IN TEXAS COMMUNITIES
County-by-county study shows what’s working, what’s not,
And how Texas can invest in local solutions for youth in trouble
AUSTIN – Spurred on by recent reforms to the Texas juvenile justice system, counties are rolling out a wide range of successful programs to keep youth out of trouble, according to a report released today by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC). From mental health diversion initiatives and family therapy programs to risk assessments and early interventions, these community programs are achieving better outcomes for youth at a fraction of the cost of juvenile lock-ups.
“Every kid deserves a path to success, and these strategies are helping Texas youth stay healthy and crime-free,” Jennifer Carreon, a policy researcher at TCJC, said. “I hope community leaders will read this report and find ideas for an even better juvenile justice system.”
Texas increasingly relies on local juvenile justice programs to serve high-risk youth. The state enacted sweeping reforms in 2011 to keep as many youth as possible in their home counties rather than state lock-ups. Legislators were guided by research showing that rehabilitation is more successful when delinquent youth receive treatment in their own communities.
“The great thing is, the successful programs we identified in this report are county-developed and county-approved,” TCJC Executive Director Dr. Ana-Yáñez Correa said. “Which means that other communities can replicate them and know they can survive the real-world constraints that juvenile departments face.”
However, the report also identifies major funding and oversight challenges facing local youth programs.
Seventy-five percent of county juvenile departments reported that their funding is currently insufficient or very insufficient to implement best practices. Each year, thousands of youth spend more than a month in secure detention facilities for non-felony offenses before their adjudication. While in secure custody, thousands of youth are placed in seclusion for periods longer than 24 hours, an especially serious issue for the third of youth probationers with a mental illness and the half of youth probationers who have had previous traumatic experiences.
“These funding and oversight problems are a serious threat to the Texas juvenile justice system,” Benet Magnuson, a policy attorney at TCJC, said. “We have to get more funds to these community programs, and we have to increase oversight to protect youth in facilities. If we do that, we’ll have the best juvenile justice system in the country.”
The report, including an appendix of data sheets on county juvenile departments, is available at: www.texascjc.org/community-solutions-youth.