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Reports of Abuse Lead to Texas Juvenile Justice Overhaul

The Texas Youth Commission’s juvenile sexual and physical abuse scandal occurred back in 2007, but Texas is still experiencing its repercussions. Juvenile advocacy organizations called for reforms and lawmakers debated how to prevent such a scandal from happening again, resulting in significant policy changes aimed at getting the Texas juvenile justice system back on the right track.

Juvenile Abuse Reports

In 2007, there were widespread reports of physical and sexual offenses against teens at Texas juvenile correctional facilities operated by the now-defunct Commission. At the time, more than 5,000 teens were held in state-run secure facilities in rural areas of the state; juvenile justice reform efforts began by changing this policy. According to Correctional News, the number of juveniles in rural facilities is down to 1,200.

One of Texas’ main objectives is to move juvenile offenders closer to their homes. State Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, told Correctional News that sending teens to rural areas limits their access to resources and role models. According to Whitmire, juvenile offenders are more successful in familiar surroundings where they can re-establish themselves after serving their sentences.

A recent survey released by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, based on interviews with youths in state facilities, supports this policy. The survey found that county-level facilities are more effective than remote facilities in promoting safety, rehabilitation and family involvement.

Consolidated Juvenile Justice Department

The abuse scandal, besides having its own serious consequences for those involved, also drew attention to Texas’ need to overhaul its juvenile justice system. As part of these ongoing efforts, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to replace the former Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. The consolidation is primarily intended to save the state money. According to the Brenham Banner-Press, the merger could save Texas up to $150 million over two years.

Criminal sex offense allegations against juveniles or adults can have major consequences. Those who have been arrested or charged with such offenses should contact a criminal defense attorney to defend themselves and protect their legal rights.