Los Fresnos News

Texas County Reduces Youth Confinement, Increases Public Safety

HOUSTON – A county in Texas is leading the way in reforming juvenile justice in the state.

Since 2007, Harris County has been using the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) model, a national strategy developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to improve outcomes for children in the juvenile justice system while ensuring public safety.

Raquel Mariscal, a senior associate with the W. Haywood Burns Institute that co-manages JDAI, says sometimes children need secure detention, but other times there are alternatives.

“It’s about bettering the outcomes for our youth and responding to adolescent behavior in ways that do not have kids end up being in cages, if you will – juvenile facilities,” she explains.

Mariscal says the program has been a success, with a reduction in youth crime, and a drop in referrals to juvenile probation.

From 2006, before JDAI, through 2010, there were 25 percent fewer youth admitted to the Juvenile Detention Center and 70 percent fewer youth committed to the Texas Youth Commission.

Tom Brooks, executive director of the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, says under JDAI his department now uses more personalized intervention programs.

“Instead of kids involved with us coming to sit in a workshop or something, we actually dig down deeper to see what their individual needs are,” he explains. “And the courts have been very involved in stepping down off the bench and working with the kids.”

Brooks adds Harris County is now working more closely with children, and involving their loved ones in the process.

“We realize the need to work not with a child but with a family,” he says. “We utilize a multi-systemic therapy in the home which has been very successful in allowing the parent to take back their home”

Brooks says many other counties have contacted his probation department to learn how they can implement JDAI practices. And he adds his department also routinely looks to community, faith and educational partners for their help.