Lawmaker files bill to dissolve, replace Texas juvenile justice system
AUSTIN, Texas - A state lawmaker says it's time to dissolve the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
He wants to replace what he calls "child prisons" with a system of rehabilitation.
Over the last 25 years, most of the state’s juvenile detention facilities closed, while the ones remaining are locked in scandal.
State Representative James Talarico has filed legislation calling for the ones that are left to close over the next seven years.
"For more than a century, kids in Texas child prisons have been beaten, raped, and even murdered behind bars," Talarico said.
Flanked by those who've been in Texas juvenile detention facilities, and Houston State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, Rep. Talarico filed a bill that would close Texas’ remaining juvenile justice detention facilities.
"Last year, news broke that our child prisons in Texas are on the brink of collapse. Kids are being locked in windowless cells for 23 hours a day and urinating in empty water bottles," Talarico said.
Eight juvenile facilities have closed since 2007.
Talarico's proposal, HB 4356, calls for the five remaining, which are being investigated by the Justice Department for mistreatment and abuse, to close by 2030.
The facilities currently house 600 kids with a $300 million budget.
Talarico sees a different type of youth justice.
"A new office of youth safety and rehabilitation, and that office would use the savings from closing child prisons to fund a system that actually rehabilitates kids closer to home," he said.
"Best practices today would agree with closing these facilities," Dr. Camille Gibson said.
Professor Gibson is executive director of the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center at Prairie View A&M University.
"We know that the best thing is to treat young people close to home or at home," she explained. "There are some people who will need more attention, and a facility that's treatment focused would indeed be the way to go."
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"I won't be naïve, I won’t lie. I know what I was doing, and I know what I was doing was wrong," Jernard Brown recalled.
Brown was locked up at 16 and is now 23. He said what is happening inside state facilities has to change.
"You’re either going to give that child a chance or you have to give them a consequence," Brown said. "You have to put them in positions to succeed, or one day you'll have to penalize them, which one would you rather?"
Talarico said states like Kansas and Utah have already moved to a fresh model of treating teens in trouble by focusing on mental health rehabilitation and intervention.
California is another big state with legislative proposals to close its Juvenile Justice Department.