Juvenile Probation Department
There are approximately 165 juvenile probation departments in the State of Texas. Juvenile probation departments will process and handle through local rehabilitation services approximately 98.7 percent of all crimes committed by juvenile-age offenders (ages 10-17), while committing 1.3 percent of referred offenses to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), the state agency that handles the state’s most violent and chronic juvenile offenders.
Rehabilitation services provided by juvenile probation departments may include teen court programs, first offender programs, counseling programs, deferred prosecution probation, formal court adjudication probation, residential placement services, and specialized offender programs, including sex offender treatment/supervision, and intensive supervision probation. Along with the above-stated programs and services, the TJJD provided $3 million to approximately 24 counties to operate prevention/intervention services in FY 2015.
A jurisdiction’s juvenile probation department may be as small as one chief juvenile probation officer who “does it all,” to a department composed of a chief juvenile probation officer and hundreds of department employees with probation services, residential services and detention services.
Some county governments receive probation services from an adjacent county, due to their county population and/or low juvenile-age population. Probation departments operate under the authority granted by Title III of the Texas Family Code and various statewide standards. Juvenile probation departments focus on holding juvenile offenders, and frequently their parents, accountable for their actions, while protecting the community from continued acts of delinquency. This may be accomplished through a model of “progressive sanctions” that increase the consequences for continued acts of delinquency.
The scope of services provided in each jurisdiction is usually determined by the county juvenile board and available funding provided by the County Commissioners Court. Juvenile probation departments should be viewed as “one piece of the juvenile justice puzzle,” which consists of a state-level component and a local-level component.
At the state level, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department was created in 2011 by the 82nd Legislature. The newly created agency began operations on Dec. 1, 2011, upon the abolishment and merger of the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. The purposes of the TJJD are:
- create a unified state juvenile justice agency that works in partnership with local county governments, the courts and communities to promote public safety by providing a full continuum of effective supports and services to youth from initial contact through termination of supervision; and
- create a juvenile justice system that produces positive outcomes for youth, families and communities. The statutory basis and enabling legislation for TJJD is contained in Title 12 of the Texas Human Resources Code.
Juvenile probation departments are funded with both state and county funds, and TJJD is responsible for the distribution of funds appropriated by the Legislature. In FY 2015, TJJD distributed approximately $142.3 million dollars to local governments to assist in the operations of juvenile probation services. These funds provide roughly 27 percent of the funding needed to operate juvenile probation departments; the remaining 73 percent will be provided from local governments.
In order to receive state funds, local county juvenile boards enter into contract with the TJJD to accept state financial assistance and thus agree to follow the various statewide administrative standards. The TJJD is mandated through legislation to “promulgate and enforce” these standards. Oversight and enforcement of statewide standards is made through periodic monitoring visits that are conducted by employees of the TJJD. At the conclusion of a monitoring visit, the local juvenile board is provided with written reports and provided with an opportunity to respond and correct any non-compliance findings. In the event a county juvenile board refuses to correct a non-compliance finding, the TJJD has the authority to withhold state financial assistance. Many of the statewide standards that juvenile probation departments must adhere to can be found in the Texas Administrative Code, Chapters 341-351, Chapter 358, and Chapter 359.
At the local level every county in the state has a statutorily created juvenile board that performs oversight functions for the juvenile probation department within its jurisdiction. Although many of these statutes are generally the same, there are some minor differences, and the particular statute creating the juvenile board for a particular county should be consulted to determine membership and powers. These provisions can be found in Human Resources Code Sections 152.0071 through 152.2571.Typically, all district court judges, county court judges, and statutory county court judges are among the members. However, to demonstrate how each jurisdiction’s board may differ, the juvenile board of Deaf Smith County (Hereford) is composed of the County Judge, two members appointed by the city of Hereford, two members appointed by the County Commissioners Court, and two members appointed by the Hereford Independent School District. The juvenile board of Deaf Smith County is very unique and was created this way since each of the appointing entities provides 33.3 percent of the local funding required to operate the department. The basic responsibilities of all juvenile boards are to designate juvenile judges, appoint the chief juvenile probation officer, and set the policy and budget for the juvenile probation department. TJJD provides funding and technical assistance to juvenile boards.
A juvenile board or juvenile probation department is a “specialized local entity” under section 140.003 of the Local Government Code. Because of this, the county juvenile board is independent of the county and can enter into contracts without approval of the County Commissioners Court. Also, the county juvenile board has authority over employment decisions, travel policies, and general management and financial decisions regarding a juvenile probation department.
So, what is the role of the County Commissioners Court? The Commissioners Court plays a vital role in the operations of a juvenile probation department by providing funding to supplement the state contributions. Historically, local governments have provided approximately 73 percent ($396 million in FY 2015) of the total funding to local probation departments. The Commissioners Court determines the amount of county funds that will be budgeted to the juvenile probation department in each budget year. This is usually done after the county juvenile board submits to the Commissioners Court a budget for the coming fiscal year. In accordance with general grant requirements, local juvenile justice expenditures must be equal to or greater than expenditures reported in 2006, excluding constructions and capital outlay.
The Commissioners Court is limited to reviewing only the amount of funds to be budgeted from county funds for the juvenile probation department, not state, federal or other funds. Once the Commissioners Court has approved the amount of funds to be spent over a budget year, the funds become funds of the juvenile probation department to be disbursed as directed by the juvenile board and lose their character as county funds. For a better understanding of this “unique” relationship, there have been three major Attorney General Opinions that have attempted to define the role of the Commissioners Court when it comes to local juvenile probation departments. These opinions include: Opinion Attorney General No. DM-460, 1996; Opinion Attorney General No. JC-0085, 1999; and Opinion Attorney General No. JC-0209, 2000.
For over 30 years, this system that includes both a state-level and local-level component has been at work. Many view the Texas system as being innovative and creative in its approach to difficult juvenile justice issues and problems. Each component has distinct functions, duties, and responsibilities, and together these components make up one of the most progressive and modern juvenile justice systems in the nation.
Current data reflects the success of the juvenile justice system in the State of Texas. From 2007 thru 2012, statistical information collected and reported by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department reflects a reduction in felony referrals, including violent felony referrals (homicide, attempted homicide, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault), from 6,733 reported violent felony offenses in 2007, to 5,352 reported violent felony offenses in 2012, even though the juvenile-age population increased over this same period of time. Also during this same period of time, commitments to the TJJD institutions decreased from 2,078 in 2007 to 823 in 2012. Much of this success can be attributed to the partnership between the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and the local level governments that have taken an active role in developing and implementing innovative and creative programs to address the issue of juvenile crime.
The next few years will put this partnership to the test. Over the past several years, the financial responsibility placed on local county governments to operate local juvenile justice programs has increased from approximately $351 million in FY 2010, to a reported $396 million in FY 2015. There will be two major issues that local jurisdictions will need to take into consideration over the coming months; 1) raising the juvenile justice age to 18, and 2) the impact of “Regionalization” and the further reduction of commitments to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
– By Lou Serrano, Director of Juvenile Services, Ector County