I'm listening this morning to early portions of last week's joint hearing on juvenile corrections that I missed, and was very interested to hear the committee's discussion with LBB about Texas juvenile probation caseloads.
They discussed LBB-generated data showing the monthly juvenile probation caseload statewide declined slightly almost every month since April 2007, even though the Youth Commission quit taking misdemeanants during that period and began moving youth through their system and back into their home communities more rapidly.
The Legislature actually budgeted an extra $57.9 million for the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission on the assumption that these new populations and other changes would increase their caseload, but the average monthly caseload in the first six months of FY '08 was 145 lower than in FY'07. Since 98% of juvenile offenders are handled through local probation departments, juvie probation commitments are typically viewed as a pretty good indicator of the juvenile crime growth rate. So if caseloads are flat when overall population is growing, arguably there's less juvenile crime occurring, at least on the margins.
That's not to say the money wasn't needed - juvenile probation historically has been underfunded anyway. And although the caseload didn't grow, shifting TYC youth to the locals changed their offender mix substantially, and requires counties to provide additional services. Most of the new juvie probation money specifically goes to pay for contract residential beds. But the overall population in Texas is growing, and the school-age population is growing even faster.
The flat growth is especially impressive because juvie probation commitments over the last two decades far outstripped population growth. According to a recent Office of Court Administration publication:
The annual rate of increase of the juvenile population was steady for 20 years, averaging an increase 1.5 percent per year. However, the annual rate of increase of juvenile filings fluctuated greatly from a decrease of nearly 10 percent (in 1988) to an increase of 33 percent (in 1996), and averaged an increase of 6.1 percent per year.Given that recent trend, it's pretty amazing to see the state with fewer juvenile probation commitments a year after dumping half the youth prison population into the county's laps! What do readers think explains this trend?