By Laura Nicholes
TAC Legislative Staff
On Friday, April 29, the Texas House voted to abolish the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) and combine the two into one agency.
The House voted 146 to 2 to pass SB 653, which combines the responsibilities for supervising, treating and incarcerating juvenile offenders under the newly formed Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
For a variety of reasons, the initial effort to merge the agencies did not pass in the 2009 Legislative Session. Counties were concerned about the 2009 merger, citing the need for two separate agencies with two separate budgets serving separate juvenile populations with separate needs.
Those concerns are still present, especially the one about separate budgets. While all stakeholders agree that community-based diversion programs need to be fully funded in order to achieve the intended goal of diverting youth from the institutional division, it is still unclear in the state budget how much of the anticipated savings will be reallocated to serve that purpose.
By law, counties must provide a certain level of funding to juvenile probation departments and now must provide increased local services with a decreased amount of assistance from the state, a result of the drastic budget cuts underway. Currently, counties provide a statewide average of 75 percent of funding for the juvenile probation departments.
To put the situation in perspective, not only will juvenile probation departments need additional money for the diversion programs, but with the expectation of even fewer commitments to TYC, counties will experience increased probation case loads and a higher number of higher-risk and needs offenders requiring higher level, more expensive treatment.
Rural counties can expect an increased need for mental health and other professionals to deliver community-based treatment services; not to mention, counties will still be responsible for the operation of local detention facilities, and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education programs will still need to be funded. County juvenile probation officers will now have an increased responsibility for supervising offenders on juvenile parole — those youth released back into the community from the institutional division.
Secure facilities for housing the most dangerous juvenile offenders will still be available when needed and will still need adequate funding by the new department to operate and provide the required intensive treatment and educational services mandated by law. These items are funded by the state.