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Juvenile Justice Merger Discussed

The House Corrections Committee met March 9 to address HB 1915 and the proposed merger of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) into a new agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

The new agency would be charged with coordinating and overseeing the facilitation and operation of all local and state juvenile justice services. Currently, the TJPC oversees juvenile services at the local level, working closely with local juvenile probation departments, and the TYC oversees operations at the state level operating and providing services to incarcerated youth.

From the county perspective, any savings recognized from downsizing the TYC or from a consolidation of the two agencies should be directed to county juvenile probation departments to ensure the effective implementation of the long-range goal of preventing more youth from being sent into the state’s juvenile and adult correctional system.

State funding and programs are the essential tools necessary to implement a successful juvenile justice system at the local level if the goal is to divert youth from state correctional commitments and save taxpayer money in the process. These tools are necessary regardless of whether the system is run by one encompassing agency or two separate agencies.

Projections are that the state would save as much as $150 million over two years with the merger. House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden referred to HB 1915 as a shell bill and stated there will be working groups for stakeholder participation and input into the merging of the two agencies. Many witnesses offered recommendations for the merger concept, the most popular one echoed by nearly all who testified was “ensure the money follows the kids.”

If the proposed merger goes through, it is essential that the state does indeed commit to having the money follow the youth to the local level since it has been reported that:

  • Community-based programs at secure facilities in urban areas would replace TYC facilities in remote rural areas;
  • The TYC lock-ups to be closed would be turned over to counties and could be used by local school districts or economic development or workforce agencies, while some might be turned into treatment centers for adult offenders;
  • Mental health and rehabilitation programs would be ramped up and more focused on youths in the communities instead of one statewide facility.

The Legislature funded grants for new or expanded local commitment reduction programs in 2009; those programs are showing very positive results as referrals to the probation departments have decreased and fewer offenders are being committed to TYC — and these programs should be continued.