A blue-ribbon panel commissioned to redesign Texas’ troubled juvenile corrections system is harshly critical of officials’ decision to expand the use of pepper spray in state youth lockups, reports the Austin American-Statesman. The criticism came as part of sweeping changes the panel is recommending on how Texas should best deal with its teenage offenders. The panel, made up of nearly two dozen national juvenile justice experts, called for a shift to small, regional treatment centers as a better alternative to large state-run lockups. It recommends an increased emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation programs instead of punishment.
Among the recommendations: sentence more low-level offenders to county probation programs instead of state lockups; keep more youthful lawbreakers in community-based programs, where their chances of rehabilitation are better than behind bars; beef up preventive programs for youths who are most at risk of committing crimes. Many of the recommendations were expected – better training, improved programs, better management of violent and difficult offenders. The report’s position on the controversial new pepper spray policy could spark the most debate. Youth Commission officials last month approved using pepper spray before physical restraints to subdue juveniles.