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Budget Woes Threaten Texas’ Recent Juvenile Justice System Reforms

Since a 2007 investigation revealed a disturbing pattern of sexual and physical abuse at some Texas Youth Commission (TYC) detention facilities, Texas authorities have worked hard to drastically cut the number of juveniles incarcerated around the state. Several of the troubled detention centers have been closed, and the funding originally slated for them was redirected to local law enforcement agencies. Those remaining open have implemented new policies to prevent further abuses.

The sweeping reforms implemented by the TYC have freed up money necessary to keep youth offenders in their own homes under supervised release or living at half-way houses close to parole and probation officials throughout the duration of their path through the juvenile justice system.

The criminal and fiscal effects of changes to the incarceration program are dramatic. For example, despite a steady increase in Texas’ juvenile population, fewer are appearing in criminal courts. In addition, the state of Texas has saved approximately $80,000 per year for each child that is not housed in a TYC facility, resulting in a cumulative budgetary boon of nearly $200 million.

Funding Shortfalls Could Be Devastating

Tragically, the ongoing worldwide economic crisis (and the trickle-down impact that it is having on the state of Texas) threatens to reverse the positive trends of saving the state money and keeping juveniles out of the justice system. The projected 2011 budget has a gaping $18 billion hole – money that would have gone to state and local programs like those supported by the TYC could disappear.

Juvenile justice advocates fear the negative repercussions of budget cuts, expressing anxiety that if the status quo (i.e., putting all juvenile offenders into detention centers in lieu of focusing on supervision or education programs) goes back to “normal,” the state will see a dramatic increase in crime both now and into the future. The potential exists, and anecdotal evidence exists to confirm, that recidivism rates are higher among juvenile offenders who have been incarcerated; instead of being surrounded by supportive family members, friends and trusted adults, they are dropped into a sea of negative influences.

If your child (or other juvenile loved one) is involved in a criminal matter, you need to act quickly. Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney with the knowledge and skill necessary to navigate the complex juvenile justice system.