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Texas continues to break new ground with pioneering county-based solutions to serving justice-involved youth. In addition to the promising state-level reforms CJCJ blogged on last week, a new report details how Texas counties are proving to be effective incubators of innovation. The report, released last week by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), highlights the model practices of 12 Texas counties and provides fiscal and political recommendations that would enable all counties to adopt the same practices. The model practices include new approaches to mental health treatment and trauma-informed care, community-based alternatives to secure confinement, family involvement in rehabilitation, enhanced use of need assessments, prevention and early intervention, strategies for reducing adult court transfers, and strategic reentry planning. 

A media report quotes TCJC Executive Director Dr. Ana-Yañez Correa as saying, 

The great thing is, the successful programs we identified in this report are county-developed and county-approved, which means that other communities can replicate them and know they can survive the real-world constraints that juvenile departments face.”

In addition to the county survey, TCJC staff also spoke directly with probation chiefs and other systems leaders about what they would prioritize if additional funding were available. These county leaders reported that they would direct any new resources into expanded services for mental health, community alternatives to secure custody, and family involvement, as three essential strategies to improve long-term outcomes for juvenile offenders. The report also notes that 75% of county juvenile departments state that their funding is currently insufficient or very insufficient to implement best practices, even though they are willing to do so. As Texas continues to divest in its expensive state-run facilities and reinvest in county-level solutions, increased funding should be available for expanding model practices into additional counties. 

A final component of the report is a county-by-county analysis of juvenile justice statistics like numbers of youth referred into the justice system, transferred into the adult system, with mental health issues or traumatic backgrounds, and the cost per day to house youth in each county’s juvenile detention center. This county-by-county analysis and comparison is similar to the California Sentencing Institute (CASI) map developed by CJCJ. County comparisons are a critical methodology for establishing a baseline of good criminal justice practice in both adult and juvenile settings. CJCJ will be releasing the juvenile justice version of the CASI map in November. 

Organizations like TCJC and CJCJ play a critical role in juvenile justice reform efforts because they present solution-driven proposals that are rooted in data and the most up-to-date criminal justice practices. It’s essential for agencies to highlight the innovative practices of county leaders who view youthful offenders through a positive youth development lens that sees their future potential while at the same time treating the root causes of their current behavior.