Texas Juvenile Justice Department and Local Juvenile Justice Agencies

Policy Concerns

  • Successfully implementing of the Office of the Independent Ombudsman’s expanded oversight role in county-level juvenile facilities
  • Assessing outcomes for state secure facilities and community interventions
  • Diverting youth with behavioral health needs away from secure confinement facilities and into their home communities
  • Decreasing the use of restraints and prolonged isolation of youth in secure confinement facilities
  • Assessing the impact of detaining youth in adult correctional facilities
  • Adjusting the upper and lower age limits of juvenile court jurisdiction based on the science of adolescent development
  • Addressing the school-to-prison pipeline for youth of color and youth with special education needs

Fast Facts

  • About 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health condition, compared to 20% of youth in the general population.
  • The majority of youth who are involved in the justice system commit misdemeanor offenses.
  • On May 31, 2016, there were 1,086 youth committed to five state secure facilities, 126 youth in halfway houses, and 114 youth in contract care facilities in Texas.
  • In 2015, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) estimated that youth in residential facilities cost $437.11 per day, youth on parole cost $31.93 per day, and youth on probation cost $5.40 per day.
  • Texas has 49 pre-adjudication facilities operated at the county level. Nineteen of these facilities offer programs for youth with mental health conditions, and 15 provide programs for youth with substance use conditions.
  • Texas has 36 post-adjudication facilities operated at the county level. Twenty-seven of these facilities offer programs for youth with mental health conditions, and 31 provide programs for youth with substance use conditions.
  • In FY 2015, counties funded 73% of juvenile probation services, while the state and federal government provided 27% of total funding.

Organizational Chart

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The Texas Juvenile Justice Department and Local Juvenile Justice Agencies

The Texas juvenile justice system is comprised of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) and local juvenile probation departments throughout the state. These agencies work together to provide services designed to rehabilitate youth who commit crimes between the ages of 10 and 17. (For more definitions used in the juvenile justice system, the Texas Juvenile Justice System section later in this chapter.)

In 2011, the 82nd Texas Legislature abolished the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) and the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the two state agencies that previously managed the state’s juvenile justice system. In their place, SB 653 (82nd, Whitmire/Madden) created TJJD. The new agency was charged with “increasing the proportion of youth in local custody, rather than committed to state lockups.” TJJD’s ultimate goal is to prevent a juvenile’s entrance into the adult criminal justice system by providing treatment plans tailored to each child’s unique strengths and needs. To this end, TJJD provides oversight and funding to local juvenile probation departments across Texas and continues to fulfill some of TYC’s former responsibilities, including the operation of five secure state facilities for youth.

Juvenile Justice and Mental Health

Youth in the juvenile justice system are more likely than children in the general public to have mental health and substance use conditions. Researchers estimate that about 70% of justice-involved youth have a mental illness, while 60% of justice-involved youth have a co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder. Figure 128 shows a side-by-side comparison of mental health needs for youth in the general population and youth in the juvenile justice population.

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Source: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice & the Technical Assistance Collaborative. (2015). Strengthening Our Future: Key Elements to Developing a Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice Diversion Program for Youth with Behavioral Health Conditions. 1.

While 70% of justice-involved youth around the country have a diagnosable mental health disorder, about 30% have disorders severe enough to require immediate and significant treatment. In FY 2015, almost 33% of Texas youth referred to juvenile probation had mental health needs. The vast majority of children in juvenile justice settings also have a history of trauma. Close to 75% of these youth have not only been exposed to violence, crime, and abuse; they have also experienced traumatic victimization themselves. These experiences can contribute to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is disproportionately found among youth in the justice system.

Recent meta-analyses also demonstrate that between 30% and 60% of justice-involved youth have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). After sustaining a brain injury, juveniles are more likely than their uninjured peers to engage in delinquency. In 2011, TJJD and HHSC collaborated on a federal grant to identify youth with brain injuries in the juvenile justice system. Between FY 2011 and FY 2014, 4,316 individuals under 23 years old were screened for TBI using the Brain Injury Screening Questionnaire (BISQ). About 67% of the Texas youth met the criteria for a mild or moderate-severe brain injuries, and more than half of those youth sustained their first injury before committing their first offense. These juveniles reported higher distress levels on mental health assessments than individuals without a brain injury; they were also more likely than other juveniles to be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. TJJD ended most of its TBI screenings in 2014 when the pilot ended because the agency no longer had access to the proprietary BISQ tool.

Alongside improved screening techniques, juvenile justice leaders have taken other steps to address the trauma backgrounds of many adjudicated youth in Texas. Between 2011 and 2014, the Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS, in collaboration with the Hogg Foundation) started an initiative to decrease the use of seclusions and restraints among juveniles who are committed to residential treatment centers (RTCs). Research demonstrates that seclusion and restraint practices can re-traumatize youth who have already experienced physical or psychological harms in the past. TNOYS’s Creating a Culture Change initiative aimed to assist youth service providers in developing other methods to alter negative behavior among Texas juveniles, including those within the justice system. For example, in Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department facilities, staff members were given trainings and technical assistance to prioritize their use of traumainformed care practices (such as active listening and verbal de-escalation) and minimize their use of seclusions and restraints as a “last resort” option. In a 2015 evaluation, analysts demonstrated that the initiative decreased the use of restraints by 25% in participating facilities and enhanced the knowledge and practice of trauma-informed care among youth service providers.

Changing Environment

Beginning in 2007, the Texas Legislature made deliberate efforts to decrease youth incarceration rates across the state. In 2013, Senator Whitmire (D-Houston), chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, asked the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to analyze the impact of those reform efforts. In 2015, the CSG released 14 key findings, including:

  • Legislative reforms helped to decrease commitments to and populations within state-level secure juvenile detention facilities.
  • Youth confined in state-run facilities are two times more likely to be re-incarcerated within five years of release than youth sentenced to county-level probation.
  • While reforms have benefited state- and county-level juvenile justice systems, Texas can do more to decrease recidivism rates among justice-involved youth. In particular, CSG researchers recommended that TJJD and county probation departments concentrate their interventions on youth with the highest risk to reoffend and minimize involvement with low-risk youth.

In 2015, Texas lawmakers aimed to further past reform initiatives. The major pieces of legislation related to mental health and juvenile justice passed during the 84th legislative session are explained below. Legislation is described in the order in which youth may confront the Texas juvenile justice system.

The information provided below is not a comprehensive account of the mental health and criminal justice-related legislation passed during the 84th legislative session.


SB 2398: Truancy Reform
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed HB 2398 (84th, White/Whitmire) to prevent more Texas youth from entering the school-to-prison pipeline. The pipeline refers to punitive school policies that lead students (particularly youth of color) toward justice involvement. Before legislators passed HB 2398, Texas students who repeatedly skipped school could be prosecuted in criminal court. Now, school districts must hire truancy prevention facilitators who work directly with the students to determine the underlying causes of truancy, such as mental illness. School officials must also adopt minimum prevention standards developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). If students continue to skip school, they cannot be criminally prosecuted. Instead, they may go to civil court, where a judge can order the student to attend counseling or other activities. HB 2398 stipulates that students cannot be fined or jailed for skipping school, but they can be transferred to the juvenile justice system if they defy court orders.

HB 2684: Training Programs for School-Based Police Officers
The 84th Texas Legislature also passed HB 2684 (84th, Giddings/Whitmire) to further combat the school-to-prison pipeline. In recent years, school police officers in Texas have increasingly used punitive strategies, such as physical force and arrest, against students. These strategies tend to push students away from school and toward the criminal justice system. HB 2684 aims to improve school safety and decrease youth arrests by matching police officers’ tactics with the school environment. The bill requires all school districts with 30,000 students or more to adopt “youth-focused” training programs for school-based police officers. The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) must create and distribute training materials for school district police departments, law enforcement officers, and any other entities that train school-based police officers. The training materials must include information on:

  • Child and adolescent development and psychology;
  • The behavioral health needs of children, particularly those with disabilities or special needs;
  • Mental health crisis intervention;
  • Positive behavioral interventions, conflict resolution, and restorative justice techniques; and
  • Cultural competency.

Over 40 school districts were required to adopt a training policy by February 1, 2016, and officers were required to complete their training by June 1, 2016. See the summary created by Texas Appleseed for a list of school districts affected by HB 2684 reforms.

SB 1630: Keeping Justice-Involved Youth Closer to Home
After their adjudication (i.e., the juvenile equivalent of a conviction), youth may receive a wide range of sentences, including community supervision or state-level detention. In 2015, Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute released an analysis demonstrating the state and local impact of Texas juvenile justice reforms. The research showed that juveniles are more likely to succeed when they complete their dispositions closer to their home communities. The 84th Texas Legislature translated these findings into a reform effort that targeted both county- and state-level juvenile justice systems. Legislators passed SB 1630 (84th, Whitmire/Turner), which emphasized the use of community-based placements and programming over commitments to state-operated secure facilities. As a result, legislators expect to improve rehabilitative outcomes, decrease recidivism, and cut costs. SB 1630 included three main components: a regionalization plan, increased disposition options for youth, and expanded powers for the Office of the Independent Ombudsman (IO).

First, SB 1630 required TJJD to establish a task force with local juvenile justice stakeholders in order to develop a regionalization plan that keeps adjudicated youth closer to home. Task force members were charged with designing a plan that would: 1) identify the capacity of county-level post-adjudication facilities that can be used to divert youth away from state-level facilities and 2) determine the resources that the seven regions will need to complete these diversions successfully. In September 2015, the task force began meeting regularly to define the target population for diversion, determine how state funding for the reforms would be allocated, and finalize the regional and statewide plans. TJJD must also create a new division to assist in the plan’s implementation. The division is required to:

  • Approve plan protocols;
  • Provide training on best practices for all local probation departments affected by the plan;
  • Assist TJJD and local departments in the creation of evidence-based programs, particularly for youth with behavioral health issues;
  • Monitor the effectiveness of those programs; and
  • Issue reports on community programs and placements.

In FY 2016 and FY 2017, the regions must collectively divert 180 youth from state secure facilities. The task force identified several categories of youth who are particularly appropriate for diversion, including:

  • Youth with a serious mental illness;
  • Youth with an IDD;
  • Youth between the ages of 10 and 12;
  • Youth adjudicated for non-violent offenses; and
  • Youth with a low or moderate re-offense risk.

SB 1630 also expanded disposition options for youth. The law requires juveniles to undergo validated risk and needs assessments in order to identify individuals with behavioral health conditions. Once identified, those juveniles also become eligible for placement in county-level facilities closer to their homes. Further, TJJD must develop specialized programs to rehabilitate youth with behavioral health needs who cannot be served in their communities due to insufficient resources. SB 1630 requires TJJD to measure recidivism rates and juvenile well-being in order to determine if programs are addressing the underlying factors that influence delinquency.

Finally, SB 1630 increased the IO’s responsibilities to include the oversight of county-level post-adjudication facilities. For more information about the IO, see the Office of the Independent Ombudsman section later in this chapter of the guide.

SB 1149: Youth with Mental Illness and/or IDD in County-Level Justice Settings
In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed SB 1149 (84th, Watson/Workman), which complements the reforms passed in SB 1630. While SB 1630 addresses a regionalization plan for all justice-involved youth, SB 1149 includes specific provisions about the treatment of youth with mental illness and intellectual development disabilities (IDD) in county-level justice settings. First, the bill requires juvenile boards and probation departments to accept youth with mental illness and/or IDD into their custody. Then, the bill differentiates between the treatment that those juveniles should receive when they have an indeterminate or determinate sentence.

Indeterminate-sentenced youth: Juveniles with an indeterminate sentence (i.e., a sentence that may not extend beyond the youth’s 19th birthday) must be discharged if: 1) they have completed their minimum length of stay determined by their committing offense, and 2) the juvenile board or probation department determines that the juveniles cannot progress in their current treatment program because of their mental illness and/or IDD. Before discharge, the juvenile board or probation department must allow a psychiatrist to examine each juvenile with mental health needs and refer the youth to appropriate treatment services. Similarly, the board or department must refer youth with IDD to appropriate community services. These juveniles may also receive reentry services from Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI).

Determinate-sentenced youth: The bill allows juvenile boards and probation departments to petition juvenile courts for the initiation of mental health commitment proceedings for youth with determinate sentences (i.e., a blended sentence that allows for a youth’s transfer to the adult system upon his or her 19th birthday). If a youth’s commitment to a mental health facility expires prior to the end of his or her determinate sentence, a juvenile judge may either: 1) transfer the youth to a county-level juvenile probation department, 2) transfer the youth to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), or 3) release the youth under supervision in the community.

HB 839: CHIP and Medicaid Eligibility for Newly-Released Youth
The Texas Legislature also passed HB 839 (84th, Naishtat/Rodriguez) to improve continuity of care services for justice-involved youth with physical and mental health needs. Before legislators passed the bill, HHSC terminated medical benefits for juveniles who were sent to detention facilities and required them to reapply for benefits upon their release. As a result, youth experienced a gap in their health care coverage and rehabilitative progress. Legislators passed HB 839 to eliminate this coverage gap. The bill requires HHSC to merely suspend (rather than terminate) a juvenile’s eligibility for the child health plan program (CHIP) or Medicaid services and to reinstate each youth’s eligibility within 48 hours of his or her release from detention. The legislation also required HHSC to develop means by which juvenile facility employees may determine whether adjudicated youth are or were receiving CHIP or Medicaid benefits.

Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility
One highly debated juvenile justice reform did not pass in 2015. The Texas House of Representatives attempted to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 years old, but the Senate opposed the change. Currently, Texas and six other states set the age of criminal responsibility below 18. As a result, 17-year-old Texans are automatically treated as adults if they commit a crime. Then, they may be placed in adult prisons, where teenagers face inadequate treatment and educational opportunities and heightened risks of sexual victimization.

Texas’ age of criminal responsibility also contradicts federal age standards established by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003. According to PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard, any individuals under 18 who are incarcerated in adult correctional settings must be separated by “sight and sound” from adult prisoners. This PREA standard creates logistical and financial challenges for correctional administrators, especially those managing small jails who do not have sufficient resources to separate youth by any means other than solitary confinement – a housing option that creates long-lasting mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, hallucinations, and uncontrollable rage. If prison and jail officials fail to comply with PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standards, the federal government may withhold funding from the state of Texas.

By raising the age of criminal responsibility, 17-year-old Texans who commit crimes would be handled in the juvenile justice system by default; only those who commit the most serious offenses would be certified as adults and transferred to the adult system. The policy change could ease the mental health and management challenges created by PREA’s Youthful Inmate Standard. The Senate requested further study of the issue before the Texas Legislature takes action to raise the age of criminal responsibility.


The Corsicana Residential Treatment Center
During the 2013 legislative session, the Legislature directed TJJD to reduce the number of state-operated detention facilities from six to five following a decline in the juvenile justice population. In June 2013, TJJD recommended closing the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, a secure facility located south of Dallas in Navarro County that was designated solely for youth with significant mental health needs. Some of the services offered at the Corsicana facility included psychotherapy, behavioral interventions, substance use treatment, mental health assessments, and medication management. Between 2009 and 2012, Corsicana reported twice as many violent rule violations as any other TJJD facility. In 2012, the facility housed only 10% of TJJD’s juveniles but experienced 32% of all violent incidents reported by TJJD.

In the years before the facility’s closure, TJJD reviewed Corsicana youth to determine whether their needs could be met in a less restrictive setting. In December 2013, all 65 youth were transferred to a the McLennan Residential Treatment Center in Mart, Texas. The McLennan County facility now serves as the primary mental health treatment center for youth committed to state confinement.

Though Corsicana closed as a normal operations facility in 2013, three staff members remained at the facility to complete administrative tasks. As of March 2016, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) had not formally approved the closing of the Corsicana facility. In February 2016, however, TJJD employees from other secure facilities were sent to strip the Corsicana facility of its equipment.

The Turman and Beto Halfway Houses
In 2013, the TJJD Board of Directors also voted to close down two underused halfway houses: the Turman House in Austin and the Beto House in McAllen. A halfway house is a residential center where juveniles may live following their release from a secure institution. Youth placed in these centers continue to receive support and monitoring as they begin their reentry process.

Between 2009 and 2013, TJJD decreased its use of commitments to secure and nonsecure residential facilities by 44%. Following this population decline, TJJD board members decided to condense halfway house services from 10 to 8 facilities. Before closing in 2013, the Turman House served an average daily population of 16.98 youth, while the Beto House served an average daily population of 15.58 youth. After closing, youth who typically would have received treatment at the Turman House were sent to the Ayres House in San Antonio; youth who would have received treatment at the Beto House were sent to the Edna Tamayo House in Harlingen.


In 2011, TJJD partnered with the University of Texas at Austin Center for Social Work Research to adopt an evidence-based treatment for trauma designed specifically for juvenile correctional settings. TJJD piloted the Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) program at Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex, McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility, and Giddings State School. TF-CBT is an evidence-based treatment designed to reduce negative emotional and behavioral responses following traumatic events. By March 2016, a treatment developer trained 40 clinical staff at TJJD facilities in TF-CBT,51 and 57 youth were enrolled in the pilot program.

As of May 2016, the UT Center for Social Work Research had not yet released an evaluation of the TF-CBT pilot program. Therefore, the Center cannot yet state the measured impact that the program has had on service delivery and outcomes. However, since the pilot’s inception, TJJD mental health providers have reported that the program increased the consistency and sophistication with which therapy was provided to youth with histories of trauma. In 2013, TJJD’s Director of Treatment formally required all psychiatry staff to provide evidence-based therapy to committed youth. By 2016, all youth with a mental health need, including those with trauma-related diagnoses, were receiving therapy services by psychiatry staff.

The Texas Juvenile Justice System

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s (TJJD) mission is to “transform young lives and create safer communities” throughout Texas. To accomplish this mission, TJJD provides educational and behavioral health services to justice-involved youth committed to the agency’s five secure state facilities and eight halfway houses. TJJD also partners with local juvenile justice systems across the state. At the county level, TJJD works with local juvenile boards and probation departments to enhance community-based programming, placements, and supervision. TJJD’s responsibilities in local counties include:

  • Providing funding, technical assistance, and training to county justice officials;
  • Establishing and overseeing standards of operation in county facilities;
  • Analyzing and disseminating data to local justice boards and probation departments; and
  • Facilitating communication between state and local leaders.

While the adult system is a criminal system that emphasizes punishment, the juvenile system is a civil system that emphasizes rehabilitation. As a result, the legal terms and concepts used in juvenile justice procedures differ from those used in the adult criminal justice setting. Figure 129 and Figure 130 offer a point of reference for parallel terms used in the adult and juvenile justice systems, as well as common definitions for terms used in the juvenile system.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (n.d.). Definitions for Common TJJD Terms & Acronyms.
Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (n.d.). Determining How Long Youth Stay in TJJD.

A full list of terms and definitions commonly used throughout TJJD is available.

Cost and Funding Summary

On May 31, 2016 there were 1,086 youth committed to TJJD’s state secure facilities, 126 youth in halfway houses, and 114 youth in contract care facilities. In 2015, the LBB estimated that youth in these residential facilities cost $437.11 per day. In contrast, youth on parole cost $31.93 per day, and youth on probation cost $5.40 per day. Figure 131 shows the difference in cost between the adult and juvenile justice systems in Texas.

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Source: Legislative Budget Board. (2015, April 1). Fiscal Note, 84th Legislative Regular Session in Re: HB 1205 by Dutton. 2.


TJJD’s operating budget in FY 2016 was $324,782,192. Figure 132 breaks down TJJD’s budget by funding source, and Figure 133 breaks down the budget by agency goal. In FY 2016, mental health care services were incorporated within TJJD’s Goal 2 (Maintaining State Services, Facilities, and Oversight) shown in green within Figure 133.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December 1). Operating Budget Fiscal Year 2016 Submitted to the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy and the Legislative Budget Board. 8. Note: The category “Other Funds” includes the following: interagency contracts, such as criminal justice grants and transfers from the Foundation School Fund No. 193; appropriated receipts; and general obligation bond proceeds.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December 1). Operating Budget Fiscal Year 2016 Submitted to the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy and the Legislative Budget Board. 4. 

The 84th Texas Legislature appropriated about $84.2 million in FY 2016 and $84.7 million in FY 2017 for the provision of behavioral health and substance use services within TJJD. Legislators also created the Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council comprised of 18 state agencies, including TJJD, to develop a five-year strategic plan and expenditure. The plan and proposal will help agency leaders determine how behavioral health funds can be spent most efficiently and effectively across the state. For more information on the strategic plan and the expenditure proposal for 2017 can be found in the HHSC section of this guide.


TJJD distributes a portion of its state funding to local juvenile probation departments in order to underwrite various probation activities, including special services for juveniles with behavioral health needs. County probation departments may also use federal funding to support their activities. For example, federal Title IV-E funding is a key resource for youth who are involved in both foster care and the justice system. Counties, however, provide the majority of funding for community-based probation services. Using a mix of local, state, and federal funds, county probation departments offer a wide array of mental health and substance use services, including counseling, intensive in-home family services, and substance use prevention and intervention. Figure 134 shows the funding breakdown for local juvenile probation departments in FY 2015.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December). Annual Report to the Governor and Legislative Budget Board: Community Juvenile Justice Appropriations, Riders and Special Diversion Programs. 7.

How Juveniles Move through TJJD

Texas youth who move through TJJD’s system typically encounter six major steps, including:

  1. An arrest by local law enforcement;
  2. Sentencing by a county juvenile court judge;
  3. Fulfillment of a disposition (i.e., sentence) in a state-level facility (e.g., a detention center or halfway house), county-level facility, and/or in the community, depending upon the juvenile’s committing offense and judicial discretion;
  4. Appraisal by the TJJD Release Review Panel (for youth committed to a secure state-level facility);
  5. Completion of parole supervision; and
  6. Discharge from TJJD.

The following section will describe each of these steps in greater detail.


The vast majority of juveniles who come into contact with the justice system commit low-level offenses. In 2014, Texas law enforcement officers made 57,447 juvenile arrests. Larceny-theft, running away from home, drug abuse violations, and violations of curfew and loitering laws (all of which are nonviolent offenses) accounted for nearly 50% of those arrests. Figure 135 shows the top five most common crimes for which Texas youth were arrested in 2014. In contrast, juveniles were arrested for 1,567 aggravated assaults, 759 robberies, and 30 murders in 2014.

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Source: Texas Department of Public Safety. (2015). 2014 Crime in Texas Report: Texas Arrest Data. 73. 

Youth with mental illness are three times more likely than their peers to be arrested before finishing grade school. Once they have made contact with the police, these individuals are more likely than others to face charges for minor offenses, such as those listed in Figure 135. Some youth also become involved in the justice system without receiving a formal charge; they are routed to the justice system in order to receive treatment or to manage disruptive behaviors that result from unidentified mental health conditions.


Following an arrest, juveniles are taken to a county juvenile probation department, where they go through the intake and assessment process. At this stage, most youth are released to a parent or guardian as they await more information about their disposition. Others may be diverted away from the justice system and into community-based programs, or their cases may be dismissed entirely. Youth who are not diverted or released to a caretaker must appear before a juvenile court judge within 48 hours of intake.

A Juvenile court judge typically makes a determination on whether a youth’s case can be handled informally or if the youth must be placed under TJJD custody. For example, a juvenile court judge can allow the youth to remain in his or her community on a deferred prosecution or probation sentence, or the judge may sentence the youth to detention in a county or state facility. Placements within a detention facility are reserved for high-risk youth whom judges determine are in need of intensive intervention. Since 2007, only juveniles who commit felonies are eligible for placement in state secure facilities, while youth who commit misdemeanors must be kept in county-level facilities or in their home communities. Between 2007 and 2015, TJJD relied more heavily on communitybased interventions for youth, causing the average daily population within residential facilities to decrease by about 76%.

Admission into a TJJD secure facility is one of the most serious placements for a juvenile in Texas. However, Texas law also allows courts to certify youth who are over the age of 13 as adults and transfer them to the adult criminal justice system. In theory, juveniles who commit the most serious offenses, such as murder, may get sent to adult criminal court. In practice, data show that the primary difference between assignment to the juvenile or the adult system is the county of conviction, not the youth’s offense history. In a 2011 study, researchers found that court officials in six counties (Harris, Jefferson, Hidalgo, Nueces, Lubbock, and Potter) disproportionately chose to certify youth as adults, instead of giving juveniles determinate sentences.

Figure 136 shows the number of referrals and dispositions for youth involved in the juvenile justice system in FY 2015. For more information about secure placements and the behavioral health treatments available to youth within these placements, see the “Behavioral Health Services in the Juvenile Justice System” section of this chapter.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December). Annual Report to the Governor and Legislative Budget Board: Community Juvenile Justice Appropriations, Riders and Special Diversion Programs. 13.
Note: The “formal referrals” data include the total number of times youth were referred to juvenile probation departments. The “juveniles referred” data includes the total number of youth who were referred to probation. Because one juvenile can be referred to the department more than once, the “formal referrals” data point is greater than the “juveniles referred” data point.


After juveniles with indeterminate sentences complete their minimum length of stay within a TJJD facility, officials on TJJD’s Release Review Panel assess each youth’s progress. The three-member panel examines the youth’s behavior, educational accomplishments, and response to behavioral health treatments to determine if the youth can be served safely in the community. The panel may choose to release the youth into the community on parole or extend his or her stay within a TJJD facility. In FY 2015, the Release Review Panel extended juveniles’ stays within secure facilities 66% of the time. Within those extension decisions, about 19% of the juveniles had moderate mental health needs and about 40% had high substance use treatment needs.


When juveniles successfully complete their dispositions, TJDD may discharge them from custody. Juveniles are typically discharged because 1) they finish their treatment program, 2) they turn 19 and are no longer under TJJD’s jurisdiction, or 3) they receive a determinate sentence and are transferred to the adult justice system in order to complete their sentence. Just like adults, justice-involved youth with mental illness often face challenges upon reentry, including stigma and discontinuity of care.

Disproportionality in the Texas Juvenile Justice System 

Black and Hispanic youth tend to fare worse than their white peers at most stages of the justice process. For example, across the country, African American juveniles are more likely than white youth to be arrested, referred to juvenile court, sent to secure confinement facilities, and certified as adults. Figure 137 shows the rates at which white, African American, and Hispanic youth in Texas experienced various stages of the juvenile justice system in FY 2013. Though white juveniles had higher rates of arrest, youth of color were more likely to be referred to court, detained, and found delinquent.

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Source: The W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness & Equity. (2013). Unbalanced Juvenile Justice.
Note: Comparisons of arrest to population are rates per 1,000 youth. All other categories are rates per 100 youth at the prior decision point (e.g., 16 white youth referred to court per 100 white youth arrested). 

Youth of color are also more likely to be caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education reported that, though youth of different races misbehave at similar rates, minority youth are more likely to be suspended and expelled from school. In Texas specifically, researchers found that, after controlling for 83 different variables, African American youth are 31% more likely than their white and Hispanic peers to receive a disciplinary action for a discretionary violation (e.g., a behavioral violation for which school administrators have the discretion to remove a student from the classroom environment, though they are not required to do so). Such disparities in school discipline place youth of color at greater risk for becoming involved in the juvenile justice system in the future.

In 2015, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center analyzed the racial and ethnic impacts of Texas juvenile justice reforms that have taken place since 2007. Researchers found that the reforms impacted youth of all races equally; the policies did not exacerbate or improve disproportionate minority involvement in the Texas juvenile justice system.

In 2011, SB 501 (82nd, West/Dukes) created the Interagency Council on Addressing Disproportionality (the IC) to complete two tasks: 1) examine best practices for addressing disproportionality in the human health and services agencies, including juvenile justice settings, and 2) develop recommendations on the best means of eliminating disproportionality in the long-run. In 2012, the agency developed a report for the Texas Legislature summarizing their progress on these tasks.

The report highlighted the “Texas model” as a means to address disproportionality. The model includes the following components:

  • Data-driven strategies;
  • Leadership development;
  • A culturally competent workforce;
  • Community engagement;
  • Cross-systems collaborations; and
  • Training defined by anti-racist principles, as well as an understanding of the history of institutional racism and its impact on poor communities and communities of color

In 2013, the IC expired, and the Legislature replaced it with the Statewide Advisory Coalition for Addressing Disproportionality and Disparities. The coalition operates within HHSC’s Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities (CEDD) and holds responsibilities similar to those of the IC. In 2016, the coalition’s main priorities included children’s mental health, infant mortality, and workforce issues for individuals with disabilities. In December 2016, CEDD will release a report for the Texas Legislature outlining the coalition’s formal recommendations, including means to strengthen data collection on disparity issues. CEDD, however, does not hold the power to enforce its recommendations. Only DFPS is legislatively mandated to address disproportionality within its service delivery, while other agencies, including TJJD, may choose whether to implement the coalition’s suggestions.

The Office of the Independent Ombudsman 

In 2007, the 80th Texas Legislature created the Office of the Independent Ombudsman (IO) as a separate state agency responsible for investigating, evaluating, and securing the rights of youth committed to TJJD. The independent ombudsman investigates a variety of complaints, including medical and mental health concerns, abuse allegations, and suicidal ideation and attempts. Three of the IO’s major duties include:

  • Providing information to legislators and the public regarding facility grievance procedures;
  • Regularly visiting and inspecting secure TJJD facilities; and
  • Tracking Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation (ANE) incidents in all county facilities.

During the 84th legislative session, lawmakers passed SB 1630 (84th, Whitmire/Turner) to implement broad reforms to the juvenile justice system, including an expansion of the IO’s oversight duties. Prior to 2015, the IO was responsible for inspecting state-level secure TJJD facilities, halfway houses, state contract care facilities, and parole offices. Following SB 1630, the IO must also inspect county-level post-adjudication facilities and contract facilities where county post-adjudicated youth are placed. Figure 138 below summarizes the IO’s activities during FY 2015, and the first half of FY 2016. The IO receives the majority of complaints directly from youth while inspectors visit state secure facilities and county post-adjudication facilities.

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Source: Independent Ombudsman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2016). Second Quarter Report FY 16: December 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016. 1.

Behavioral Health Services in the Juvenile Justice System

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department, local juvenile probation departments, and the Texas Correctional Office for Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI) provide services for youth with mental health and substance use conditions in a variety of juvenile justice settings, including state secure facilities, secure residential treatment centers, and county secure facilities. The agencies also provide services for youth who are under probation or parole supervision in the community.

Between 2009 and 2015, a growing proportion of justice-involved youth required and received behavioral health services in Texas. In 2015, 99% of the newly-admitted youth to TJJD required at least one area of specialized treatment. Half of the new youth also required mental health treatment by a licensed or specially trained provider. Between 2009 and 2015, TJJD increased its use of specialized treatment by 32% to meet juveniles’ behavioral health needs. During that same time period, advances in early detection and treatment for youth with mental health conditions reduced re-arrest rates, off-site hospitalizations, and self-harm among TJJD youth. However, while the percentage of youth in need of both mental health and substance use treatments has increased since 2012, the percentage of youth successfully completing both types of programs fell from 61% in 2012 to 42% in 2014.

The following section describes the behavioral health services available to justice-involved youth. Services are divided into the following four categories:

  1. Behavioral health services in state secure facilities
  2. Behavioral health services in county-level secure facilities
  3. Behavioral health services for youth on parole
  4. Community-based behavioral health services offered by juvenile probation departments

Behavioral Health Services in State Secure Facilities 

Texas operates five state secure facilities for youth adjudicated for felony offenses.100 On May 31, 2016, there were 1,086 youth housed at the state’s five secure facilities. Figure 139 below shows the name and location of the state secure facilities. In FY 2015, about one-quarter of newly-committed youth were adjudicated for high-severity crimes, such as capital offenses.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (n.d.). TJJD Facilities Address List.


All juveniles who are committed to a TJJD facility must first go to the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex to receive orientation and assessment services. These services last approximately 28 to 35 days during which time youth receive psychiatric and health evaluations, as well as an introduction to TJJD’s treatment programs.

After orientation, youth are dispersed to various state secure facilities depending upon the juvenile’s specific treatment needs. Approximately 15% of youth are placed in a halfway house following orientation, while many other juveniles in state custody fulfill their dispositions within secure detention facilities. All girls who are committed to a detention facility must remain at the Ron Jackson complex because it is the only secure facility that serves females. Programming and services at Ron Jackson are similar to those offered at the McLennan County Residential Treatment Center, but they are modified to reflect the unique needs of female youth. In November 2013, the Ron Jackson facility transitioned from an all-girls complex to a co-ed complex in order to make more efficient use of the facility’s existing bed space. Though girls and boys are housed in the same facility, they attend different rehabilitative programs and live in separate units. In FY 2015, the Ron Jackson facility served 188 girls and 887 boys (including boys who solely received orientation services at the facility).

In October 2014, the Ron Jackson complex also created a male intake unit for boys under 15 years old. Between October 2014 and March 2016, the intake unit served 35 boys. Children under 15 who have been committed to a state secure facility are kept at the Ron Jackson facility until they are about 14 years old. At this time, TJJD and juvenile court stakeholders may choose between three courses of action depending upon the individual child’s treatment needs:

  1. The child may be kept at Ron Jackson to finish his or her assigned sentence;
  2. The child may be sent to another secure facility that can meet his or her treatment needs; or
  3. The child may be transferred to a halfway house or to the community if TJJD staff members determine that release is both safe and clinically appropriate.


All five state secure facilities use a multi-faceted rehabilitation program called CoNEXTions, which provides life skills training, education, and workforce development services to all committed youth. Juvenile justice programs traditionally focus on establishing control over youth. The CoNEXTions program instead uses an evidence-based therapeutic framework that incentivizes positive behavioral change and connects youth with social support systems. The program aims to reduce criminogenic risk factors, increase protective factors, and decrease recidivism among justice-involved youth.

Psychiatric and psychological services are also available within all secure facilities. Youth who are identified as having a serious mental health need are taken to TJJD’s primary mental health treatment facility, the McLennan Residential Treatment Center (MRTC) in Mart, Texas. Youth with the most severe forms of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, may be served within MRTC’s Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU). Equipped with eight beds, the CSU provides hospital-level psychiatric care within a secure TJJD facility. Juveniles may be admitted to the CSU only if their psychiatric crisis presents a risk of serious harm to themselves or others, the crisis could lead to deterioration if left untreated, and placement in the CSU is the least restrictive intervention that is available to and appropriate for the youth.

Youth who are identified as having a high need for specialized services or who are at high risk for violent recidivism are assigned to specialized treatment programs within TJJD. These specialized treatment programs are designed for youth who have committed serious violent or sexual offenses and/or youth with substance use conditions, mental health conditions, or intellectual disabilities. Figure 140 highlights the specialized treatment programs that exist across the state.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December). The Annual Review of Treatment Effectiveness.

Behavioral Health Services in County-Level Secure Facilities

At the county level, juveniles may be placed in two different types of facilities that offer various behavioral health services: pre- and post-adjudication facilities. Texas has 49 pre-adjudication facilities operated by counties to detain youth who are deemed unsafe for release back into the community while awaiting adjudication. These juveniles are detained before a judge provides a “true” or “not true” finding for each youth’s offense. Approximately 500 Texas juveniles spent 100 days or more in pre-adjudication facilities at the county level in FY 2015. About 36% (180 youth) of these individuals were formally referred for a non-felony offense.

Texas also has 36 post-adjudication secure facilities operated at the county level. These facilities detain adjudicated youth who have committed offenses that are not severe enough to warrant placement in a state secure facility.

Because local juvenile justice systems rely heavily on county and local funding sources, the availability of treatment and support services varies across the state. Figure 141 displays the number of pre- and post-adjudication facilities that offer specialized mental health, substance use, sex offense, and female-specific services. A full listing of all county-level juvenile justice facilities and the services offered by each is available.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (n.d.). Registered Juvenile Facilities in Texas (CY2015).

Following SB 1630 (84th, Whitmire/Turner), at least 180 juveniles will be diverted away from state secure facilities and into county juvenile justice systems. However, as shown in Figure 140, counties differ in their capacity to provide services for justice-involved youth. In 2015, county-level stakeholders reported that the lack of professional mental health providers within their regions was a potential barrier to the successful implementation of SB 1630. In November 2015, the TJJD Regionalization Task Force began developing funding protocols to ensure that county-level juvenile justice departments would have the necessary financial support to provide services to diverted youth. These protocols state that TJJD may allocate the $11.3 million available for SB 1630 reforms in two ways. First, regions can receive start-up funds each year between FY 2016 and FY 2019 that can be used to benefit juveniles targeted for diversion, as well as other justice-involved youth. Second, regions may apply for additional funding that must be directed specifically to the programming and placement needs of youth targeted for diversion from state-run facilities.

Behavioral Health Services for Youth on Parole

In Texas, parole officers must receive extensive training on working with youth with mental and behavioral health issues. Further, TCOOMMI provides continuity of care services to youth with a mental health diagnosis who are released on parole following their placement in a state or county secure facility. (TCOOMMI also provides services to youth on probation; those services will be described in the next subsection.) In May 2016, the average daily population on parole in Texas was 420 youth. The state may also place paroled youth with a mental illness in therapeutic foster homes, group living arrangements, or residential treatment facilities. Services targeted for youth released on parole who have a serious mental illness and who require post-release treatment include:

  • Individualized assessments;
  • Service coordination;
  • Medication monitoring;
  • Advocacy services in the community;
  • Transitional services to other treatment programs; and
  • Benefits eligibility and application assistance.

Community-Based Behavioral Health Services Offered by Juvenile Probation Departments

In FY 2015, juvenile probation departments received 62,535 formal referrals throughout the state. The majority (51%) of referrals were for youth who committed misdemeanors. Figure 142 shows the type of offenses that precipitated referrals to juvenile probation departments.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December). Annual Report to the Governor and Legislative Budget Board: Community Juvenile Justice Appropriations, Riders, and Special Diversion Programs. 12.

By law, local juvenile probation departments must screen all Texas youth for mental health needs within 48 hours of the juvenile’s admission to a pre- or post-adjudication facility using the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI-2). If a screening indicates that further assessment is appropriate, local juvenile probation departments must either: 1) conduct a second screening and refer the youth to a licensed physician within 48 hours, or 2) forgo a second screening and refer youth to a qualified mental health professional by the end of the next working day. In 2015, TJJD reported that 35% of juveniles who were referred to juvenile probation had an identified mental health need. Approximately 20% of formally referred juveniles screened in FY 2015 were recommended for a subsequent mental health assessment. A detailed flowchart of the screening and referral process is available.

Texas counties vary in their capacity to identify and address youth with mental health needs. Though there is a high prevalence of mental health need among justice-involved youth, few juveniles access mental health services prior to entering the justice system. Instead, many juveniles experience mental health treatment for the first time after they have been arrested, adjudicated, or diverted to mandated community treatment programs.

County juvenile probation departments may partner with TCOOMMI, local mental health authorities (LMHAs), Community Resource Coordination Groups (CRCGs) to provide justice-involved youth with behavioral health services. CRCGs are local interagency groups comprised of public and private entities that coordinate service delivery for juveniles across the state. Communities initially created these groups in 1987 after the Texas Legislature directed state agencies to improve community-based services for juveniles with cross-agency needs.

Youth with mental health needs may receive services from juvenile probation departments, TCOOMMI, LMHAs, and CRCGs for a variety of reasons. Some children may be diverted from the probation system to receive mandated behavioral health services in their home communities. Judges could also offer youth deferred adjudication and order treatment as a condition of dismissing each juvenile’s charges. Finally, youth who are adjudicated and placed on probation may be required to participate in either residential or community-based programs, such as counseling or substance use treatment. Approximately 39% of juveniles on deferred prosecution or probation supervision were identified as having a mental health need in FY 2015, a decrease from 44% in FY 2013.

Figure 143 indicates the number of youth discharged from detention and supervision in FY 2015 who were linked to community services, such as behavioral health treatment, care management, and support services, through TCOOMMI or CRCGs. Discharge does not always coincide with a youth’s release into the community; instead, discharge refers to the ending of all TJJD custody, supervision, and/or services. Youth on parole, for example, have been released into the community but not discharged from TJJD because they must remain under correctional control until they complete their parole disposition.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2016, July). Data Request: Services for discharged youth.

In FY 2015, 33,926 unique youth were served in community-based programs. About 39% of those youth (or approximately 13,200 individuals) had an identified mental health need; these youth participated in 32,504 community-based programs throughout FY 2015. Figure 144 indicates the number of programs in which youth with mental health needs participated during FY 2015, including mental health and mental health court programs, counseling services, substance abuse prevention and intervention programs, and substance abuse treatment and drug court programs.

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Source: The Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2016, June). Data Request: Community-based behavioral health programs

Definitional Note: “Behavioral health services” are typically one-time events designed to meet a juvenile’s immediate need, such as a medical appointment, an assessment, or psychological testing. “Programs,” such as the counseling and substance use treatment programs listed in Figure 144, are planned activities or interventions with specific goals and curricula. These programs may include counseling, anger management, and the Special Needs Diversionary Program.


TJJD funds programs in local juvenile probation departments through diverse initiatives and grants. The programs aim to keep youth out of state-operated secure facilities and instead serve them in their local communities. The following section describes a variety of programs with behavioral health components that are available to local juvenile probation departments.

Prevention and Intervention Programs
In 2011, the 82nd Texas Legislature funded prevention and intervention programs to stop “at-risk behaviors that can lead to delinquency, truancy, school dropout, or referral to the juvenile justice system.” In 2012, TJJD approved the initial investment of $1.4 million for 24 prevention and early intervention programs. The programs are designed to serve youth ages 6 to 17 who are not currently receiving supervision services but who are at high risk for referral to the justice system.

In FY 2015, almost $3.1 million was appropriated for prevention and early intervention services, and 23 departments were awarded funding.148 The departments focused on three types of interventions:

  • Partnerships with out-of-school service providers who can provide educational assistance, skills building, character development, and mentoring services after school and during the summer;
  • Programs for parents and guardians of at-risk youth to help caregivers better manage their child’s behaviors; and
  • Collaborations with local elementary, middle, and high schools to prevent truancy by ensuring that at-risk students remain actively engaged in their educational environments.

In FY 2015, 3,355 youth received prevention and intervention services. The average age of the participants was 11 years old, and about three-quarters of the youth served were either Hispanic or African American. In 2015, 91% of youth exiting prevention and intervention programs finished their program’s requirements successfully. Service providers predict that participation in such programs can reduce each youth’s chances of becoming involved in the juvenile and adult justice systems in the future. Figure 145 shows the number of youth who began, finished, or successfully completed participation in prevention and intervention programs in FY 2015.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December). Annual Report to the Governor and Legislative Budget Board: Community Juvenile Justice Appropriations, Riders and Special Diversion Programs. 19.

The 2015-2016 General Appropriations Act required TJJD to partner with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Texas Military Department in the provision of juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention programs. The agencies created a workgroup to minimize redundancy and optimize services for at-risk Texas youth. In particular, the Legislature requested that the agencies determine how they will manage the consolidation of prevention and intervention services following the HHSC Transformation. (For more information on the HHSC Transformation, see the HHSC chapter of this guide). By September 2016, the workgroup must submit a five-year strategic plan to the Texas Legislature. By October of each fiscal year, the agencies must also submit utilization and effectiveness data to the LBB.

Community-Based Programs and Services
Community-based programs within juvenile probation departments continue to grow each fiscal year. To manage information about these programs, TJJD created its online Program and Services Registry in 2010. The registry catalogues all active community-based programs offered by various juvenile probation departments across the state. Both juvenile probation departments and contracted agencies must provide information regarding the service components of active programs, including their duration, funding, and eligibility requirements. Access the registry.

In May 2016, local juvenile probation departments offered 2,245 active community-based programs to at-risk youth, justice-involved youth, and their families. These programs involved a wide array of services, including counseling services, gang intervention programs, parenting classes, and employment training. In FY 2015, 29% of youth participants were enrolled in a treatment-based program, 48% were enrolled in a skills-building program, and 23% were enrolled in a surveillance-based program. Almost half (47%) of all youth on deferred prosecution or under probation supervision participated in at least one community-based program in 2015, and 27% participated in three or more programs.

Community-based programs are not dispersed evenly across the state’s 166 juvenile probation departments. The availability of community-based programs depends upon local county resources and the unique needs of youth in a particular community. In 2013, the ten urban juvenile probation departments had the most programs, with an average of 42 per department. Medium and large probation departments offered an average of 11 and 18 programs, respectively. Small departments offered an average of five programs per department, but they often did not offer targeted programs, such as mental health courts or runaway programs, that are typically available in larger counties. Instead, smaller departments provided counseling and educational programs designed to serve the needs of a wide array of juveniles, not only those with more specific behavioral health needs.

The duration of community-based programs also varies widely. Some programs last one afternoon while others can last the entirety of a juvenile’s supervision. Figure 146 lists the average duration of service for community-based programs with behavioral health components.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2013, June). Community-Based Program Evaluation Series: Overview of Community-Based Juvenile Probation Programs. 4.

Community Corrections Diversion Program (Grant C)
In 2009, the 81st Legislature created the Commitment Diversion Program (Grant C) through Rider 21 in the general appropriations bill. Through this program, the state provides funds to local juvenile probation departments in order to develop community-based rehabilitative services and divert youth away from TJJD facilities. The funds support a range of services, such as counseling, educational programs, life skills courses, and electronic monitoring – all of which are designed to keep youth out of state-operated facilities while maintaining public safety. All probation departments are eligible for the grant program, but 11 departments declined to participate in 2015.

In FY 2015, 6,528 juveniles received a program, placement, or service funded at least in part by the Community Corrections Diversion Program. The majority (72%) of juveniles served by Grant C funds were under probation supervision, though youth on deferred prosecution are also eligible for services. In total, 3,533 juveniles exited the supervision disposition associated with a Grant C program, and of those, 78% completed their supervision successfully.

Mental Health Services Grant (Grant N)
In 2014, TJJD began allocating funds for the Mental Health Services Grant (Grant N) in order to expand the availability of mental health screenings, assessments, and evaluations for juveniles within local probation departments. Juvenile probation departments cannot use Grant N funds to cover administrative expenses or to supplant local funding. Instead, the Mental Health Services Grant must be used to fund:

  • Mental health screenings, assessments, and evaluations to identify youth with mental illness;
  • Residential mental health services;
  • Salaries for mental health professionals and contracted service providers;
  • Medications associated with treating a diagnosed mental illness; and/or
  • Community mental health programs and services.

TJJD allocated $12.8 million in both FY 2016 and FY 2017 to fund mental health services provided by local juvenile probation departments. Funding was provided in two tiers. Tier I funding may be used to establish new mental health services on a per-referral basis. Higher rates of funding are provided to smaller probation departments that operate pre- or post-adjudication facilities. Probation departments that manage one or more facilities with 80 beds or fewer may receive Tier I funding for one full-time mental health professional; departments that manage facilities with more than 80 beds may receive Tier I funds for two full-time mental health professionals. Departments without a pre- or post-adjudication facility can also receive Tier I funding to secure mental health services. Tier II funding may be used to fund and/or expand existing services for youth with mental health conditions.

Diversion Programs for Youth with Behavioral Health Conditions

In its 2017-2021 strategic plan, TJJD stated that its top goal moving forward is to minimize juveniles’ immersion in the justice system. Diverting youth with mental health conditions from incarceration and further involvement in the juvenile justice system has significant health and economic benefits. Texas operates a number of diversion initiatives around the state to help youth “stay as shallow as possible” in the justice system. This section will describe several of those programs in the order in which juveniles experience the justice system.

The Front-End Diversion Initiative

In 2008, the MacArthur Foundation targeted front-end juvenile justice diversion through its Models for Change grant initiative. Texas was among the original eight states that received grant funding. In partnership with local probation departments, TJJD developed the Front-End Diversion Initiative (FEDI) to divert youth away from the justice system before they are formally adjudicated. FEDI links youth with mental health needs to specialized juvenile probation officers (SJPO) who receive comprehensive training on mental illness, family engagement, de-escalation, and problem-solving techniques. For about three to six months, SJPOs meet with enrolled juveniles and their families on a weekly basis to fulfill each youth’s crisis stabilization plan and connect juveniles to community resources. After this supervision period, juveniles, their families, and their SJPOs create an aftercare plan that outlines ongoing support systems that youth may use once they formally exit FEDI.

In 2008, FEDI was launched in four Texas counties: Austin, Dallas, Lubbock, and San Antonio. The program was later expanded to include Houston. In 2014, the National Institute of Justice designated FEDI as a “Promising Program” for its successes with pre-adjudicated youth, and in 2016, FEDI program researchers in Texas were recruited to replicate FEDI in Maryland. Some of FEDI’s successes include:

  • Within 90 days of supervision, FEDI participants are 11 times less likely to be adjudicated than their peers receiving traditional supervision services.
  • Four FEDI sites (Austin, Dallas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) report a 0% percent turnover rate among SJPOs, while most juvenile probation departments report a 35% turnover rate over four years.
  • FEDI officers engage in over 10 times more collateral contacts in the community than traditional probation officers do, leading participants to use more community services than other justice-involved youth. Figure 147 shows the difference in the use of community services among youth enrolled in the FEDI program and youth receiving traditional supervision services.

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Source: National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. (2015, April). Diverting Youth at Probation Intake: The Front-End Diversion Initiative. 6.

Specialty Juvenile Courts

Specialty courts aim to address the underlying causes of juvenile justice involvement. The courts serve individuals who could benefit from supervised treatment but for whom commitment to a secure facility may be clinically inappropriate. Specialty courts often operate as one piece of a larger continuum of diversion services for youth with behavioral health conditions. The most frequently used specialty courts for juveniles are mental health courts and drug courts. Both types of courts utilize individual treatment plans, case management, and judicial supervision to link youth to treatment services in the community.

In April 2016, Texas operated specialized mental health courts for youth in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, El Paso, and Travis counties. A 2011 evaluation of specialty courts found that mental health courts in Texas are an effective alternative to placement in psychiatric hospitals and detention facilities because treatment-oriented court teams effectively address criminogenic risk factors, such as family poverty. In 2015, researchers also demonstrated that individuals who participate in juvenile mental health courts experience improved psychiatric outcomes and significantly fewer rearrests and re-convictions than their peers with similar criminal histories.

Although the courts produce positive outcomes, recent data also show racial and gender disparities in access to this diversion strategy. Further, the authors’ attempts to gather data on the number of youth who are served within these resource-intensive programs compared to those who could potentially benefit from such services demonstrate the need for improved data collection and analysis among existing specialty court programs. As of July 2016, centralized data on the number of youth served in specialty courts and their overall outcomes did not exist.

Collaborative Opportunities for Positive Experiences (COPE) is a Travis County juvenile court project initially funded through the Bureau of Justice Assistance. COPE was the first program in Texas to divert youth with mental illness or brain injuries away from the justice system before prosecution and adjudication. Each multi-disciplinary COPE team consists of a court judge, a legal representative for the youth, the assistant district attorney, three probation officers, a casework manager, and mental health professionals with expertise in child mental health. To participate in COPE, juveniles must be eligible for deferred adjudication and their families must commit to involvement in the program. Enrolled youth must cooperate under intensive probation supervision, engage in therapeutic mental health treatment, and successfully meet individualized program requirements in order to have their charges dismissed.193 Every three to six weeks, juveniles also attend family meetings during which the COPE team can monitor each juvenile’s progress and address problems using a strengths-based perspective. Enrollment typically lasts about six to 12 months before juveniles are released from the program and their charges are dismissed.

Juvenile drug courts use a similar model of diversion. Juveniles who have been charged with drug-related crimes receive a combination of judicial supervision and treatment management in order to prevent future involvement with the justice system. In 2015, there were over 400 juvenile drug courts nationwide. In April 2016, 24 of those courts were located in Texas.

The Special Needs Diversionary Program 

In 2001, the 77th Texas Legislature appropriated specialized funding to Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (since changed to TJJD) and TCOOMMI in order to provide mental health treatment and intensive supervision to Texas youth who committed crimes. The agencies used this funding to establish the Special Needs Diversionary Program (SNDP), which seeks to rehabilitate and prevent future justice involvement among youth with diagnosed mental health conditions (excluding substance use conditions, intellectual disabilities, autism, and pervasive development disorder). Once enrolled in SNDP, juveniles and their families have 24/7 access to at least one SNDP core team member for crisis resolution services.

In 2015, 20 local juvenile probation departments utilized SNDP services. Specialized probation officers partnered with mental health professionals from LMHAs to provide diverse services, including:

  • Mental health services, such as individual and family therapy;
  • Probation services, such as life skills training, anger management, and mentoring; and
  • Parental support and education services.

In FY 2015, the Texas Legislature appropriated about $2 million to SNDP, and the program served 1,309 juveniles. Of those served in FY 2015, 37% of youth had at least three previous juvenile probation referrals, 52% had a felony offense in their history, and nine percent were previously spent time in a residential placement facility. Traditionally, three of the most common diagnoses among SNDP participants are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and bipolar disorder.

Referrals to secure state facilities and re-offense rates are used as measures of program effectiveness. Of the youth starting SNDP in FY 2014, 58% committed a new Class B misdemeanor offense or an offense of greater severity within one year. Further, about 2% of youth who began SNDP in 2014 were committed to a TJJD facility within one year. Figure 148 shows the number of juveniles who entered, exited, and successfully completed SNDP in FY 2014 and FY 2015.

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Source: Texas Juvenile Justice Department. (2015, December). Annual Report to the Governor and Legislative Budget Board: Community Juvenile Justice Appropriations, Riders and Special Diversion Programs. 18.