by ANDY SEVILLA
Hays County’s juvenile justice department is not suffering from financial insufficiencies, as has been evident in many governments across the state. The proposed 2013 budget shows the department is on track to continued solvency.
A recent Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) survey found that three-quarters of county juvenile probation departments in Texas are presently funded insufficiently or very insufficiently.
Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog said the local juvenile justice department has never lacked sufficient funding, and in fact, the county took in a $50,000 state grant last Tuesday.
Herzog said the county accepted that money for juvenile detention services.
Before Tuesday’s $50,000 windfall, Hays County had taken in $838,243 in state grants and aid for the present fiscal year, county documents show. The proposed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget states that Hays County’s juvenile probation department will receive $822,693 in state aid.
In 2011, Texas enacted sweeping reforms in juvenile justice. Those legislative reforms abolished the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and created the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), tasked with overseeing the reforms aimed to keep as many youth in their home counties as possible.
A TCJC news release states that legislators, in 2011, were guided by research that found rehabilitation to be more successful when delinquent youth receive treatment in their home counties.
That treatment, however, could be compromised and public safety concerns could significantly rise because of funding gaps, said TCJC policy attorney Benet Magnuson in the statement.
“Many counties have great programs that reduce childhood recidivism, but they’re dangerously underfunded,” Magnuson said. “One county in the survey told us funding cuts had forced them to lay off critical staff and shrink a successful program that had brought their recidivism rate down to nearly zero.”
Findings in the juvenile justice insufficient funding survey are based on responses from 73 counties statewide that included urban, rural, and medium-sized counties. Hays County did not participate in the study.
The departments surveyed identified mental health services, community-based alternatives to secure detention, and family involvement programs as the most in need of increased funding as these three issues play a major role in the successes and failures of Texas’ juvenile justice system.
TCJC Executive Director Dr. Ana Yanez-Correa said in a telephone interview that even well-funded juvenile probation departments, like Hays County’s, can benefit from increased funding for youth mental health services.
One third of all youth under the supervision of probation departments in Texas have a confirmed mental illness, though a majority go without mental health services, the news release said.
County documents showed the Hays County juvenile probation department had expenses totaling $1,887,403.69 for the present fiscal year. After allocated state monies, Hays County put forth $1,049,160.69 to fund juvenile justice.
The proposed 2013 budget estimates juvenile probation department expenses at $1,103,183.
Herzog said the possibility exists for more state money to come in to the county’s juvenile probation department for the proposed budget.
“Usually by the end of the (fiscal) year, if they have money available, the (state) will send out money to the counties,” Herzog said.