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New Texas Juvenile Justice Priorities Could be in Jeopardy

GRAPIC: Criminal Justice Coalition logo
GRAPIC: Criminal Justice Coalition logo
August 10, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas – Recent improvements to the long-troubled juvenile justice system in Texas are already in jeopardy, if a just-released survey of officials in 73 county youth probation departments is any indication.

The state's newly created Juvenile Justice Department has emphasized community-based treatment programs over sending away delinquent youths to lockups. Research supports the trend, but counties don't have enough money to fully implement the strategy, says Benet Magnuson of the nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), which conducted the survey.

"Seventy-five percent said that the funding situation was either insufficient or very insufficient. Government funding for almost all of these counties is the lifeblood for their programs for juveniles."

Magnuson, a policy attorney for TCJC, says the majority of county juvenile probation departments in Texas receive less than $10,000 a year from non-government sources.

Unless family involvement programs and other alternatives to lockups are adequately funded, he warns, more youth offenders will re-offend, leaving Texas communities less safe - which will wind up costing taxpayers more in the long run.

"These programs, when they're fully funded, will actually save money. They are the best solution that will keep kids from coming in and out of the juvenile justice system. So, if we fund them at the right level, we're going to see savings in the end."

He says counties are especially in need of more money for maintaining mental health services. Texas ranks last nationally when it comes to per capita mental healthcare funding. About one-third of youths in the state's juvenile justice system have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, but most receive no treatment.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX