[2019 Session] Implement Holistic Reform Throughout the State’s Juvenile Justice System

Policy Background

In 2006, media and governmental scrutiny uncovered rampant sexual and physical abuse in the state’s juvenile corrections facilities, leading to a federal investigation and omnibus legislation in 2007 that removed all kids with misdemeanors from state secure confinement. Over the course of subsequent legislative sessions, the state has begun to redirect funding toward localized rehabilitation programs. Ultimately, seven state secure facilities have closed and the number of kids incarcerated in the five remaining facilities has dropped from 5,000 to under 1,000 today. Despite this progress, allegations of abuse, neglect, and staffing shortages in juvenile facilities resurfaced in late 2017.1 Also problematic, the majority of the 800 kids annually entering Texas’ state secure juvenile facilities have specialized mental health and substance use needs.2

Proposed Solution

Continue the state’s juvenile system regionalization by expanding funding for smaller, local therapeutic facilities and community-based programming, where kids’ underlying needs (including mental health, substance use, trauma, and behavioral issues) can be addressed in the least restrictive setting – and closer to home. This will safely reduce the incarcerated juvenile population in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), setting more kids down a path to success, lowering staff-to-youth ratios in state secure facilities, and freeing up resources for kids with higher-level needs.

Also require TJJD facilities to implement trauma-informed care across programs, emphasize treatment over punishment, maintain strong monitoring of conditions and allegations of abuse or neglect, improve opportunities for family interaction, and implement earlier after-care and reentry strategies to help kids successfully transition back into Texas communities.

Relevant Bills

Bills Related to Diversion or Community-Based Supports for Kids

Other Materials

1 Brandi Grissom and Sue Ambrose, “Fights, sex, drugs: Texas juvenile lockup on the verge of crisis, reports show,” Dallas News, November 16, 2017.

2 Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Youth Characteristics: New Admissions FY 2013 - FY 2017.