The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) recently released a report providing legislative recommendations for the delivery of services to at-risk youth in Texas.  In doing so, the LBB examined the case files of 252 juvenile offenders, making the following findings:

  • More than half of the offenders had a “substance abuse issue”
  • Nearly half had a “mental health issue”
  • More than one-third “have experienced some type of early childhood trauma”
  • A quarter “have been a victim of abuse or neglect”
  • About one-fifth of them have been involved in a Child Protective Services intervention

Altogether, the report found that of the 252 juvenile offenders studied, 74 percent have experienced at least one of the above issues.

In light of these findings, State Rep. James White has pledged to work with members of the House Corrections Committee to reform the way that state agencies serve these at-risk youth. According to White, “a lot of social issues contribute to delinquent behavior, and many youth do not receive needed services until they commit crimes and are referred to the local juvenile probation department.”

Incorporating crime prevention into school-based programs, streamlining duplicative services and assessments, and streamlining duplicative services and assessments, and intervening effectively with those youths who simply misbehave in school to divert them from the juvenile justice system, are among the potential reforms the LBB report suggests ought to be considered.  As Rep. White argues, “if we can identify young people who are showing at-risk indicators before they engage in criminal behavior, we hopefully can offer services… preventing incarceration.”

The report is valuable because it does not recommend throwing more money at the juvenile crime problem, but instead highlights how through better collaboration and coordination among school, social services providers, and the juvenile justice system and an emphasis on early intervention can maximize the results achieved through existing resources.