After less than two years leading the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Executive Director Mike Griffiths announced Thursday that he is resigning.
Citing health-related issues and a desire to spend more time with his family, Griffiths wrote a letter to the juvenile justice board and agency staff informing them that he would resign effective March 31.
Griffiths was appointed director of the agency in August 2012 after 15 years leading the juvenile probation office in Dallas County. He joined the agency amid ongoing turmoil that has plagued the agency since 2007. That year, reports of sexual and physical abuse at commission facilities led to an overhaul of the system, and the number of youths locked up dropped from 4,000 to roughly 1,100. But the juvenile system still faced challenges as reports of youth-on-youth assaults continued to rise, sparking anger among lawmakers and the departure of Griffiths' predecessor, Cherie Townsend.
Under Griffiths' leadership, the agency said in a press statement, the number of youth-related assults declined, there were significant reductions in overtime work among employees, and workers compensation claims declined. In a press statement, the agency's board said it appreciated Griffith's leadership and was committed to continuing reforms and programs he had established.
Juvenile justice reform advocates were surprised and saddened by the news of Griffiths' departure.
"I saw him as a collaborator and as somebody who understands the needs of children," said Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "He dealt with what was given to him in the best way a person could do. There's still a lot more room for reform."
She said she hoped the agency would act quickly to bring in a leader who has similar values to continue reform efforts that have significantly reduced the number of youths in state lock ups.
"Instability as an agency equals instabity for children, so we've got to do everything we can to make sure children's rights are being taken care of," Yañez-Correa said.
Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that also promotes juvenile justice reform, said Griffiths provided "outstanding leadership" and that she hoped the board would continue the work he did to ensure that more youths receive treatment and services in their communities instead of being shipped to secure facilities in far-flung parts of the state.
"As it considers new leadership for the agency, we hope the board will closely consider the important work TJJD has before it," Fowler said in an emailed statement.
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