Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Whitmire: Depopulate Texas youth prisons

"Up to 80 percent of juvenile offenders sent to state lockups could instead be held in regional treatment programs under a bill filed Friday, a move that could significantly downsize the state's long-troubled youth corrections system," reported Mike Ward at the Houston Chronicle over the weekend (March 13), adumbrating the details behind state Sen. John Whitmire's SB 1630, filed Friday. Here's the gist of the plan:
Whitmire said officials have identified 35 regional centers across Texas that could hold offenders under the new plan. More than 800 of the approximately 1,000 offenders currently in state lockups could be housed in those centers, meaning the state could sharply shrink its system.

Under the bill, juvenile court judges would be encouraged to send youths to those regional centers rather than state facilities - with the idea that by 2017, only those serving sentences for the most serious crimes still would go to state lockups.

"Smaller facilities, tightly run, closer to home - that's what we're looking at," Whitmire said. "We want to get these students out of the large, 200-acre campuses in remote locations that the state operates now. That model doesn't work anymore. Most of our state facilities are understaffed, the youths are out of control much of the time, they can't get proper treatment and the recidivism rates are very high."

Whitmire said Senate budget writers have agreed to refocus the agency's two-year budget to fund more local rehabilitation and treatment programs and to hire more parole officers. Agency requests for more guards, remodeled or new secure facilities and other security upgrades at existing lockups would not be funded, he said.
If this plan succeeds, Texas will have gone from incarcerating around 5,000 kids before 2007 to a few hundred, at most, ten years hence, all during a period when juvenile crime dropped like a stone. There are lessons from this experience that the state could and should apply to the adult system.

In related news, last week the Justice Policy Institute, in conjunction with my employers at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, created a set of images aimed at social media like the one above to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of these sorts of reforms. Check them out below the jump and pass them on:


Anonymous said...

Once you know what kind of kids are in TJJD, you know why they are where they are. These are felons, although younger ones, who have not been rehabilitated locally or after several chances. Lets see how many counties want to spend the time & money to do it right.

Anonymous said...

This coupled with the bills to keep probation departments from detaining anyone under 14 and the potential for being able to lock up truancy cases PLUS the raising the age to 17 is all spelling out disaster.

Anonymous said...

The quality of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s programing on the institutional level has declined substantially over the past 10-15 years. Kids are out of control at all TJJD facilities. This agency has no one to blame but itself for its dismantling. Look no further than the high recidivism rate of youth that are released to the communities.

diogenes said...

A large part of the decline in programming over the past several years has been the disruptions coming from Austin, especially when Whitmire has another temper tantrum. Anonymous 11:28 is correct; there comes a point when the county level just can't handle a juvenile anymore.

Anonymous said...

TJJD Institutions are doomed.