Recently, I toured the Bill Logue Juvenile Probation Center in Waco and the McLennan County Juvenile Correctional Facility in nearby Mart.

At the probation facility, McLennan County officials highlighted measures intended to reduce recidivism and increase the effectiveness of various rehabilitative methods. Although boot camp programs have been considered generally ineffective at deterring recidivism by juvenile offenders, the McLennan County C.O.R.P.S. program has been modified to contain a roughly 40% military emphasis and 60% therapeutic emphasis, which county officials say has increased the program’s effectiveness. In addition, officials spoke about Quickscreen brain scanning, which used brain imaging to identify signs of behavioral or learning disabilities in juveniles, enabling treatment strategies to be better tailored to the youth.

At the Texas Youth’s Commission’s McLennan County Juvenile Correctional Facility, a new feature is the “grievance” system. Drop boxes are placed in hallways throughout the facilities for youths to place forms detailing any complaints regarding other youths, TYC administration, or even if they just want to say that lunch wasn’t served hot enough.

This system seems to provide a method for youths to report misconduct like that which led to the TYC crisis in 2007. However, when asked, the youths distrusted the grievance system. Youths reported that, even though the grievance form promises a response within 24 hours, a response often takes up to two weeks. Additionally, a youth cannot remain anonymous, which may discourage complaints due to fear of retaliation if an administrator is the subject of his grievance.

Youth also reported that they had only received about four days of in-class education during May. Officials stated that this was mostly due to staffing shortages, including the recent death of one of the GED coordinating educational personnel. As youths entering TYC are on average several grades behind, they clearly need more than a half week of school per month.

My visits suggest reasons to be hopeful about the future of Texas juvenile justice while also indicating that there is still much room for further progress.

– A.J. SmullenIntern, Center for Effective Justice