Legislation that sunsets Texas’ two juvenile justice agencies could bring a brighter future for the state’s most troubled youths. The Sunset Commission has advised that the Legislature consolidate the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC).RELATED: See this fact sheet on the merger legislation from TPPF.
On April 13, the Senate passed Senate Bill 653 which implements the broad contours of the Sunset Commission’s recommendation.
Now, Texas House of Representatives members must seize the opportunity to further strengthen this legislation by reallocating part of the savings, enhancing community-based programs and incorporating outcome-oriented performance measures to assess results.
The consolidation of the juvenile agencies should not be considered a public policy “experiment,” but rather a continuation of proven reforms enacted in 2007 and 2009.
The principle behind those prior reforms – and the principle embodied in Sunset’s consolidation recommendation – is that juvenile justice must shift its emphasis from incarceration to rehabilitation, emphasizing education, employment, and victims’ restitution.
Studies have found that re-offending rates are lower when youths are kept in their communities, closer to their families and social supports such as schools and churches.
In most instances, non-residential programs including drug courts, victim-offender mediation, and probation supervision and treatment are most cost-effective.
For some of the most serious offenders, residential settings near major metropolitan areas from where most youth offenders come can both protect public safety and maintain contacts with the youth’s family which is critical to successful reentry into society.
The results of moving towards community-based solutions for holding youths accountable speak for themselves.
UPDATE: The merger bill passed the Texas House with a number of amendments. Rep. Sylvester Turner opposed the bill, arguing that the agencies are working well and that the bill creates a "super agency" that because of its structure may shift costs down to the counties. The House, however, sided with Reps Madden and McClendon and approved the legislation on a voice vote.