News Article | September 16, 2022
House Appropriations Committee Focuses on Juvenile Justice Department Halt on Intakes and its Effect on County Probation Departments
In a June 29 letter, the interim Executive Director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) told county juvenile probation departments that the intake of youth committed to state facilities was temporarily suspended due to staffing shortages. These staffing shortages threaten the safety of the youths and staff in these facilities and burden counties that are experiencing similar worker shortages with the housing and treatment of the approximately 140 youths awaiting transfer to TJJD secure facilities. According to the state department, counties fund 78% of the cost of the statewide juvenile justice system, and TJJD pays the remaining 22%.
On Sept. 9, the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony from interim Executive Director Shandra Carter, Bexar County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Jill Mata, and Legislative Budget Board and Sunset Advisory Commission staff members about the latest crisis in the juvenile justice system. According to the Sunset Advisory Commission, TJJD has stopped accepting transfers from counties several times since 2020 due to rising COVID-19 cases and staff vacancies. Prior to the pandemic, waitlists were smaller, and delays in transfers to TJJD facilities were relatively brief — 20 youths and two to three weeks in June 2020. According to Carter, since July 2023, TJJD has significantly reduced but has not entirely shut down its intake process. The department regulates and distributes grants to 165 county juvenile probation departments, which handle 98% of all juvenile referrals at the local level. Of the 165, only 45 have detention centers.
The Sunset Advisory Commission staff, Carter and Mata testified to the strain of the crisis on counties. County detention facilities are experiencing capacity problems. According to Mata, because beds are occupied by youths awaiting transfer to the state, her county cannot hold local children who pose a risk to the community nor provide beds for children in the smaller, rural communities that contract with the Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department. Caring for TJJD-committed youths costs $200 to $400 per day, and keeping these children for months has a significant impact on Bexar County’s budget.
Carter testified that TJJD reimbursed approximately $295,000 to select counties for the cost of caring for youth awaiting transfer to state facilities. According to Carter, a $7 million supplemental appropriation to the current two-year state budget would be needed to reimburse counties for the care of youths awaiting transfer. She suggested that an additional $5 million, for a total supplemental appropriation of $12 million, would be needed to reimburse counties for actual and projected costs. Finally, Carter said the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for the upcoming biennium includes $103.9 million in new funding for county probation departments. County-specific funding requests include:
- $28 million for a state-funded salary stipend for county juvenile probation officers and juvenile supervision officers.
- $22 million for commitment diversions by increasing funding for community placements.
- $40 million to build a new county-operated post-adjudication facility.
According to Carter, TJJD and the county juvenile probation departments collaborated on the agency LAR. The requested funding is necessary to relieve the detention crisis and keep the appropriate children shallow in the criminal justice system.