Texas Juvenile Justice Reform Reduces Juvenile Crime

Posted by Lori Moore

Feb 26, 2015 1:00:00 PM

Texas Juvenile Crime Justice Reform Reduces Crime & Saves Money

In 2007, after abuses were reported in Texas juvenile facilities, the legislature put together a reform package. Part of its aim was to keep youthful offenders close to home in the hopes of reducing the size of the correctional system, the second largest in the United States. Money that would have been spent putting kids behind bars, building new jails and prisons, and all the ancillary costs of incarceration were to be funneled into community supervision.

Over the course of the years since the reforms began, juvenile incarcerations plunged from 4,305 to 1,481, a 66-percent drop. At the same time, arrests fell by 33 percent from 136,206 in 2007 to 91,873 in 2012. So, it would not appear that locking up fewer adolescents was a threat to public safety.

By closing eight juvenile correctional facilities, the state shaved its appropriations from $486 million to $290 million from 2006-2007 to 2014-2015. The savings went to local probation departments that find community supervision, services, and treatment for the offenders.

Texas commissioned a study to further evaluate the effects the reforms were having. Researchers looked at 1.3 million case records that came from three agencies covering 466,000 individuals. Among its findings were juveniles assigned to community programs were 20 percent less likely to be repeat offenders and three times less likely to perpetrate serious crimes. As of now, Multisystemic Therapy (MST), which focuses on serious adolescent offenders or those who have been identified as highly likely to end up in the justice system, has five teams in Texas.

Houston has two of those teams, which serve about 96 kids annually. These youth are on probation in Harris County. Dr. Diana Quintana, the deputy director of Juvenile Probation, says the impact of MST has been profound. “The experience of partnering with the MST program has been transformational where the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department is concerned. It has not only impacted the youth and family we serve but the philosophy of the department. We have moved away from the idea of having an identified youth to a more holistic approach that emphasizes a family and community approach.”

State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee when the reforms were passed, is an advocate of keeping youthful offenders closer to where they live. “Out of sight, out of mind was no longer the standard,” he said. “Getting them back in their community has been very successful.”

Dianna Muldrow, with the Right on Crime campaign at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice, weighed in on the study results. She praised the way the state was handling juvenile-justice reform. “The report reiterates what the Texas Public Policy Foundation has been advocating for years, that big spending and expanded facilities do not translate into lowered crime rates,” said Muldrow. “Texas is now a model for other states wanting to take on their high juvenile incarceration rates, illustrating that low-risk children can be handled close to their homes and communities while improving public safety and at a savings to the taxpayer. We are optimistic that the legislature will continue to forward policies that keep the Lone Star State ahead of the curve in efficient governance.”

As the experience in such programs as MST has shown, higher-risk juveniles can be better served to stay out of jails and prisons and be treated at home, in their schools, and in communities.

To learn more about the cost-effectiveness of Multisystemic Therapy, download this white paper. Download Now

Topics: Juvenile Justice Reform