The Sunset Advisory Commission recommendation to combine the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and Texas Juvenile Probation Commission has attracted the most attention, but its proposed pilot program represents the most fundamental shift in juvenile justice policy. This recommendation would create a funding alternative that allows county probation departments to keep some of the funds that now go to incarcerate their youths at TYC. This approach has proven to save money and reduce recidivism in Ohio and Illinois.

In this scenario, TYC would actually have to compete with post-adjudication facilities run by counties and private operators, as well as non-residential alternatives such as day reporting centers, on recidivism and cost. It would also eliminate the fiscal incentive to unnecessarily refer youths to TYC in order to preserve county funds.

In Ohio, this funding change reduced nonviolent youth commitments to state lockups by 36 percent and cut recidivism by more than 30 percent. Youths benefit from being closer to their families and communities, while taxpayers save because local solutions cost less than TYC.

Best of all, if accompanied by full disclosure of performance measures for each type of placement, judges would be empowered to choose the best option based on data for similarly situated youths. Competition can make any system better, and the juvenile justice system is no exception. Whatever the agency running state lockups is called, what is most important is that it competes with local and private providers. The market will then deliver the verdict on how many youths should be in state custody.

– Marc Levin