Under the concept, only juveniles convicted of serious crimes would be sent to the agency. In return, the state would reimburse the counties for each juvenile who is incarcerated and rehabilitated locally.
Youths would have a stronger network of rehabilitative support closer to home than in one of the agency's remote facilities, said Jeanne Meurer, legal management director for Travis County juvenile probation.
"But being able to do that depends on what a county or community's financial resources are," she said. "That's why many local agencies are excited about the possibility of getting funds from the state to keep their kids at home."
It costs Travis County an average $175 a day, or $63,875 a year per child, to incarcerate and provide rehabilitation services, according to the pilot project proposed by Meurer and Estela Medina, Travis County's chief probation officer. If the child were sent to a Youth Commission institution, it would cost the state an average of $270.49 a day, or $98,729 annually per child, they said.
In the 2005 budget year, Travis County sent 119 juveniles to the agency at a cost to the state of $11.7 million. If the 119 had been kept in Travis County facilities, the cost would have been $7.6 million, Meurer and Medina said.
Under the Travis County proposal, a limit would be placed on the number of offenders each county would be allowed to send to the agency each budget year. In the case of Travis County, local probation officials would cap the number of juveniles sent to the agency each budget year at 10. If the county sent more than 10 in that year, the county would pay the agency the cost of taking on those juveniles.
The Travis County plan calculates that the state would pay the county $7.6 million in 2010 and $8 million in 2011.
The plan is one of several being studied by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
"This is exactly what we had in mind when we passed the reforms two years ago," said Whitmire, an author of the reform bill in 2007.
The concept has been initially embraced by Senate budget writers, who last week cut the Youth Commission's proposed funding significantly so it can be put into local diversion programs paid for through the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. House budget-writers have not signed on but have initially approved much of what Youth Commission officials requested.
Tomorrow (March 13) is bill filing deadline at the Texas Legislature so by the weekend perhaps we'll see some legislation filed implementing these concepts.