The Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission are officially gone, and in their place, a new agency is taking shape — lawmakers and advocates hope — to more efficiently and effectively deal with young offenders.Throughout the story legislators and policy wonks predict budget savings from the merger, and perhaps that will be the case, but it's also the case that the Lege needs to make targeted investments in community-based services to ensure that kids diverted from youth prisons, and those supervising them, have adequate resources and support. In an article earlier this week from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ("Tarrant juvenile justice officials wary about new combined state agency," Dec. 4), TJJD boardmember Scott Fisher said he thinks that will happen: "I think you're seeing a greater level of state funding of community-based programs than has existed in the past, because community-based programs do have a higher success rate with the population they deal with."
The new Texas Juvenile Justice Department's oversight board met for the first time last week, appointing an advisory panel to take recommendations as it merges the agency's two predecessors. They expect to hire a new agency leader as soon as next month.
A judge in the Startlegram story questioned whether the agency would come to be dominated by youth prisons at the expense of probation and community-based programs, as has happened in the adult prison system:
"The concern I think that we all have is that ... when we get in a funding crunch, then the needs of an institution -- which is basically what the Texas Youth Commission was, basically a juvenile prison -- might draw money away from the needs of children in the community," said Jean Boyd, a Tarrant County family law judge who was on the board of the Juvenile Probation Commission until it folded.
Boyd had opposed the merger, but she is now waiting to see how the new agency develops.
"I have to be hopeful," she said. "I support juvenile justice, and I want the agency to be successful, because we need it to be successful for our children."