Keeping Teen Offenders in County-Run Lockups Would Save Cash. Not Everyone's Sure It's Wise.

A new bill introduced in the Texas Senate would allow counties to open their own holding centers for juvenile law-breakers. Teenage offenders are currently held in lockups operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Senate bill 511, authored by state Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, would give counties the freedom to open their own.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Whitmire said at a hearing Tuesday that each incarcerated juvenile costs the state $120,000 per year. Counties, he says, can keep them for half that amount. Whitemire also counted Dallas among the cities interested in switching from TJJD-run centers.

Not everyone is a fan. "I hope to goodness it doesn't get traction," Judge William A. Mazur of the 304th Juvenile District Court in Dallas told Unfair Park. Mazur cautioned that, while the state would save money, the individual counties would be serving smaller populations, and that the smaller scale would make many of the services offered now too costly.

Texas rates of juvenile detention have declined in the past several years, as havethe rates nationally. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's yearly Kids Count report, the number of "persons under age 21 detained, incarcerated, or placed in residential facilities" in Texas steadily declined from 8247 in 2006 to 5352 in 2010.

Mazur says that Dallas is at least equal to the national trends, and maybe even slightly ahead. "I have less than half the number of kids in my center than when I started six years ago." Texas still has the second highest population of incarcerated juveniles in the country. California is a distant first with 11,532.

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