Making Democracy Work

Juvenile Justice

Updates by Mary Overton (Austin) Juvenile Justice Issue Chair

Testimony

Coalitions and Resources

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Acronyms: What Does That Mean?

Position LWV-TX

Juvenile Justice 1994

The League of Women Voters of Texas supports an effective state juvenile justice system and programs and policies to prevent juvenile violence and crime. We support the following:

  • an adequate level of state funding for the juvenile justice system and for addressing the problem of juvenile crime; in allocating state funds for these purposes, highest priority should be given to prevention, followed by intervention and then corrections; funding responsibility should be shared by city and county governments, school districts, and private sources

  • rehabilitation as the main goal of the juvenile justice system, with every juvenile committed to the Texas Youth Commission having access to adequate and appropriate rehabilitation services and programs

  • coordination of information and services between social service agencies and the juvenile justice system

  • adequate access to juvenile records by law enforcement agencies

  • provision that juvenile offenders under age ten may be referred to the juvenile justice system; the minimum age for adult certification of juvenile offenders should not be lower than fifteen

  • strict regulation of possession of firearms by juveniles; adults who furnish illegal firearms to juveniles should be held criminally liable

If boot camps are used as a correctional measure, they should:

  • feature careful pre-placement screening

  • be limited to non-violent offenders

  • provide for parental involvement when appropriate include programs that build self-esteem

  • be non-abusive

  • emphasize rehabilitation

  • provide meaningful tasks for the juveniles

  • provide for follow-up.

Cultural bias in the juvenile justice system should be addressed through:

  • review and revision of juvenile justice system policies and practices that may have a discriminatory effect

  • increased access to competent legal counsel

  • early access to prevention/intervention programs

  • cultural awareness training for juvenile justice professionals.

A comprehensive juvenile violence and delinquency prevention strategy should include, but not be limited to:

  • self esteem enhancement/development

  • classes in parenting skills/family relations

  • quality child care programs

  • opportunities for healthy bonding with an individual or group

  • classes in alternatives to violence as a means of resolving disputes

  • drug education programs

  • sexuality education

  • gang prevention programs.

A comprehensive juvenile violence and delinquency intervention strategy should include, but not be limited to:

  • immediate intervention when delinquent behavior first occurs

  • a broad range of graduated sanctions

  • accountability of offenders

  • a continuum of services that meets individual needs of offenders

  • drug education and rehabilitation programs

  • family treatment programs

  • gang intervention programs.

The state should require schools to provide alternative education programs for students with severe behavioral problems. The state should encourage schools to:

  • teach alternatives to violence

  • provide alternative education programs for truants and other at-risk students.

Position LWV-US

Issue Studies and Explanation

Delegates to the 1993 LWV-TX Convention voted to re-study the juvenile justice system in Texas and to look into the problem of juvenile violence as well. A Facts & Issues, Juvenile Violence and the Juvenile Justice System in Texas, was produced by the study committee and circulated to all members, selected government officials and agencies, and other interested groups and individuals. Consensus was reached in the fall of 1994, and the new position was approved by the state board in November of that year. The current position replaces the former juvenile justice position which had been adopted in 1977.

History of LWV-TX Action

1995: During the 1995 legislative session, juvenile violence and the juvenile justice system was a priority issue for LWV-TX. An Advocacy Paper, Juvenile Crime: Strategies to Stem the Rising Tide, was published and circulated to all legislators and other elected and appointed officials, as well as to interested members. The League's interest in juvenile crime proved most timely. Legislators and the governor, as well as many other citizens statewide, shared the conviction that this pervasive problem must be addressed with fresh initiatives.

League-supported portions of the enacted bill include: first offender program to allow non-felony juvenile offenders to be processed outside the juvenile court; early intervention services for juveniles as young as seven; a progressive sanctions model (though not fully funded) that ensures juveniles face uniformly consistent consequences that correspond to the seriousness of their offenses; funds for additional probation officers and for construction of post-adjudication intermediate sanction facilities. The League also lobbied successfully for a new law that limits children's access to readily dischargeable firearms. Although a League-supported measure geared to prevention programs in early childhood failed passage, several prevention programs were successfully attached to other bills.

2007: SB103, a comprehensive reform bill for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) was signed by the governor and became law. Major points of the bill are:

  • Only children committing felonies may be sentenced to a TYC facility

  • Establishes a feasibility study of a regional structure for TYC with smaller, local facilities conforming to needs of an area

  • Establishes the office of Executive Commissioner and Advisory Board for TYC

  • Establishes authority of a state auditor to review financial transactions of Commission an internal audit procedure, reporting to legislative committees

  • Provides for criminal background checks for potential TYC employees

  • Allows advocacy and support groups to provide on-site services at TYC facilities

  • Establishes the office of inspector General to investigate fraud

  • Establishes the office of Ombudsman to evaluate services to youth and review complaints

  • Restrict placement of minors under 15 years to dorms for youths 16 years and younger

  • Develops and distributes a Parents Bill of Rights

  • Assigns a case worker to each child committed to a TYC facility

  • Establishment of a zero-tolerance policy regarding of sexual abuse of inmates

  • Allows equal access to TYC facilities for female officers

  • Will offer rehabilitation programs recommended by the adjudicating judge.