What’s Up in Texas? Juvenile Incarceration in 2011

Texas FlagLast week I reported the findings of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in regards to juvenile justice.  The report overwhelmingly supports rehabilitation over simple incarceration, a stance we have long held here at Humane Exposures.

One of the examples referred to in the report was the state of Texas, a state whose juvenile justice system  has been on a rapid turnaround since the sex scandals it suffered in 2007. Allan Turner, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle takes note of this change as it has surfaced in Austin:

Among the more promising reforms, said Ana Yanez-Correra, director of the Austin-based Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, is a juvenile diversion program begun in March 2009 by the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

In that program, first-time, nonviolent offenders are placed in informal probation for up to 180 days. During that period, said Terrance Windham, chief of the district attorney’s juvenile division, they are required to attend school, report to a probation officer, stay drug free and, in some cases, participate in programs addressing special needs.

This is exactly what needs to be done in order to reintegrate these youths into society. The attention to education and special needs in particular are positive steps forward. Of couse, as is the case with any program like this, the big question is “how effective is it?” Turner rings us the numbers further down in his column:

Upon successful completion of the program, cases are closed without charges being filed.

As of Aug. 31, 4,246 of 5,347 offenders completed the program successfully. Only 9 percent of those who completed the program returned with new offenses, Windham said.

That’s a marked reduction- almost 80% completed the program followed by an extraordinarily low rate of recidivism. I love being able to report numbers like this!

This is truly a bipartisan win- fiscal conservatives should love the reduced spending while the social justice angle is one that should appeal to the political left. In the meantime the really important part is that the community overall benefits both from reduced crime and the destruction of fewer lives due to incarceration.

Peter Maloff, a writer for the Public News Service in Texas

‘Comprehensive, well-thought-out strategies in state juvenile-justice systems that will not only ensure that there’s fewer kids locked up but that will ensure that there’s less crime, and less money spent, and that kids have better odds of being successful in adulthood.’

Texas agencies responsible for youth incarceration and parole will be abolished Dec. 1 and replaced by a new Department of Juvenile Justice to direct nonviolent offenders to local rehabilitation services. [Ana] Correa [executive director of the nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coalition] praises its mission but says it will only succeed if it is backed by ongoing state support.

‘You can have a system – and you can have all of the wonderful intentions in the system – but without the funding, it’s going to be extremely difficult to pull off. That’s something that we still have to be very diligent about as advocates.’

And this is why advocacy is so extremely important. If funding does not materialize even the reduced costs of this approach will prove too expensive.

Image Source: rcbodden on Flickr, used under it’s Creative Commons license.


  1. Bill Norrid says:

    I recall a recent Austin Statesman article discussing the need to take steps to rehabilitate youth in order to reduce recidivism. This is excellent, and it is an enlightened civilization that recognizes the value in youth rehabilitation. My question is, once a person turns 17 they are “adults” and, that emphasis on revising the youth brain at a time when the brain is still developing is dropped. I believe it is a serious mistake to establish 17 as the cut off to correct a young brain. The brain is in the most active time of developing (in all areas relevant to what might be crime), between the ages of 15 to 25. And, many persons develop into “adulthood” at slower rates than others. It is a serious lapse of rationalization to simply stop considering ways to reform the brain so that it might become “non-criminal” at the age of 17. I firmly believe that our society will be better off if the courts consider treatment of a person,in terms of his/her emotional/intellectual development instead of just age. I believe that there are many, many individuals who, had they been considered as on the developmental “cuff” from youth to adult hood when contemplating punishment for crime, and treated appropriate to their development not just their age, would now be productive citizens, and not criminals. The rate of emotional and intellectual development into adulthood naturally varies among NORMAL individuals. IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE TO THROW A NORMAL PERSON, WHOSE EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT TO ADULTHOOD, TAKES LONGER THAN MOST BUT IS STILL WITHIN AN ACCEPTABLE RANGE, INTO THE ADULT SYSTEM OF PUNISHMENT AND REFORM. IT WOULD SEEM THAT THE LIKELIHOOD OF SUCCESS IN RECTIFICATION IS GREATER IF THEY ARE ENTERED INTO AN APPROPRIATE TREATMENT (AND/OR INCARCERATION) STRUCTURED TOWARD A YOUTH, AND/OR YOUTH TO ADULT SYSTEM.

    Is there any research on or effort to establish a criminal justice system that recognizes a range of youth to adult development (as opposed to just a cutoff age) as a dominate characteristic of that system?

  2. That really is a fascinating thought, Bill, and one I must admit I’ve not considered before. I’ll do some research and get back to you, although I cannot think of any off the top of my head. Interesting food for thought. – Loki, HE Blogger

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