WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County’s Transformative Justice Program will continue for another three years after a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Justice, county leaders said.

The Transformative Justice Program is a court-supervised diversion program to help non-violent felons aged 17-24 break the cycle of being jailed, getting out, and reoffending. Program leaders said the course program offers help with substance abuse issues and life skills.

The program was started in 2019 through a grant from the Texas Indigent Fund. Back then, Williamson County also matched those funds, additional money was also contributed by agencies like the Texas Bar Association.

Judge Stacey Mathews presides over the 277th District Court which often hears cases involving these young offenders. She said it’s disheartening to see young people reappear in court again and again

“Something for that younger population, we felt that the traditional court system was missing something for them,” Judge Mathews said.

Judge Mathews said the program results from the District Attorney’s office, the court, and program facilitators coming together to rehabilitate offenders who often struggle to find housing and employment after a felony conviction. These struggles often lead them back to similar criminal activity to survive, program director Terence Davis said.

“There are things we can do to change the trajectory of their lives. We know that those things [crimes] are happening, but we also know what happens if we don’t do anything… which is 85% will reoffend,” Davis said.

The program is also a research study, Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute is one of the agency’s collecting data on the success of the diversion program.

Researchers Georges Naufal and Emily Naiser said, now that additional funding has been secured, their work can continue for another three years. While they cannot share their findings collected thus far, Naiser says the last few years of following participants and interviewing them has been interesting.

“It’s interesting watching them accept the process and how this does go deeper than just avoiding a felony,” said Naiser.

Naufal and Naiser said it could be a few years before their full in-depth data on the study is released, but preliminary results are expected to be ready to share in just a few months.