Young offenders assigned to Houston’s Harris County’s juvenile detention facilities will be spending a little more time in lockup now that a reduction in arrests has eased chronic overcrowding in the system, reports the Houston Chroicle. The average stay at the residential facilities that serve as jails for youths has fallen in recent years from four months to 10-12 weeks as authorities have struggled to make room for scores of offenders waiting for placements.
The county’s five major facilities are far below capacity, in large part because of a 14 percent drop in the number of youths referred to the department. That has allowed authorities to begin gradually extending each offender’s stay by reintroducing treatment programs or restoring time that had been cut from them. Officials at the Harris County Youth Village, a 170-bed facility for 15- and 16-year-old boys, recently lengthened the first step of its five-step program to 30 days, after shortening it to two weeks. That gives therapists, caseworkers and other team members more time to evaluate the new residents and get them the drug counseling or therapy they may need. The program requires offenders to meet a series of behavioral benchmarks to earn their release. Juvenile court judges, prosecutors, and the Juvenile Probation Department have been working with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation to find ways to reduce the number of youth detainees without putting the public at risk.