More than half of the people in Texas’ youth prisons have a moderate or high need for mental health care, and officials should improve their early intervention efforts to help those young people before they end up behind bars, reports the Associated Press. Cherie Townsend, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, told legislators this week that more than 52 percent of teens and other youngsters held at the state’s six juvenile detention facilities have been diagnosed with at least moderate mental health problems.
Including those with at least some kind of mental health care needs would make that tally much higher, she said. “The numbers are increasing,” Townsend told members of the Texas House Corrections Committee. Townsend’s department was created after the Legislature voted last year to merge the Texas Youth Commission, which had run the prison system for teens, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which had been in charge of county-run youth probation programs. Supporters said the merger could save Texas as much as $150 million in the first two years of the new department’s existence, while also improving mental health and rehabilitation programs for troubled youth.