Survey: Local Juvenile Programs Underfunded

Three-quarters of juvenile justice departments in Texas said their funding is "insufficient" or "very insufficient" in a survey released this week by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a group that advocates for juvenile justice reform.

Instead of continuing to spend millions on large, problem-plagued secure facilities operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Benet Magnuson, a policy attorney with the group, said legislators should invest more money in county juvenile probation departments.

“If the state doesn’t do it, nobody else will, and we know these county departments are doing really impressive things with the funding they do receive,” Magnuson said.

State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, though, was skeptical of TCJC’s survey.

“What a shock that departments would say they need more money,” he said sarcastically.

Since reports in 2007 of awful physical and sexual abuse of juveniles in state custody, Texas lawmakers have worked to reform the juvenile justice system. The state implemented policies that kept more juveniles in their home communities, where they could be closer to services and to support systems they need once they finish their sentences. The reforms reduced the population to about 1,200 from about 3,000 in 2007, and the state closed eight of its 14 institutions.

In recent months, though, reports have revealed violence among youths in secure state facilities has spiked in the wake of the reforms. With only felony offenders now being sent to the facilities, the rate of assaults among youths and assaults by youths on staff have increased. Lawmakers and agency officials are working to improve security and safety.

Madden said instead of demanding more money for local probation programs, advocates should focus on recommendations for making the facilities safer and identifying more that can be shuttered. 

“It would strike me as wise if we look at least the reduction of one facility. That would open up some more money,” Madden said.

Douglas Vance, executive director at Brazos County juvenile probation department, said that like the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, local agencies are dealing with an increasingly difficult population of young people. More youths with mental health issues and other serious problems are now staying in the community instead of being sent to secure facilities. That means local probation departments must provide more services than they once did.

Probation departments run on a combination of funds from the county and state, generally. While money from the state increased when counties were asked to keep more youth offenders instead of sending them to secure facilities, Vance said the additional funds weren’t sufficient to cover the cost of treating a more difficult population.

He said probation departments would ask legislator for additional funding during the legislative session. 

“Give us the money. We can do a good job with it,” Vance said. “I think that’s been proven over and over again.”