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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Texas Book Festival 2011
The State of Our Children: Texas as a Parent

Event Details

Saturday, October 22, 2011
Capitol Extension Room E2.014
1:30 - 2:30

Texas Book Festival Calendar

Two recently published books examine the Texas Juvenile Justice System and the state's role – past and present - as the caretaker of youth in state-operated children's homes and juvenile prisons. Sherry Matthews and William Bush write about the thorny problems and life within those institutions from the human and policy perspectives, and they bring to life an aspect of Texas society that isn't often discussed.


William Bush, author of Who Gets a Childhood: Race and Juvenile Justice in Twentieth-Century Texas

Sherry Matthews, author of We Were Not Orphans

Moderator Michele Deitch, J.D., M.Sc., is a Senior Lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, where she teaches graduate level courses in juvenile justice and criminal justice policy. She served on Texas's blue-ribbon task force that recommended recent reforms to the state's juvenile justice system, and has been a court-appointed monitor of conditions in the Texas prison system. Her juvenile justice research has received national media attention, and in 2010, she was named "Outstanding Juvenile Justice Advocate of the Year" by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

William S. Bush

In Who Gets a Childhood: Race and Juvenile Justice in Twentieth-Century Texas, William S. Bush both analyzes and indicts the American juvenile justice system. Using Texas as a case study in its treatment of young offenders, he uncovers the ongoing cycles of crisis, reform, and regression over the past 100 years. At the turn of the century, the United States juvenile justice system underwent extreme transformation. Under the gentle leadership of people like Justice Ben Lindsey and the unwavering passion of reform groups (specifically women's Christian organizations), attitudes toward juvenile defendants changed drastically and the goals for dealing with these youths changed from retribution to rehabilitation. Cases like that of 16-year-old San Marcos resident Jimmy Jones, who in the late Twenties was struck 40 times with a baseball bat and chased down by blood hounds, first brought the horrors of incarcerated minors to light. Others like the incident at Mountain View State School in Gatesville, where 14-year-old C.W. was beaten unconscious by inmates as a guard looked on, resulted in institution shut-downs in 1975. Youth offenders initially landed in adult prisons, where their discipline was both punitive and ineffectual. But with reform came the concept of "treating the individual, not the crime," which has remained – at least in theory – the prevalent idea behind youth rehabilitation programs. Despite such gains, however, history has proven that theory and practice are often worlds apart, and gruesome scandals continue to surface (blacks, Latinos, and poor whites are particularly affected). Bush ends by charging the American juvenile justice system to uphold the rights of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by addressing "this century's dilemma," as he calls it, and extending "the privileges and protections of childhood and adolescence to all youth." Bush is an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in San Antonio. His extensive research has culminated in a policy series for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), a non-profit advocacy organization in Austin.

Sherry Matthews

Austin writer Sherry Matthews lost her three older brothers when she was only a toddler. Like thousands of other children, they were sent to live at the Waco State Home following a series of family tragedies. Established in 1919, the home was a center for children ages four to 16 whose parents were either unable or unwilling to care for them; often it was both. In We Were Not Orphans, Matthews explores the history of the despotic state-run institution and relates the alternately harrowing and joyful stories of more than 50 people who grew up there (Austin writer Jesse Sublett conducts the interviews with the Home's former residents). The Texas Senate created the Waco State Home as a safety net for white children who were labeled "dependent and neglected" by the court system. Deaths, financial crisis, and family violence were some of the reasons they ended up at WSH. By the 1960's the home became integrated. Although the home did exceptionally well in providing food, clothing, and a well-rounded education, it did nothing to provide a safe or nurturing environment. Many children were severely beaten and emotionally scarred. Despite the endemic abuse, some of the children still had fond memories of growing up at the home. They played sports, indulged in pranks, and sneaked away on dates. As one Waco State Home alumnus put it, "We were not orphans. Our parents were living. They just couldn't take care of us." We Were Not Orphans is a blend of chilling investigative reporting and life-affirming storytelling, revealing that the resilient spirit of childhood can prevail over adversity. Despite coming from broken homes and living under horrifying circumstances, the children of the Waco State Home clung to each other for comfort and for the most part were able to lead fulfilling lives. Matthews is the founder and owner of Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, a public service marketing firm. She has won numerous awards on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and companies for her socially conscious work. We Were Not Orphans is her first book.