More than a year after state lawmakers told the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to stop incarcerating so many teenagers, the agency has diverted 52 juvenile offenders to local programs for help and rehabilitation instead of shipping them to state lockups, the Texas Tribune reports. Keeping the youths closer to home and near relatives who might be able to help them reflects the first phase of a legislatively ordered effort to divert increasing numbers of youths from the system’s harshest punishment.
The agency must divert at least 30 juveniles from state lockups during fiscal year 2016 and another 150 the following year. The new law was largely prompted by counties that were sending young offenders to state lockups — in many cases hundreds of miles from home — because they lacked resources and programs to help them. The juvenile justice system is about rehabilitation, said state Rep. Gene Wu, co-sponsor of the legislation and a lawyer for juveniles. Breaking familial ties is punitive and counterproductive, he said. “These are mostly low-income families who have to take a bus to go see them, and there’s no bus that goes out that far. You’re potentially cutting them off from friends and family, and from a developmental standpoint, having a strong family structure is one of the things that will help kids be rehabilitated.”