First, closing two to three secure institutions and one halfway house would preserve funding for establishing smaller, more effective county treatment programs for most youth offenders. This approach would result in consolidating 400 to 600 youth into the remaining state facilities, and thereby increase safety and security risks in those facilities as well as the challenges for effective treatment and educational programs. Small-milieu treatment environments would likely be sacrificed due to the consolidation of population in remaining facilities. Two other options identified in the required detailed schedule would also have detrimental impacts: eliminating all funding for prevention and early intervention programming and contracting out all paroleIf those are truly the only three options (or the only ones the Lege will consider on advice from the agency), Grits would probably prefer the first one, though it'd be penny wise and pound foolish if "Small-milieu treatment environments would likely be sacrificed due to the consolidation of population in remaining facilities."
Bottom line: The risk to consolidating juvenile probation with youth prisons was always that, when push came to shove with the budget, "secure facilities" would be prioritized over community based programming, which has by all accounts worked well. (Everyone, myself included, was pleasantly surprised when juvenile crime continued to fall after the Lege cut youth prison populations by an astonishing 2/3, and that result is mainly attributable to the efforts of juvenile probation departments.) At least the first option wouldn't fall into that trap, though obviously it wouldn't be ideal. Since the agency reforms first began five years ago, virtually every expert consulted by the state has recommended smaller facilities, not larger ones.
TJJD also requested ten "exceptional items," or funding for projects not in their current biennial budget. The first four relate to safety and security - boosting staffing at facilities, spending on deferred repairs to everything from fencing and lighting to complying with fire and safety codes, revamping staffing approaches to overtime, and completing their Juvenile Case Management System.
The next three exceptional items relate to plugging critical programming gaps in ways that IMO would improve public safety:
The fifth and sixth items also target critical needs for juvenile probation departments. The fifth item, for $15.2 million, would address a significant gap in mental health services to juveniles under their jurisdiction, with special focus on 12,000 mentally ill juveniles held in pre- and post-adjudication correctional facilities annually. Of the total biennial cost, $4 million per year would support hiring licensed mental health providers for each of the 47 departments operating such facilities; $3.8 million each year would fund contracted mental health services for departments without secure facilities. The sixth item, for prevention and intervention services for youth at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system, would provide needed funding for a new agency responsibility from the 82nd Legislature. For each year, $6 million would support grants for community programs and services that have demonstrated success. Proposed costs would also cover an independent program evaluation and one FTE for grants tracking, reporting, and maintenance. The new funding and position would be added to $3 million each year and one position allocated in the base budget.Item eight would spend $6.3 million to relocate TJJD headquarters: "The agency did not request relocation," according to the LAR, but was notified by the Texas Facilities Commission (TFC) that their analysis of the best and most efficient use of state building space might result in the need for relocating TJJD central offices."
The seventh priority request, for $1.3 million and 8 FTEs, would enhance the preparation of youth for re-entry into their communities by expanding certain programs that have demonstrated success, including Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) for the education program, Aggression Replacement Training (ART®), and services for gang-involved youth modeled on the GitRedy grant in Harris County, which expires in September 2013. Expansion of each of these programs, beginning in state operated secure placements and provided through parole status, would increase the chances for success of the TJJD’s most challenging youth.
Other exceptional items requested include $400,000 for "consolidated data center payments for costs related to the creation of the new agency," and $300,000 "to replace grant funding with general revenue to continue statewide visits to TJJD facilities. The new funding would support salaries and travel costs for two positions." It should be noted that without travel funds to visit facilities, the Ombudsman's office probably could not continue to function in any meaningful fashion.