Bending the Curve: Juvenile Corrections Reform in Texas
Beginning in 2007, Texas took a series of steps to overhaul its juvenile corrections system, with a focus on encouraging local, evidence-based supervision for low-level youth offenders in order to improve system efficiency and public safety while reducing costs.
- Authorizing legislation: In 2007, Senate Bill 103 mandated a comprehensive package of reforms, including a ban on committing juveniles to secure state facilities for misdemeanor offenses; a reduction in the maximum age of youth permitted in those facilities, from 21 to 19; and creation of a release review panel to ensure that youth are prepared to return to the community.4
- Redirected resources: In 2007, $57.8 million that would have been used to house juveniles adjudicated for misdemeanors in secure state facilities was redirected to the relevant counties to support local, evidence-based programs for offenders.5
- Incentive funding: In 2009, Texas created the Commitment Reduction Program, which provides grant funding to county probation departments that manage appropriate juvenile offenders locally, rather than committing them to secure state facilities.6 Programs funded through the grants must be cost-efficient and evidence-based and demonstrate reductions in recidivism in order to be eligible for renewed funding.7 Texas appropriated $45.7 million in 2009 and an additional $39 million in 2011 for the program.8
- Standardized tools: Texas also implemented a statewide, Web-based, validated assessment tool to assist judges in making disposition decisions by identifying the levels at which each youth is at risk for recidivism.9
- Streamlined system: In 2011, Senate Bill 653 created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to streamline and integrate the residential functions of the Texas Youth Commission and the community-based programs of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission.10 The legislation continued the reforms begun in 2007, prioritizing the development and use of evidence-based alternatives to commitment to state facilities.