A Texas state representative has filed legislation that would result in the closure of the state’s juvenile detention facilities.
State Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) believes that juvenile detention facilities promote more violence and do not work to help children, prompting the proposal.
“Kids in Texas child prisons have been beaten, raped, and even murdered behind bars,” Talarico alleged on Twitter. “The trauma of incarceration makes kids MORE likely to commit crime, not less.”
HB 4356 calls for the Texas Juvenile Justice Board and Texas Juvenile Justice Department to be replaced by the new Office of Youth Safety and Rehabilitation.
The office would promote “trauma-responsive and culturally informed services for children engaging in delinquent conduct in a manner that supports the child’s successful transition to adulthood” for the purpose of “ensuring children become responsible, thriving, and engaged members of their communities.”
The bill also stipulates that by 2026 no more children would be committed to existing juvenile detention facilities, which would ultimately be closed by 2030.
“Child prisons are a failed policy experiment,” Talarico claimed via Twitter. “The data proves what we know in our hearts to be true–children don’t belong in prison.”
“Unlike child prisons, interventions like probation services, mental health treatments, and anti-violence programs REDUCE youth crime,” he suggested.
There have been eight juvenile detention facilities closed since 2007. Five facilities remain open and house a total of roughly 600 children, according to the Herald-Banner.
Current law requires that Texas’ juvenile justice system must work to “increase reliance on alternatives to placement and commitment,” in part by using “secure facilities of a size that supports effective youth rehabilitation and public safety.”
The Dallas Express reached out to Rep. Talarico and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for additional information or comment but did not receive a response from either by the publication deadline.
The 2021 sunset review of the Juvenile Justice System noted that the top offenses for committed youth were aggravated robbery, assault, aggravated assault, burglary, and aggravated sexual assault. In the fiscal year 2019, roughly 67% of detained children were incarcerated for crimes against persons.
In Dallas County, 34% of juveniles in detention have been charged with felony offenses, while 39% have been charged with misdemeanors.