|Survey shows need for juvenile justice reforms|
|Wednesday, 14 March 2012 09:33|
From the Brenham Banner-Press
AUSTIN — A survey released today by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) finds continued urgency for reforms in the Texas juvenile justice system.
Reforms enacted by the 2011 Legislature tasked the new Texas Juvenile Justice Department with creating a system that keeps as many youth as possible in programs in their home counties.
Benet Magnuson, a policy attorney with the Youth Justice Project at TCJC, said the survey shows why that’s a winning strategy.
“On every issue we surveyed — safety, rehabilitation, family involvement — the local programs had the advantage,” Magnuson said. “When kids stay in their home communities, it reduces the pressure in the facilities, and things work better for both staff and youth.”
Youth placed in Texas state secure facilities are passionate about education, worried about youth-on-youth violence and deeply homesick, according to the survey. Policy discussions are under way even as the Texas Juvenile Justice Department implements the reforms enacted by the 2011 Legislature.
“The fact that Giddings (State School) opened its doors to us shows a great commitment to transparency and reform,” said Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, TCJC executive director. “The youth spoke very clearly: Texas needs to increase its support for solutions at the county level and for those youth who remain in state facilities.”
Although positive family involvement significantly improves outcomes both during and after placement in secure facilities, the GSS youths reported that the long distance between home and the state secure facilities caused family visits to drop precipitously; 62 percent reported receiving visits at least once per week while in county facilities, but only 15 percent reported receiving visits at least once per week while in a state secure facility.
Youth similarly felt safer when they were closer to home, the survey found.
The survey findings are based on interviews conducted with 115 youths at Giddings State School, one of the six state secure facilities for juveniles in Texas.
The youths identified education as the most helpful tool in preparing them for a future after lock-up; they identified poorly trained staff as the least helpful part of the juvenile justice system; they said youth-on-youth violence is the most important issue to them; and they said they want more visits with family.
The Giddings facility has been in the news following a riot on the campus in late November and a report last month that youth-on-youth violence at the facility was increasing.
Magnuson said the survey results are a wake-up call for leaders to concentrate on reforms to expand local programs for kids in trouble.
“We need to make sure we don’t move backward on this,” Magnuson said. “The solution here is more local programs and more training for staff —if you want to stop fights, staff have to know how to keep positive relationships with youth. Based on what the youth told us in the interviews, there’s a pretty clear path forward for safety at the facility.”