How can Texas enhance its approach to parole and reentry to break the cycle of youth crime so there are fewer victims and taxpayers pay less to re-incarcerate the same youths?TPPF's Marc Levin set the stage by describing the state's somewhat fragmented juvenile parole system, run by the state in larger jurisdiction and by contract, usually with local probation departments, in more rural areas. There are 1,700 youth on TYC parole; about 420 were revoked in 2009, making up 20-25% of new commitments.
- The Honorable Jim McReynolds, Chairman, House Corrections Committee
- The Honorable Robert Eckels, Former Harris County Judge
- Cheryln Townsend, Executive Director, Texas Youth Commission
- David Reilly, Chief, Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department
Chairman McReynolds focused on a theme that recurred among the presenters, that planning for reentry couldn't begin early enough. It should begin, he said, on the first day of confinement. He focused on the need to implement and use risk and needs assessment tools, and said it "sets the child up for failure" to release them without adequate services in place for them to succeed.
Because incarceration in TYC costs $271 per day and juvenile parole costs $15, he said, there may be room to develop middle ground programming - a "halfway solution" - that's more resource intensive than parole but stops short of full-blown detention, at least 24-7. He particularly mentioned in-home treatment and counseling as well as mentoring as examples of "interim" approaches.
Juvenile probation chief David Reilly from San Antonio showed us recidivism data from the first year out of detention for youth in their area: Seventy percent or so didn't re-offend at all in the first year, and of those who did, the overwhelming majority did so during the first six months, which makes the reentry period and "aftercare" programs critical to determining success.
Reilly made the provocative point that recidivism is not always a bad thing, that it should not be considered universally a negative event and that it's not necessarily a sign the child is failing. Recidivism is a limited piece of data regarding what it can tell you, he said. We rely on it because it's easy to count, while we ignore assessing things about youth that may be more difficult to quantify.
Bexar County Juvenile Probation is partnering with TYC and a Baptist children's charity to create a one-stop center for accessing resources for at-risk youth. The program includes the concept of a "circle of support" in which they bring in the youth's family, mentors, teachers, church leaders, or anybody else who's important in the kid's life and get them to assist in the intervention in a structured way.
Former Harris County Judge Bob Eckels described his history with juvie justice programs as a legislator and county commissioners court judge, saying at one point that after a while it dawned on him that by the time youth entered the juvenile justice system, society had already failed them. He identified mental health treatment, drug treatment and family counseling as the areas where state investments could help locals keep kids in the community instead of sending them to TYC.
Finally, Cherie Townsend from TYC said that youth sent to prison in Texas today are not much like other youth or even other delinquents because recent reforms removed most of the less hard-core offenders from the system. Those who remain require more supervision, more services, are generally doing poorly in school (40% qualify for special education), and have often been victims of serious trauma including physical and sexual abuse, she said.
Townsend referenced TYC's reentry plan (pdf), which I'd not read but which merits a link for anyone interested. She reiterated McReynolds' point that "aftercare shouldn't be an afterthought," declaring their goal was to get to the point where youths reentry plans began to be legitimately formed right at intake, keeping the goal (successful reentry) in mind from the get-go.
Interesting panel, if nothing too groundbreaking. Marc Levin's been doing a great job shining light into dark corners of the justice system, and this is a particularly obscure and rarely considered topic that deserves more attention than it usually receives.