission system. In fiscal year 1991, youths at the facility attained the highest reading and math gains of all youths at this type of facility in the state. In 1992 the center achieved ACA accreditation. Information regarding recidivism and other key indicators currently is being tracked to provide an understanding of the program's effectiveness.

REFERENCE

Ferrara, Matthew. 1991. Group Counseling with Juvenile Delinquents: Limit and Lead. Sage Publications Inc. Newbury Park, Calif.

Mario Garza, M.S.W., is facility administrator of the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburg, Texas.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual Issue: Architecture, Construction and Design; Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Texas
Author:Garza, Mario
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:810
Previous Article:Computerized program makes facility maintenance easier.
Next Article:Myrl Alexander, former ACA President and Bureau of Prisons Director, dies.
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