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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | TX

Texas: 2009 | 2011 



  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Legislature Creates Task Force for Children with Special Needs in Order to Address Service Delivery in Juvenile Justice System: The Texas Legislature created the Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs in order to improve the coordination and quality of services for children and youth with special needs. The task force submitted a report in 2011 that included a five-year plan (2011-2016) focused on collaboration among youth service providers to enhance services for children and their families. The report includes several objectives related to juvenile justice, including diversion and minimization of youth involvement in the juvenile justice system; improved assessment of youth entering the system; and improved services for youth with special needs, both within the system and upon reentry to their communities. S.B. 1824, signed into law June 19, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse — Youth with Mental Illness or Mental Retardation to Receive Continuity of Care: The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) must now discharge from the state’s custody a youth with mental illness or mental retardation if the youth has completed the required minimum length of stay for the offense and if TJJD determines that the youth is unable to progress in rehabilitation programs because of his or her mental illness or mental retardation. The law will also allow youth with mental illness or mental retardation to obtain continuity of care services when they are discharged from TJJD. Prior to the law, paroled youth with mental illness could receive mental health services paid for by TJJD, but those who were discharged specifically due to their mental illness could not. The law will address another gap by allowing TJJD to continue to provide services for a youth’s entire parole term. These services previously ended when a youth on parole turned 17, and some youth did not meet the criteria to receive services for adults. H.B. 4451, signed into law and effective June 19, 2009.
  • Youth in the Adult System — Youth Convicted of Capital Felonies Given Opportunity for Parole: Youth ages 14 to 17 in Texas who are found guilty of a capital felony now have the opportunity for parole. Previously, these youth could only be sentenced to life without parole. The change in law recognizes that youth offenders show the most potential for rehabilitation and gives youth more incentive to behave well while incarcerated. The law returns the punishment for youth convicted of capital murder to what it was before the state instituted life without parole in 2005. However, the law is not retroactive; youth previously sentenced to life without parole will continue to serve that sentence. S.B. 839, signed into law June 19, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Schools Must Consider Mitigating Factors Before Severely Disciplining Youth: A new law in Texas requires school districts to consider mitigating factors—such as self-defense, intent, a student’s disciplinary history, or any disability a student may have—before suspending, expelling, or assigning a student to a disciplinary alternative education program or a juvenile justice alternative education program, regardless of whether the disciplinary action was mandatory under the district’s code of conduct. The law will help ensure that students are not removed unnecessarily from the traditional learning environment, given the potential negative effects of inappropriate assignments to alternative education programs. H.B. 171, signed into law and effective June 19, 2009.
  • Youth in the Adult System — Law Allows for More In-Depth Review by Attorneys Prior to Transfer Hearings: When a youth faces transfer to adult court, at least five days prior to the transfer hearing the court must provide to the youth’s attorney and the prosecuting attorney all written matter that the court will consider in making the transfer decision. Previously, the court was required to provide this material only one day before the hearing. The goal of the law is to encourage more thorough review by attorneys, increased information-sharing, and fewer inappropriate transfers to adult court. S.B. 518, signed into law June 19, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.
  • Probation, Parole, and Reentry — Committed Youth to Be Assessed for Health Care Eligibility Before Release: Texas law now provides for a memorandum of understanding between state secure facilities and local juvenile probation departments to ensure that each committed youth is assessed for eligibility for state- or federal-funded health coverage before the youth’s release from placement, detention, or commitment. Federal law prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to pay for the care and services of youth in juvenile justice facilities. Previously, Texas removed youth from Medicaid- or state-funded health programs upon commitment to a facility and required the youth to reapply upon release. The new law will help streamline the process for re-enrollment and ensure that more youth have immediate health coverage upon release from a facility. H.B. 1630, signed into law and effective June 19, 2009.
  • Probation, Parole, and Reentry — Local Juvenile Probation Departments Must Report Annually to Governor and Legislature: The Texas Legislature now requires that local juvenile probation departments report annually to the governor and legislature on their operations and the condition of juvenile probation services in the state during the previous year. The report must include an evaluation of the effectiveness of community-based programs, and information comparing the cost of a youth participating in a juvenile probation services program with the costs of committing the youth to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. S.B. 1374, signed into law June 19, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.
  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — Legislature Clarifies Motions Procedure for New Juvenile Court Trials: The Texas Legislature amended the state family code to follow the criminal court rules for a motion for a new trial seeking to vacate a juvenile court adjudication. In following these rules, juvenile court attorneys will have greater clarity on how to file a motion and the process will be more efficient. Rule 21 of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, relating to new trials in criminal cases, will now be applied to the civil juvenile court. Rule 21 governs which issues to raise in the motions and timelines for making motions. The civil court rules were not a good fit for motions for new juvenile trials and there was confusion among attorneys about which rules to use. The new procedures are more appropriate, due to the similarities to criminal trials. H.B. 1688, signed into law June 19, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.
  • Confidentiality and Expungement — Youth May Have Records Sealed Immediately After Successful Completion of Drug Court Program: Under a new law, Texas juvenile courts may seal the record of an eligible youth immediately after he or she successfully completes a drug court program. The court has discretion as to the necessity of holding a hearing to consider sealing the records. The new law encourages youth convicted of nonviolent drug offenses to seek treatment and complete a court program, thereby avoiding the collateral consequences of an adjudication. H.B. 2386, signed into law May 27, 2009; effective September 1, 2009.

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  • Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) — State Establishes Disproportionality Council: Texas’ new Interagency Council for Addressing Disproportionality will examine the level of disproportionate involvement of youth who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group at each stage of the juvenile justice, child welfare, and mental health systems. Stages include points of entry, points at which treatment decisions are made, and outcomes for youth exiting the systems. The council will also make recommendations on ways to reduce the number of racial and ethnic minority youth in the juvenile justice, child welfare, and mental health systems. The council is to submit a report to the legislature by December 1, 2012. S.B. 501, filed without governor’s signature and effective May 21, 2011.
  • Confidentiality and Expungement — Legislature Restricts Access to Youth Records: A new Texas law makes all records or files related to a youth convicted of a fine-only misdemeanor (other than a traffic offense) confidential. Such records may not be disclosed to the public; they may only be inspected by judges or court staff, a criminal justice agency for a criminal justice purpose, the Department of Public Safety, an attorney for a party in the proceeding, the youth defendant, or the youth defendant’s parent or guardian. Prior to the legislation, any youth convicted of a fine-only misdemeanor had to wait two years before his or her record was sealed; within the two-year window, a background check by a public entity would reveal the conviction. H.B. 961, signed into law and effective June 17, 2011.
  • Facility Closures and Downsizing — State Shutters Youth Facilities, Decreases Number of Incarcerated Youth: In response to a high-profile abuse scandal, the Texas Legislature passed a reform bill in 2007 (S.B. 103), which barred commitment of a youth to the state agency for anything less than a felony and reduced the age of incarcerated young adults from 21 to 19. The law led to a drastic reduction in the population of youth committed to state secure facilities and five facilities were ultimately closed between August 2007 and August 2010. The residential population within state secure facilities decreased from 4,800 in FY 2006 to 1,798 in FY 2010, a 63 percent decline. Since 2007, the legislature has implemented fiscal realignment strategies that shift resources to county juvenile probation departments to supervise youth no longer eligible for state secure commitment, and divert those youth who are still eligible but who can be more safely and effectively served near home. Due to budget cuts in 2011, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) closed three additional state secure facilities and consolidated two more. The closure of two facilities in 2009 saved TJJD $115 million, $45.7 million of which was reinvested in diversion funding for juvenile probation departments.
  • Youth in the Adult System — State Increases Protections for Youth Transferred to Adult System: A new Texas law requires that the sight and sound protections for youth in the juvenile system also now apply to youth under age 17 who are tried as adults; all such youth must be separated by sight and sound from adults in the same facility. Additionally, the law mandates that counties develop policies specifying whether certain transferred youth under 17 years of age may be held pre-trial in a juvenile detention facility, rather than an adult jail. Prior to the change, counties were prohibited from holding transferred youth in juvenile detention facilities. S.B. 1209, signed into law June 17, 2011; effective September 1, 2011.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline — Legislature Limits School Ticketing: Schools in Texas are now prohibited from ticketing students ages 10-11 and 18-21 for failing to attend school. The law also requires schools to adopt truancy prevention measures in order to reduce truancy referrals to court. Lastly, courts are now required to expunge “failure to attend” convictions if the youth successfully complies with the court’s conditions and obtains a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate by age 21. An additional 2011 Texas law eliminated the practice of issuing tickets to youth in grades six and below for violation of the school discipline code. S.B. 1489 and H.B. 359, signed into law June 17, 2011; effective September 1, 2011.
  • Organizational and Large-Scale Change — Texas Youth Commission Merges with Texas Juvenile Probation Commission: The Texas Legislature merged the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to form the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD). According to the legislation, TJJD’s purpose is to create a unified juvenile justice system that provides a full continuum of effective services, prioritizing community and family-based programs over commitment to secure facilities. The specific goals of the merger are to support a county-based system that reduces the need for out-of-home placement; locate facilities close to youths’ families and facility employees; encourage regional cooperation; enhance continuity of care; and use secure facilities, when necessary, that are sized for effective rehabilitation. S.B. 653, signed into law May 19, 2011; effective September 1, 2011.

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Photo: Houstonian, under Creative Commons License.