Texas looks for cheaper ways to keep juveniles out of jail

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Is there a cheaper way to tackle the juvenile justice system? Tuesday, the Texas Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on several issues, including an interim charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to look into the price tag.

The following is listed on the agenda for the committee hearing:

“Develop recommendations to ensure the Texas Juvenile Justice Department budget does not dis-incentivize the use of cost-effective best practices such as diverting youth from the juvenile justice system, providing services to youth in their community, and keeping youth closer to home.”

Matthew Puckett from the Legislative Budget Board, David Reilly from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Bryan Collier and Carey Green from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have been invited to testify, as is the public.

According to the TJJD, in a given year, more than 100,000 juveniles are arrested in Texas or referred to the juvenile probation system.

In Austin and now in Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo’s officers see the same people commit crimes as kids and then as adults.

“We have to have a smart on crime approach,” said Chief Acevedo,

He says what works is prevention, probation, and services before they enter a major lockup facility, especially when it comes to mental health and substance abuse issues.

“Have some diversion and treatment, before those people escalate their level of criminality to where it becomes a violent crime,” said Chief Acevedo.

An interim charge on how to save money in juvenile justice system brought together the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday at the capitol.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” said Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, “In my judgement, it is by far the worst performing agency by any measurement of all of our agencies.”

Senator John Whitmire laid out figures that show taxpayers spend $160,000 dollars per youth per year holding them at 5 facilities across Texas while probation costs far less. $60,000 per youth. For the teenagers released from those facilities, three out of every four are re-incarcerated inside of three years.

Ten years ago the Texas Juvenile Justice Department had 5,000 young people in the secure correctional facilities Now, there are around 1,200. Lawmakers hope to continue that downward trend.

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