Blog: Texas

Racial Justice, LGBTQ Advocates Should Partner on School Issues; News Roundup

Every week Reclaiming Futures rounds up the latest news on juvenile justice reform, adolescent substance use treatment, and teen mental health. 

Report: Racial Justice, LGBTQ Advocates Should Partner on School Issues (Juvenile Justice Information Exchange)
National advocacy organizations released a report this past week demonstrating the need for advocates of youth of color and advocates of LGBTQ youth to form stronger relationships in order to more effectively address disparities in school discipline, and to work toward dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Top 6-10 Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | 2012

We've counted down the top 25, 20 and 15 juvenile justice blog posts from 2012. Here are 6-10:
10. Missouri’s Unique Approach To Rehabilitating Teens in Juvenile Justice System
Missouri is changing the way it approaches rehabilitating teens in its juvenile justice system, and it’s working. With a focus on therapy and education rather than punishment, the state closed its training schools and large facilities with minimal schooling in the early 1980s.
9. Stop the Trauma. Start the Healing: A Latino Health Context
Latino children are the fastest growing population in the United States and over half will end up incarcerated, jobless, or dead at a young age. Recognizing this, the National Compadres Network released a brown paper explaining how transformational based healing can disrupt this cycle and improve health outcomes for Latino children.

Why Missing School Matters

Missing school matters, for obvious reasons. The first and most compelling, is that if kids don’t learn to show up, it will impact their ability to successfully shape the course of their lives, and showing up for life is a learned skill. Central Texas students (and this number shocked me!) miss 2.4 MILLION days of school each academic year, costing a loss of more than $34 million dollars annually for our schools. Children suffer academically when they aren’t in class. Chronic absence is an indicator for future drop out rates. Individual classrooms are affected by absence as students miss participation in key elements of their learning. So why do kids miss so much school?
According to Communications Director, Rick L’Amie of the E3 Alliance, when kids were asked why they missed so much school, 49% of them said, it’s boring. At MAP, we think there’s more to it than that. We work with at-risk and disenfranchised youth on a daily basis, and in our work we explore a lot of serious life circumstances and issues with these kids. What I find is that our kids (and I suspect many are like them) often find it difficult to articulate the challenges they face in their daily lives. A 10 year old who misses school because her older brother got in a fight with a neighbor’s kid across the street and the fight led to retaliation which resulted in her house getting burned down and the family having to flee the neighborhood in fear, is not going to verbalize the complexity of that situation. It’s easy to say, I’m bored. But what that kid is also saying is, nothing I’m learning here feels relevant to my life experience.

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts | October 2012

Did you miss some of our blog posts last month? Not to worry - here's a round-up of our most popular posts from October 2012.
10. [NEW REPORT] Community Solutions for Youth in Trouble
Over the past few years, Texas has shifted youth rehabilitation from large state-run facilities to smaller community programs. And they're seeing great results.
9. October is National Youth Justice Awareness Month
Last month, over 20 states are holding events to raise awareness about youth justice issues and the juvenile justice system.
8. 7 Core Principles to Change the Course of Youth Justice
A new article from the New York Law School Law Review examines problems with the juvenile justice system and offers solutions for a more productive youth justice system.
7. NC Teens, Police, Community Join Forces to Stop Bullying Epidemic 
Recognizing the need to address bullying in schools, young people in North Carolina partnered with police officers and community members to create a short movie against bullying.

Youth Voices in Juvenile Justice [video]

It's hard to sum up a year's worth of work in four minutes, but that's exactly what a group of young people from the juvenile justice system did this summer when they participated in a film-making workshop with the Media Awareness Project. The project was created in partnership with Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS), an organization working to create a Texas where all youth have access to the resources, support and opportunities they need to thrive. TNOYS brings together people and organizations to promote youth advocacy, strengthen professional development and create youth engagement.

Youth Voices in Juvenile Justice from Media Awareness Project on Vimeo.
This project was a great fit for us at MAP, because we share the belief that teaching youth to advocate for themselves and for the issues that affect them is a strong foundation for helping them examine and process the intricate stories of their lives.

Juvenile Justice Aftercare Program Shows Success in Florida and Beyond

Youth exiting juvenile justice residential placements are often thrust back into their home communities without a support system leading to high rates of recidivism and likely pushing the youth deeper into the juvenile justice system. Eckerd recognized this missing link and funded Florida’s first aftercare service for youth in the 1990’s. This service was subsequently noticed by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and instituted statewide. Since that time, Eckerd has expanded aftercare services throughout Florida and in other states to include North Carolina and Texas. Eckerd’s Juvenile Justice Aftercare services provide transition and case management support for youth and families prior to and upon exit of residential treatment programs. Millions in cost savings from subsequent residential and detention placements have been realized, and outstanding outcomes have been achieved to include:

  • Social Skills Improvements 85%
  • Mental Health Improvements 89% (NC and TX)
  • Youth Satisfaction 100%
  • Parent Satisfaction 100%
  • Recidivism 16% (FL)

Phoenix House Uses the West Side Story Project to Disrupt the Cycle of Youth Violence

In September 2011, Phoenix House, one of the nation’s leading non-profit providers of substance abuse treatment, received a two-year grant from the Department of Justice to address the issue of youth violence using a curriculum called the West Side Story Project. For the past year, Phoenix House has been working with young adults at six of our program sites to deconstruct cultural stereotypes, build relationships with members of law enforcement, and promote peaceful conflict resolution – using themes and content from the musical West Side Story.
Funded via the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the West Side Story Project got its start in Seattle in 2007, with the goal of increasing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to positively interact with at-risk kids through community partnerships. Phoenix House is fortunate to have had the project’s creator, Anna Laszlo, guiding our implementation of the grant across the country. Our work would not be possible without the participation of police departments in Arlington, Virginia; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles and Santa Ana, California; and New York City and Suffolk County, New York.

Most Popular Juvenile Justice Blog Posts of August

We realize that many of our readers spent at least part of August traveling and spending time away from the computer. So, we've put together a little recap of our most popular juvenile justice blog posts of August 2012.
10. A Look Back on 11 Years of Juvenile Justice Reform
Earlier this summer, the National Conference of State Legislatures published a report detailing the progress made in the juvenile justice arena at the state and national levels.
9. Funding Opportunity: Improve Outcomes for Boys of Color
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a new call for proposals for 10 grants of up to $500,000 each. The Forward Promise initiative is looking for innovative, community-based projects working to strengthen health, education and employment outcomes for middle school and high school-aged boys and young men of color.

6 Major Findings from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department Performance Assessment Report

Texas FlagThe Texas Juvenile Justice Department released an encouraging report detailing the success of their Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs). These programs have been providing education for students expelled from traditional schools since the 1996-1997 school year.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department found that the JJAEP has been improving over the past several years--test scores are up, costs are down, and behavior has improved. See the list below for details on the report’s major findings (via the report):

At-Risk Teens Earn Place in Library of Congress

It is so important for young people to realize they have gifts.
The Reclaiming Futures site in Travis County, Texas is providing an opportunity for their young people to identify their gifts and express themselves through a nationally recognized program called Do the Write Thing Texas Challenge. The anti-violence and academic program provides middle school-aged youth the opportunity to think and write about the issues surrounding violence.
Students engage in thoughtful classroom discussions about violence -- its impact on their lives -- and solutions. Students then compose essay responses.  Community volunteers select a boy and girl with the most thought-provoking essays. National ambassadors, selected from the finalists, then have the opportunity to present their views on violence to national leaders like the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of the Interior, the Attorney General of the United States, the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Members of Congress. The essays of the National Finalist Ambassadors are published annually and placed in the Library of Congress.

Teens in Juvenile Justice System Creating Hope and Opportunity through The Beat Within's Writing and Art Program

For the better part of the last two decades, The Beat Within has been committed to a mission of providing incarcerated youth with a forum where they can write (and draw) about the things that matter most to them, explore how they have lost connection with those things they value, and consider how they might re-connect to positive situations in their lives through the power of the written word.
This is a program that started small, in the Bay Area, with a commitment to provide detained kids between the ages of 11 to 18 with a safe space to share their ideas and experiences while promoting literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community.
That modest local effort has grown into a nationwide program that touches the lives of more than 5,000 youth in detention. Today, you can find weekly Beat workshops going on in 12 California county juvenile halls, from Alameda to San Diego. We are partnering with universities from U.C. Berkeley to the University of Hawaii. Meanwhile, the workshop model for The Beat is being replicated in Arizona, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and, thanks to the JJIE, Georgia.

New Report Details Conditions for Certified Juveniles in Texas County Jails

A new report provides a comprehensive picture of the conditions for certified juveniles awaiting trial in adult county jails, based on a survey of 41 jails across the state of Texas.
The University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School Senior Lecturer Michele Deitch (along with coauthors Anna Lipton Galbraith, a master of public affairs student at the LBJ School, and Jordan Pollock, a student at the UT School of Law) has released “Conditions for Certified Juveniles in Texas County Jails,” the second in her series on juveniles in the adult criminal justice system in Texas. The first report, “Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas” was published in 2011, and compared the significant differences in programming and services for the two populations of youthful offenders—those who get sent to adult prisons after conviction, and those who receive placements in the juvenile system.

Breaking the Barriers: Texas Teens Use Sledgehammers to Break Through Negative Influences

Many of the youth who enter the Samuel F. Santana Challenge Academy have barriers that contributed to their negative behavior. Without overcoming those barriers, many of our youth will continue their negative behavior long after they are out of the juvenile system.
While working at the Challenge Academy, I came up with an idea for a way our challenge youth could identify their own barriers and move forward. On the track, there was a 4x4 cement slab that was used for Challenge's flag pole. That slab was not being utilized and had to be removed for a future project. I had a vision for the concrete slab that involved giving the teens an opportunity to write down barriers that they wanted to break on the slab and then literally breaking them.
In their own words, each teen had a section of the concrete to write and draw their barriers down. One section of the concrete was dedicated for all of the juveniles to trace their right hand in a promise to make a commitment to break their barriers. Once the entire slab was complete, on May 7th at 5:00 pm, a Break the Barriers ceremony was conducted.

Former Teen Offenders Speak Up, Make Recommendations to Improve Juvenile Justice System

The youth sent to the Texas Juvenile Justice System are some of the most chronic delinquent offenders in the state. Ninety-three percent are boys, 79 percent have unmarried parents, 78 percent are Hispanic or African-American, 62 percent need alcohol or drug treatment, 56 percent are from low-income families, 42 percent need mental health treatment and 36 percent have been abused or neglected. And they also have really good ideas about how to improve the juvenile justice system.
In late April, a group of youth with experience in the juvenile justice system spoke at the Capitol about their recommendations to make the system more effective. The Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS), a nonprofit association of organizations that serve youth in at-risk situations, hired this team of young people who met at the Capitol every other Saturday throughout the school year to learn about advocacy, brainstorm ideas and practice public speaking. To inform their recommendations, they attended state-level policy meetings, read professional reports, interviewed practitioners involved in the juvenile justice system and surveyed their peers.

Cutting Youth Incarceration Doesn’t Cut Public Safety, says Bart Lubow

Bart Lubow, who has been working for more than 20 years to reduce the number of youth being sent to detention centers, told a gathering of approximately 700 conference attendees last week that now “may prove to be a unique moment in juvenile justice history, a time when, as a nation, we shed some of the system’s worst baggage—including our unnecessary and often inappropriate reliance on secure confinement” of youth.
The conference attendees were in Houston for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative conference, which as its name implies is working to reduce the number of youth sent into detention and instead aims to provide community-centered alternatives. The conference is hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Apparently the 19-year quest is working. Lubow, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Casey Foundation, told the gathering that “JDAI sites have reduced reliance on secure detention overall by 42 percent, with numerous jurisdictions posting reductions in excess of 50 percent.” All of this happening without compromising public safety, he said.
The quest in the end means, in Lubow’s words, “We need to detain the right kids, but only the right kids.”

In Texas, Parents are Partners in Juvenile Justice

In a recent survey of youth at a Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facility, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition heard from youth that staying connected to their families is more difficult at state facilities as compared to county detention centers, and that they would like more contact with their families. In my role as the TJJD family liaison coordinator, I have been working on several ways to establish and enhance family partnerships.
In 2007, parents, youth, advocacy groups and agency staff worked together to create the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which establishes that “parents are partners with correctional staff, educators, and treatment providers in their child’s rehabilitation and are encouraged and assisted to actively participate in the design and implementation of their child’s treatment, from intake to discharge.”
With the Bills of Rights as its guide, TJJD offers a number of opportunities for families to learn about the agency, participate in youth’s treatment, and spend time together:

  • Parents are invited to participate in person or by phone in monthly meetings to discuss the youth’s progress in education, behavior, and treatment.
  • Monthly Family Orientation sessions help families learn how to navigate the system.
  • Family Seminars keep families informed about agency changes.
  • Open houses allow families to meet staff and tour the school, dorms, and other buildings.
  • Facilities have flexible visiting times and frequent phone calls.
  • Quarterly family days encourage families to participate in activities including cook-outs, board games, photo sessions, and celebratory dinners.

Study Finds Juvenile Offenders Cope Better with Families Closer to Detention Facilities

A recent study about Texas juveniles in a state detention center showed the youths responded better when they were closer to their families.
The survey, conducted by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonpartisan nonprofit group, studied 115 juveniles at the Giddings State School in Austin, which is the facility for Bell County juveniles convicted of violent crimes.
"The closer they are to home, the more likely you'll get some familial participation and that is a positive," said Judge Ed Johnson.
Johnson has been the designated juvenile court judge for the past 26 years in Bell County. His court, county court one, also oversees juveniles in Lampasas County.
About one-fourth of the funding for local juvenile justice comes from state grants, said Johnson, noting that the juvenile probation program gets its entire budget from the state.
In 2011, more than 1,000 cases were referred to the local juvenile probation program. Of that number, more than 730 were for delinquent conduct and crimes ranging from class-B misdemeanors to felonies. The others were for conduct indicating a need for supervision, such as runaways or truancy.

Texas Juvenile Center Uses Foster Dogs to Teach Compassion, Responsibility, Respect

Feel good story of the day: A juvenile hall facility in Texas is using foster dogs to teach its teens compassion, respect and responsibility.

The Victoria Adopt-A-Pet Center and the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center joined together to launch the Dream Seekers Animal Rescue and Training Program, which seeks to teach incarcerated teens about care, safety and training of pets. The hope is that through this program, the kids will develop patience, tolerance, responsibility, accoundability, dependability and compassion. The program is an extension of a previously established community service program where the teen inmates volunteer at the Adopt-A-Pet center once a week. 
Two of the participants, Devin Olguin and DeAndra Moffett, were featured in this recent AP story about the program and its impact. They are currently taking care of a daschund/terrier mix named Alice.  From the article:

Texas county debuts new diversion program for teens

Tarrant County, Texas (where Fort Worth is located) has developed a new program for juvenile offenders that is aimed at youth charged with family violence involving non-intimate relatives. The program, the Youth Offender Diversion Alternative, or YODA, targets youth 17-25 who are charged with such crimes, and it provides intensive counseling to show participants how to make better choices in stressful situations or arguments. If the juvenile completes the program, the charges are dismissed and erased from his or her record.
The program is currently funded through a private grant from the Amon G. Carter Foundation. Public-private partnerships like this are often well-positioned to experiment with creative policy approaches while also limiting costs to taxpayers.
At this point, the 20 graduates of YODA have not committed another offense, and a preliminary study shows decreased aggression and substance abuse problems among participants. The participants also exhibit improvements in mental health and stability. So far, the program provides a reason to be optimistic.

Right On Crime and the conservative focus on juvenile justice

For years, many people have considered juvenile justice reform a dyed-blue plank in the liberal platform. However, deep in the heart of the red state of Texas, one conservative organization has adopted the issue as a major policy concern heading into the 2012 election season.
“The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a free-market, state-based think tank,” said Marc A. Levin, Director of the organization’s Center for Effective Justice. The Austin-based organization [], originally founded in 1989, implemented a criminal justice emphasis in 2005.
In 2010, the organization began its Right On Crime campaign, which Levin considers “a national platform for reform.” Several prominent conservative politicians and analysts — among them, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush and William J. Bennett — have all signed onto the campaign’s statement of principles.
The motto displayed on the Right On Crime website reads “fighting crime, prioritizing victims, and protecting taxpayers,” a creed which Levin reiterated when he said the organization’s primary aspirations are to “promote public safety, and also to do so in a cost-effective manner.” He also said the organization promotes “a focus on rehabilitation of youth and adults,” who he believes can “be put on a path to be productive citizens and positive contributors to our society.”
“Obviously, there have been some conservatives who, historically, have taken a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ approach,” Levin said. “But crime has been declining in the United States for 17 years in a row.”
Levin said that his organization advocates evidence-based practices and discourages incarceration “when it is not necessary.”
“If you incarcerate someone, it’s almost guaranteed they won’t be paying restitutions,” he continued. “They won’t be paying child support, and they’re obviously not going to earn any income.”