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Improve Youth Offender Services


Texas has two state agencies devoted to delivering juvenile justice services. Texas should merge these functions into a single state agency. Doing so would remove obstacles to better service coordination, reduce administrative duplication and expand possibilities for increased federal funding.


The Texas juvenile justice system parallels the adult system by offering three levels of supervision: probation, incarceration and parole, also called aftercare. Probation services serve as the “front end” of the system, providing various levels of supervision and short-term secure residential stays. The state’s juvenile probation agency, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC), assists counties in developing probation services.

Youths who commit serious crimes may be incarcerated at a facility run by the Texas Youth Commission (TYC), the “back end” of the system. TYC also administers aftercare services, some of which are obtained through contracts with local probation departments.

More than 100,000 youths are referred to 168 Texas county juvenile probation departments each year.[1] Police, sheriff’s offices and schools may refer juveniles to juvenile probation for a range of offenses. Youths aged 10 to 16 who commit offenses such as running away, truancy, curfew violations or Class C misdemeanors (including theft, assault, disorderly conduct and public intoxication) and Children in Need of Supervision (defined in state law as those with three or more fineable misdemeanor offenses or ordinance violations, including truancy, running away, a first or second driving-while-intoxicated violation and violations of any city ordinance or state law prohibiting inhalant abuse) enter the juvenile justice system through an intake or screening process administered by the local department.[2]

For minor violations, police may warn the child and parents. More serious cases are forwarded to local juvenile probation officers. Some cases are resolved through counseling or by referrals to social service agencies; others involve some form of probation supervision in the community or a private residential treatment facility.

Only 3 percent of youths referred to county juvenile probation departments are committed to TYC. Typically, they are chronic or violent offenders. The most serious offenders arrive at TYC under the state’s determinate sentencing law, which allows for confinements of up to 40 years, first at TYC and then in an adult prison. Most, however, arrive at TYC without such a sentence and remain in custody in accordance with TYC administrative policies that dictate the length of stay.[3]

In fiscal 2002, Texas spent an estimated $400 million from all funding sources on juvenile justice services through both TYC and TJPC. TJPC spent $118.7 million, about a third of the total; TYC spent the remaining $283.6 million.[4] These amounts exclude the local support counties provide to their juvenile probation departments, which accounts for 70 percent of all probation funding.

Probation services

Youth probation can include many services. Both Harris and Travis counties, for example, have programs offering family counseling, sex offender treatment, mentoring, psychological evaluations, substance abuse treatment and child protective services.[5]

Juvenile probation departments in counties with populations of more than 125,000 must run alternative education programs called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs). Students who must be expelled under the terms of Texas Education Code (TEC) §37.007 are referred to JJAEPs.[6] JJAEPs must adhere to a set of minimum educational standards developed jointly by TJPC and the Texas Education Agency.

TJPC provides funding for JJAEPs to each county juvenile probation department based on the daily attendance of children placed for offenses listed under TEC §37.007. For children placed in a JJAEP because of violations of school district or city rules, the county department negotiates payment with the referring entity.

Texas Youth Commission

TYC provides for the care, custody, education and rehabilitation of youths committed to its institutional system. The agency operates 15 secure institutions and nine residential halfway house programs. In addition, TYC contracts with more than 40 private organizations and local governments for a wide range of services.

Offenders receive an extensive assessment to determine their most appropriate placement in TYC’s facilities. The assessment includes medical and psychological evaluations; education testing and assessment; a “social summary” of the offender’s family life; and an assessment of their need for specialized services such as treatment for sex offenses, chemical dependency, mental retardation, mental illness or violent criminal behavior.[7]

TYC, as noted above, also provides juvenile parole services. Parole, like probation, is a form of community-based supervision. Initially, paroled youths are placed under intense surveillance. Parole officers meet with them once a week to monitor their progress and determine their compliance with their individual “reintegration” plans, as developed by a treatment team comprising parole officers and treatment specialists. As parolees proceed with their reintegration plans, parole officers continue regularly scheduled visits and may conduct unscheduled visits to schools, work sites and homes, as well as random curfew checks.[8]

Agency performance

Since 1995, both TYC and TJPC have faced significant challenges as their roles and duties have expanded. TYC’s capacity has grown by 130 percent since 1995. The agency has 5,000 of its own beds and 1,000 contracted beds.[9] TJPC has expanded its technical assistance and training for local departments, has begun providing JJAEP funding, conducts abuse and neglect investigations of secure detention and residential facilities and monitors departments for compliance with established standards.[10]

TYC has done a good job in coping with a major expansion. The most recent review of TYC by the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) stated that its financial and management systems were reliable and could provide the Legislature with accurate and consistent information.[11]

TJPC, by contrast, has faced criticism concerning persistent problems with its contracts for various services and its oversight role regarding local departments. In 1998, SAO reported that TJPC could not ensure that Texas’ local juvenile probation departments perform the tasks that the Legislature expects, and that the agency was providing little or no oversight of local programming decisions or expenditures.[12] A July 2002 SAO report found that these problems persist. In particular, TJPC does not enforce its minimum training standards for detention and corrections officers—a problem SAO says could “put at risk the health and safety of juveniles under supervision.”[13]

Duplicated services

Both TYC and the local juvenile departments have developed expertise in serving the needs of youths in their custody. Increasing numbers of juveniles referred to both, however, require mental health and substance abuse services. TYC specifically, estimates that 50 percent of the youths in its custody have some level of emotional disturbance.[14]

About half of the youths supervised by Harris County’s juvenile probation department are misdemeanor offenders. They represent a new and growing population of youths and children who receive traditional health and human and educational services through the probation system. Many end up under the supervision of the local probation department because other systems that might have provided more appropriate assistance, such as child protective and mental health services, are overburdened.[15] In many areas, the juvenile probation department has become the default provider of youth services.[16]

Numerous state and local juvenile justice officials and staff members have cited the complexity of the services required by youths in their custody as a major challenge.[17] TYC and the local departments both provide services—including mental health, substance abuse, child protection and educational services—that are also provided by other social service agencies as well as school districts. TYC cannot avoid this duplication because youths confined to its custody typically are not eligible to receive services from agencies that serve free-world clients. Juvenile probation departments, however, often find themselves providing social services that should be available to their charges from other agencies. And the expense of providing these services without the federal assistance available to traditional human services agencies is a growing burden to state and county budgets.

Texas clearly has a responsibility to ensure coordination between the juvenile justice system and state and local health and human services and educational agencies. Texas’ recently enacted Enhanced Mental Health Services Initiative reflects movement in this direction; it provided TJPC with $4 million to coordinate mental health services through the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments. This initiative is intended to address service gaps between the criminal justice and mental health systems.[18]

In addition to the Enhanced Mental Health Services Initiative, county juvenile probation departments and state agencies serving the same clients are coordinating their services to ensure all client needs are addressed and to minimize agency costs. For example, Travis County’s juvenile probation department works effectively with the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and local school districts to assess juvenile needs and share costs. DPRS caseworkers routinely attend juvenile hearings for youths. TYC, TJPC and the local departments access federal foster care placement funds to pay for the placement of children in shelters and treatment facilities.

DPRS developed the criteria and administrative processes that juvenile agencies use to access federal foster care placement funds. Similar access to other federal programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would save juvenile probation departments a significant amount on medical costs. But departments have no authority to require the parents of detainees or probationers to enroll in CHIP.[19]

Administrative duplication

TYC and what is now TJPC once were a single agency. In 1981 the creation of TJPC split the responsibility for juvenile justice services between two entities.[20] TJPC was created to ensure probation services were available, accessible, met minimum standards and improved communication between state and local entities in the juvenile justice system. Splitting TJPC from TYC created two state-level agencies in the juvenile justice system with completely separate administrative structures.

Separate funding streams

Perhaps the largest problem with Texas’ division of juvenile justice programs between two agencies is the restrictions it places on funding, placements and services. Both TYC and TJPC have finite “streams” of state and federal funding earmarked for specific purposes and/or populations; often, decisions on placements and services are driven by the exhaustion of a particular funding stream rather than a youth’s best interests. In some cases, for instance, county juvenile probation departments will send youths to TYC simply because available TJPC funding has run out—even if the youths’ offenses do not merit TYC placement, and despite the fact that TYC placement is far more expensive than probation options.

Best practice in Ohio

Ohio provides a compelling case for pooling funds to reduce the use of incarceration. By providing local governments with fiscal incentives to develop and use alternative sanctions for non-chronic, non-violent offenders, Ohio has reduced its commitments to the most expensive placement in the state system, the Department of Youth Services (DYS).

This innovative funding scheme, called RECLAIM Ohio (Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternative to the Incarceration of Minors), takes funds previously allocated to DYS and pools and distributes them to county probation departments instead. The county must use these funds to pay a per diem amount for state DYS commitments for all but the most serious juvenile offenders. The arrangement is designed to eliminate the perception that such commitments are “free” and encourage local departments to develop a range of community-based alternatives to incarceration.[21]

Ohio has been able to make its alternative funding mechanism work due in large part to the fact that DYS is the state’s only juvenile justice agency. The relationship between the local probation departments and the state incarceration agency is direct, without an additional agency involved and the accompanying financial complications.


A. State law should be amended to consolidate all Texas juvenile justice services into the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and eliminate the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC).

TYC should establish a probation division to assume all current TJPC functions. The legislation should transfer TJPC’s responsibility for investigations of abuse and neglect in detention and post-adjudication facilities to the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. The TYC board should be reconfigured to ensure probation representation. Merging Texas’ two juvenile justice agencies would help the state to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles that prevent better coordination among state and local services for youths and children. If TYC and TJPC were merged, the resultant agency would have the ability to transfer funds among its programs more readily to ensure the most cost-effective result; state rules would allow the agency to transfer up to 25 percent of its state and federal funding from one stream to another.[22] It also could help Texas increase its federal funding for such services.

B. TYC should aggressively pursue matching state and local dollars now spent on juvenile services with appropriate federal funds. Federal funding sources to be pursued include the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, Title IV-E (foster care placement funds), Title IV-B (training and administrative costs associated with foster care placements for children), all available federal educational funding for special needs students and substance abuse funding.

The newly configured juvenile justice agency, in conjunction with appropriate health and human services and educational agencies, should identify potential funding sources for juvenile probation and for TYC. General Government Issue 3 in this document provides for a broader consolidation of services for children, youth and families. This consolidation of TJPC and TYC would occur before the broader consolidation proposed in GG Issue 3.

Fiscal Impact

TJPC currently has 13 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) and spends $882,000 annually on salaries, $249,000 in benefits and $230,000 in other operating costs to perform its administrative functions.[23] This estimate assumes that TYC could assume most of these administrative responsibilities without additional staffing except for two general counsel positions, each at a $65,000 annual salary plus $18,000 in benefits.

The estimate further assumes a transition period for the first nine months, with partial savings realized in fiscal 2004 and full-year savings realized by fiscal 2005. All budgetary and FTE reductions would be effective on June 1, 2004. To realize the partial savings in fiscal 2004, TJPC’s appropriations should be reduced by $188,000 in salaries. Benefit reductions of $53,000 would also be necessary. To realize the full savings in fiscal 2005 and beyond TJPC’s appropriations should be reduced by $752,000 in salaries and $230,000 in other operating expenses. Benefit reductions of $213,000 would also be necessary (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1

Agency Name FY 2004 General Revenue Appropriations Reduction FY 2005 General Revenue Appropriations Reduction
Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Salaries $ 188,000 $ 752,000
Other Operating Costs $ 230,000
ERS (20.63%) $ 39,000 $ 155,000
FICA (7.65%) $ 14,000 $ 58,000
Total Savings $ 241,000 $1,195,000
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Fiscal Impact

Fiscal Year Savings to the General Revenue Fund Change in FTEs
2004 $241,000 -11
2005 $1,195,000 -11
2006 $1,195,000 -11
2007 $1,195,000 -11
2008 $1,195,000 -11

Further savings could result from improved service coordination among entities that provide services to youths and children, which would allow for a greater use of federal dollars. Federal revenue would help the state and local departments maintain or expand service without large funding increases. These savings, however, cannot be estimated without further study of best practices.


[1]Texas Youth Commission, “How Offenders Get to TYC,” how_gethere.html. (Last visited August 2, 2002.)

[2]Travis County, Juvenile Probation Department (Austin, Texas, 2002), pp. 12-14; and Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, A Century of Service 1999 Annual Report, Houston, Texas, 1999.

[3]Texas Youth Commission, “How Offenders Get to TYC,” (Last visited August 2, 2002.)

[4]Texas Youth Commission, Operating Budget Fiscal Year 2002 (Austin, Texas, November 1, 2001), p. 1; and Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, Operating Budget Fiscal Year 2002 (Austin, Texas, November 1, 2001), p. A-1.

[5]Travis County, Juvenile Probation Department, pp. 8-13; and Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, A Century of Service 1999 Annual Report, p. 22.

[6]Travis County, Juvenile Probation Department, pp. 18-21.

[7]Texas Youth Commission, “Juvenile Corrections System in Texas,” (Last visited August 2, 2002.)

[8]Texas Youth Commission, “Parole Program Overview,” (Last visited August 2, 2002.)

[9]Interview with Steve Robinson, executive director, Texas Youth Commission, Austin, Texas, May 22, 2002.

[10]Interview with Lisa Capers, deputy director, and Linda Brooke and Don Pace, Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, Austin, Texas, May 21, 2002.

[11]Texas State Auditor’s Office, A Financial Review of the Texas Youth Commission (Austin, Texas, May, 2002), p. 1.

[12]Texas State Auditor’s Office, An Audit Report on Management Controls at the TJPC (Austin, Texas, November, 1998), p. 1.

[13]Texas State Auditor’s Office, An Audit Report on the Juvenile Probation Commission (Austin, Texas, July, 2002), pp. 3-4.

[14]Interview with Steve Robinson, executive director, Texas Youth Commission, Austin, Texas, May 22, 2002.

[15]Interview with Elmer Bailey, chief probation officer, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, Houston, Texas, June 3, 2002.

[16]Telephone interview with Carey Cockrell, chief probation officer, Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department, Fort Worth, Texas, June 10, 2002.

[17]Interviews with Steve Robinson, executive director, Texas Youth Commission, Austin, Texas, May 22, 2002; Elmer Bailey, chief probation officer, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, Houston, Texas, June 3, 2002; and Debra Byler, chief probation officer, Fayette County Juvenile Probation Department, June 13, 2002.

[18]Criminal Justice Policy Council, Overview of the Enhanced Mental Health Services Initiative (Austin, Texas, May, 2002), pp. 7-8.

[19]Interviews with Estella Medina, chief probation officer, and Barbara Swift, deputy, Travis County Juvenile Probation Department, Austin, Texas, June 7, 2002 and July 29, 2002.

[20]Interview with Steve Robinson, executive director, Texas Youth Commission, Austin, Texas, May 22, 2002.

[21]National Center for Juvenile Justice, “State Profiles,” (Last visited August 3, 2002.)

[22]Interviews with Estella Medina, chief probation officer, and Barbara Swift, deputy, Travis County Juvenile Probation Department, Austin, Texas, June 7, 2002 and July 29, 2002.

[23]Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, Legislative Appropriations Request for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 (Austin, Texas, August 9, 2002), p. III B, p. 12.