Thursday’s Sunset hearing on House Corrections firmly established that a full-blown Texas Youth Commission - Juvenile Probation Commission merger is off the table, but the new Sunset draft does not keep TYC and TJPC completely independent either. Instead the bill, the latest draft of which is not yet online, proposes creating a 13-member Texas Juvenile Justice Board who would be “responsible for overseeing and coordinating the functions and operations of the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.” This new board would be “the policy-making body for the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and is not a separate state agency.”
In addition, the new bill requires the executive directors of TYC and TJPC to co-preside over a new Juvenile Justice Improvement Plan Committee, which will create a five-year plan for improving the juvenile justice system in Texas, as well as developing a process for sharing information among TYC, TJPC, local probation departments and other state agencies that serve youth, including the Department of Family and Protective Services, the Dept of State Health Services, the Health and Human Services Commission, and TEA.
Also required as part of the plan are goals for reserving state facilities as much as possible for only higher risk juveniles, finding more alternatives to secure placement and keeping juveniles as close to home as possible.
The last big part of the bill is the establishment of community pilot programs. Unlike the county pilot programs proposed in the Senate right now, this bill would expand TJPC’s purse, providing funding for competitive grants for local programs. Although Dallas, Travis and the Southeast counties have already come up with plans, offering competitive grants gives other counties more time to develop program proposals that they weren’t able to draw up in just the first month of the session. Among the grant conditions are reduced commitment targets, specific performance measures and restrictions on use of grant money.
What’s most remarkable about the Sunset hearing was that, so far, almost everyone seemed to like the new draft. Cherie Townsend and Vicki Spriggs both expressed support of this draft, and nearly everyone who testified supported at least some parts of the bill. Today’s work group meeting will hash out some of the issues brought up in testimony:
Some people still want to see the agencies remain completely separate, so tomorrow’s meeting will likely determine whether the new board will exist or if the two agencies remain completely independent.
What agencies will be included as part of the juvenile justice improvement plan? The committee needs to determine the extent to which the plan might involve TEA, MHMR, CPS, and other programs that directly affect youth.
Who will be on the governing board? Some testified that there are people missing who ought to be a part of the board. The bill currently lists one juvenile court prosecutor, but not a defense attorney. Terri Hodge suggested appointing a youth to the committee.
The bill allows counties applying to participate in the proposed pilot programs to contract services with “nonprofit, for-profit, or faith-based organizations.” Southwest Key testified against authorizing county pilots to use for-profit juvenile prisons, questioning whether they would operate in the best interest of the juveniles.
By the end of Friday’s work session, the Sunset substitute bill will likely be ready a vote at next week’s Corrections Committee meeting.
RELATED: See an initial MSM report from KXAN's Jenny Hoff on the hearing.