Texas Juvenile Justice within the TDCJ

Introduction

The justice system for the young people differs from the adult justice system in that the juvenile justice system emphasis more on rehabilitation of the delinquents. The juvenile justice system aims at teaching on discipline and values in order to change delinquents into responsible citizens (Texas Youth Commission, 4). Texas Youth Commission (TYC) defines a juvenile as “anyone who was 10 years and less than 17 at the time s/he committed an act of “delinquent conduct” or “conduct” in need of supervision”, (TYC, 2).

In Texas, most of the delinquent cases are handled at the county level, through the court probation departments and the juvenile board. There are two main agencies that deal with juvenile justice system in the state level, the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Justice Probation Commission. This paper will discuss the juvenile justice system in Texas and provide a summary of the role played by these two agencies, as stipulated in Chapters 51-60 of the Texas Family Code.

Delinquency services is structured both in the local and state level. In the state of Texas the counties have their own delinquent screening arrangements though this will either be done by the juvenile probation department or the prosecuting attorney. The local courts administer juvenile probation department. This department is responsible for the predisposition investigations and the supervising of the juvenile delinquents who are in probation.

It is statutory requirement for each county to have a local juvenile board, consisting of the both the district and county judges, and whose responsibility is to administer the juvenile justice system in that county. These responsibilities include administering juvenile probation departments, management of the juvenile institutions, setting guidelines and procedures, annual budget preparations, appoint the juvenile courts and the juvenile court judges as well as appointing Chief Juvenile Probation Officers (NationalCenter for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), 7). There are three courts from which the board can select from the court that will function as juvenile courts, the district court, the county court or the constitutional courts.

Detention and Referrals and Predisposition Investigation

Detention of juveniles is done pre-adjudication or while a juvenile awaits settlement of a case or while waiting to be transported to the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). The juvenile is not supposed to serve sanctions or probation while in pre-adjudication detention. According to the Texas law, there are conditions that may lead to the detention of a delinquent.

The juvenile can be detained only if, there is a possibility of absconding; in the absence of a parent or guardian or failure by the parent or guardian to provide satisfactory supervision of the delinquent; they are a danger to themselves or anyone else; there is a possibility of a repeat penal offense; or a when a juvenile has been involved in a delinquent behavior and s/he is in possession of a firearm and there is a possibility of inappropriate use of the firearms. After detention, the juvenile is entitled to a hearing by a judge within 2 working days and in every other 10 working days after the first hearing.

Secure pre-adjudication detention of the juvenile delinquents is done within the pre-adjudication facilities or through other special county alternatives such as shelters, home detentions or through electronic monitoring (NCJJ, 3). The detention is administered by the county juvenile probation departments under the supervision of the juvenile board, or privately through a contractual arrangement with county’s juvenile board. There are 58 secure pre-adjudication detention facilities that are recorded with Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC). The pre-adjudication detention receives its funding from the state, detention fees and donations from TJPC.

Referrals is mainly done by law enforces but it can also be done by schools, social organizations, the public, juvenile courts and even the TYC. The referrals on all felonies and other less serious crimes are directed to the prosecutor attorney’s office. However, a county can provide an alternative such as the juvenile probation departments, though murder cases must go to the prosecutor’s office. The office that receives the juvenile will determine the cause, the offense to be charged with and whether the case will be handled formally or informally. The prosecutor can refer the case back to the juvenile probation department or file a criminal case for petition.

There are two informal methods, supervisory caution and deferred prosecution. The family and the juvenile who must be a first time offender and accused of a minor offence are counseled and referred to social services. For the informal deferred prosecution cases, the offender is put under a voluntary probation for six months. If the offender defaults during these six months, the case is moved to the juvenile court adjudication. The Services to at-Risk Youth (STAR) Program is provided for the pre-adjudicated delinquents between the age of 7 and 9 years old, and to those between 10 and 16 years old who commit some specific felonies. The STAR program offers outreach services as well as counseling, or community services (NCJJ, 4).

Once the prosecutor receives the case, he will build on it with assistance from juvenile probation department which will evaluate the juvenile’s needs according to the Texas Family Code Annotated ss59.001-59.015. The dispositions are done according to the Progressive Sanction Guidelines or/and the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI).

Victims Rights

The victim’s rights are in accordance with the Texas Family Code Chapter 57. The victim is entitled to receive information on the court proceedings as well as being notified of the situations relating to release, escape or transfer of the offender. The victim has the right to have a seating place reserved for him/her during the hearing with a reserved place in the waiting area. The regulations provide for an appointment of an officer as a victim assistance coordinator who should be informing the victim of every situation about the offender, including matters to do with compensation. The compensation program is managed by the Office of the Attorney General Crime Victim Services division as per Texas Legislature.

In Texas notification and referral services to the victims and the victim sensitivity programs are done through the Texas Youth Commissions Victim Services Program which also provides a Resocialization treatment for the victims.

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Probation Supervision

TJPC has been given the legal authority to disseminate the standards and guidelines on the juvenile probation departments. The probation is conducted through qualified officers who are required to be certified by TJPC Training and Certification Division. The probation supervision is funded and organized by the county boards at the counties. 30% of funds are provided by the state and 70% of the funds required for probation are from county revenues. These Funds are received through the TJPC. The juvenile court determines the duration and the probation period for each juvenile case. In total, there are 168 probation departments in Texas each with its own mission statement. Since there are 248 counties, this means there are some small counties that do not have their own probation departments and rely on probation departments from other counties. The juvenile probation departments offer both basic as well as intensive probation services to special cases. One of these intensive programs is provided by Serious Offender Supervision Program (SOS) IN Harris County. SOS provides intensive probation as wells as offering counseling and face-to-face contacts with the juveniles who are at a high risk.

TJPC provides Strategies in Juvenile Supervision worksheet which is an optional guide used to determine the supervision levels. The Case Management Standards are used to determine the probation period and method for each juvenile. These standards should be put in use within 60 days of disposition and should be reassessed after every six months. The standards should contain an exit plan for the juvenile before the probation period.

Texas has a Special Needs Diversionary Program which specifically takes care of juvenile delinquents who may have some mental problems. The MYSI version 2 is used to identify any juveniles who have been brought into the justice system and are suffering from mental problems. In this program, the probation officers work in collaboration with mental health experts to provide community-based probation services for these juveniles. The guidelines for the special program are contained in the Mental Health and Juvenile Justice in Texas. The aim of the program is to try and deal with the delinquent from the home environment and reduce the involvement with the justice system.

Texas Youth Commission (TYC)

TYC mission is to uphold public safety while at the same time providing secure juvenile correctional facilities that aim at changing the delinquents and reintegrating them back into the society (TYC, 8). TYC deals with the most serious cases and mostly only after attempts to intervene on the juvenile delinquents in the counties has failed. Only 5% of those who go to TYC are sent directly to the agency after being committed with serious offenses such as murder, armed robbery or aggressive sexual assault. The rest are sent from the county level. There are about 1500 to 2000 of juveniles that are sent to TYC on an annual basis.

TYC provides learning and education for the adjudicated juvenile delinquents who are already consigned. TYC administers the schools so as to provide care in a secure controlled environment. There is an Orientation and Assessment Units under TYC, apart from the several schools, recreational centers, boot camp and an offender unit for females (NJCC, 3). TYC has community based residential programs where the recently released delinquents from placement are offered life skills.

Juveniles are committed to TYC either by determinate or indeterminate. Indeterminate sentence is more common in TYC centers. With indeterminate sentences, TYC will decide on how long the offender will stay. Those offenders who have been committed with serious crimes receive determinate sentence. At TYC, the first process is to attend the Orientation and Assessment Unit where the juvenile’s educational and other needs are evaluated. Each offender who goes through the TYC must undergo the Resocialization Program.

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TJPC working process

TJPC works in collaboration with juvenile court boards and probation departments in developing and providing juvenile probation services in TexasState. TJPC provides preventive, rehabilitative and intervention programs. The programs are community based and involve the juvenile’s family participation. These programs are either privately or publicly combine residential and non-residential services in order to release and reduce the TYC of some commitments.

TJPC has varying value when delivering its services, to the justice program, to the juveniles, to the public and to the government entities. To the justice field, the values include finding local solution, with limited state or government interventions, with efficient customer services where the community is involved in the decision making process. TJPC values to the public include providing safety and protection, efficient and accountable funds utilization and provision of a fair and open juvenile justice system. TJPC provides services to the children by providing them with care and protection while identifying problems and intervening while involving their families in the programs and as wells as providing care to those who have to be rehabilitated away from home.

Proposed Amendments

There has been a proposal by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to amend section 343.106, which relates to provision of secure and safe correctional facilities for the pre-adjudication and post-adjudication detention (Texinfo Library, 2). This is so as to make it to be in alignment with Chapter 349 of Texas Administrative Code section numbers.

Another proposed amendment is on section 343.272 which contains regulations on the standards for the pre-adjudication and post-adjudication secure facilities for the juvenile delinquents. This amendment provides that the facilities should be well maintained in a healthy clean environment which should be free of any pests and with a properly maintained sanitation.

The Texas Juvenile Probation Commission also proposed to amend chapter 344.410, which is concerned with conflicts in disqualifying criminal history of the juvenile delinquent, which should be in conformity with Chapter 349 section numbers. The Commission proposed an additional Chapter 346 which should concern itself with management of funding in order to conform to the House Bill 3689.

Release and Aftercare

The release procedures are different and depend on the seriousness of the offence. Once it is determined a release plan is organized whereby the risks of releasing the juvenile are analyzed, the reintegration arrangements and public safety are considered. This plan is the approved by the Supervising program administrator. A release interview between the youth and the local committee is conducted before the plan is forwarded to the superintendent of the center for approval. The juvenile is hen released, unless if he or she was a serious offender whereby another review by Texas Youth Commission’s Central Office would be required.

The juvenile court is informed of the release but the juvenile will not require courts approval in order to be released unless the remaining period is more than 9 months.

After release, the juvenile will be under post-adjudication supervision. TYC provides serious follow ups on the juveniles under parole. Some counties such as Cameron County also provide a re-entry program which includes education and employability skills, and to make them more acceptable back in the society.

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