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Featured, from left: Edinburg City Councilmember Richard Molina and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

Texas juveniles who are placed by a court on deferred disposition or community supervision for illegal drug use, but who have not been convicted of that crime, could be required to participate in state-approved substance abuse education programs, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, featured right, has proposed. The House District 40 lawmaker on Wednesday, February 19, filed House Bill 642, which would give a presiding judge the authority to require a young offender, under age 18, to learn about the terrible consequences of unlawful drug abuse as a requirement for avoiding a harsher penalty or permanent criminal record. “Currently, minors who are convicted of drug offenses can be required to attend an alcohol awareness program. These programs are designed to help increase a minor’s awareness of the potential dangers and detriments of alcohol use,” Canales explained. “Unfortunately, this requirement does not extend to minors who are placed on deferred disposition or community supervision for drug-related offenses.” Deferred Disposition is a form of probation, which allows for dismissal of a charge if certain criteria(s) are met. Community supervision means the placement of a defendant by a court under a continuum of programs and sanctions, with conditions imposed by the court for a specified period. But, many young people who commit these offenses – often minor in nature – are entering pre-trial programs where they are not actually convicted of the crime, the House 40 state lawmaker continued. “A large percentage of juvenile crimes are misdemeanors involving kids with small amounts of drugs. These kids do not need to go to jail. They need an approach tailored to their issues,” Canales said. “Judges need more power to require local programs aimed to help our youth.” His legislation also comes as a major national study, with a conservative Texas point of view, shed more light on the need to provide juvenile offenders with local rehabilitation efforts in or near their home regions. That first-of-its-kind investigation comparing Texas youth with nearly identical characteristics shows that juveniles treated by court-approved programs closer to home “are far less likely to reoffend than those incarcerated in state correctional facilities,” the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M University, announced on Thursday, January 29. Featured with Canales as part of a visit to the Texas Capitol in early February by Edinburg leaders is City Councilmember Richard Molina. Molina is a U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Joint Forge-Bosnia and was honorably discharged. Molina was an employee of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department and later served as an Edinburg Police Sergeant for 11 years. Molina is now the owner and manager of Molina Rental Properties in Edinburg.

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Texas juveniles facing drug charges could receive more help through legislation by Rep. Canales

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Texas juveniles who are placed by a court on deferred disposition or community supervision for illegal drug use, but who have not been convicted of that crime, could be required to participate in state-approved substance abuse education programs, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has proposed.

The House District 40 lawmaker on Wednesday, February 19, filed House Bill 642, which would give a presiding judge the authority to require a young offender, under age 18, to learn about the terrible consequences of unlawful drug abuse as a requirement for avoiding a harsher penalty or permanent criminal record.

“Currently, minors who are convicted of drug offenses can be required to attend an alcohol awareness program. These programs are designed to help increase a minor’s awareness of the potential dangers and detriments of alcohol use,” Canales explained. “Unfortunately, this requirement does not extend to minors who are placed on deferred disposition or community supervision for drug-related offenses.”

Deferred Disposition is a form of probation, which allows for dismissal of a charge if certain criteria(s) are met.

Community supervision means the placement of a defendant by a court under a continuum of programs and sanctions, with conditions imposed by the court for a specified period.

But, many young people who commit these offenses – often minor in nature – are entering pre-trial programs where they are not actually convicted of the crime, the House 40 state lawmaker continued.

“A large percentage of juvenile crimes are misdemeanors involving kids with small amounts of drugs. These kids do not need to go to jail. They need an approach tailored to their issues,” Canales said. “Judges need more power to require local programs aimed to help our youth.”

HB 642 is part of the strategy by a bipartisan alliance of organizations in the state which “have united to pursue cost-effective reforms that enhance public safety, promote safe rehabilitation, and save taxpayer dollars,” according to the Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition.

In 2014, the Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition was founded by the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, specifically in response to Texas’ “ineffective and costly over-reliance on incarceration,” according to the organization.

Canales, an attorney, said one of the many reasons for his legislation is simple: “We can’t just keep shoving kids into prison and hoping that they’re going to get better.”

Educational awareness can combat the prevalence of illegal drug usage, and drug-associated criminal activity, he contended.

“Our youth need to be made more aware of the mental, behavioral, and physical dependencies caused by drug and alcohol abuse. According to the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease,” Canales said. “Juvenile offenders in general are more likely to struggle with mental health and substance abuse issues. My bill will help these young Texans get on the right path.”

Canales, a member of the crime-fighting House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, said he will continue shaping legislation that will include battling violent thugs, locking up sexual predators, capturing drug dealers, and putting away robbers, burglars, and swindlers.

But he also agrees, especially in the case of a young person who has not yet reached adulthood, that in Texas, everyone who deserves a second chance should get one.

“We should not want to destroy the life of a such a young person for a simple mistake or a lack of judgment,” Canales said.

TEXAS A&M STUDY SUPPORTS VALUE OF LOCAL REHABILITATION FOR JUVENILES

His legislation also comes as a major national study, with a conservative Texas point of view, shed more light on the need to provide juvenile offenders with local rehabilitation efforts in or near their home regions.

That first-of-its-kind investigation comparing Texas youth with nearly identical characteristics shows that juveniles treated by court-approved programs closer to home “are far less likely to reoffend than those incarcerated in state correctional facilities,” the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M University, announced on Thursday, January 29.

When they do reoffend, youth released from state-secure facilities are three times more likely to commit a felony than youth under community supervision, according to the research document, entitled CLOSER TO HOME: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms.

The findings, which draws on an unprecedented dataset of 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years, show youth (under age 17) incarcerated in state-run facilities are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than those that remain under supervision closer to home, Closer to Home reported.

Also according to the announcement jointly delivered by the Council of State Governments Justice Center:

“The extraordinary data compiled for this study demonstrates convincingly how much better youth, who prior to the reforms would have been incarcerated, fare instead under community supervision,” said Tony Fabelo, director of Research for the CSG Justice Center. “It also finds that, for those youth placed under community supervision, there is still considerable room for improvement.”

Since 2000, when the number of juveniles incarcerated was at a record high, the number of detained or incarcerated youth has decreased by more than 40 percent nationwide, according to 2013 figures, with some state populations declining by as much as 80 percent. Texas has helped contribute to that national drop.

After a number of abuses involving youth incarcerated in state facilities were uncovered, Texas state leaders enacted a series of reforms between 2007 and 2013. Texas leaders argued that many youth were incarcerated unnecessarily, and that supervising and providing treatment to kids close to home, instead of shipping them to far-off correctional facilities, would produce better individual outcomes and save taxpayer money without compromising public safety.

The result has been a dramatic decrease in the state-secure population, with a 65-percent reduction between 2007 and 2012, according to the study, cutting hundreds of millions in state spending and reinvesting a large portion of those savings into county-administered juvenile probation departments.

During the same time period, juvenile arrests also declined by 33 percent, a significant drop compared to the 2-percent decline over the four years prior to 2007 reforms.

“Texas has demonstrated it is possible to achieve reductions in crime while reducing the number of youth incarcerated,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also serves on the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice.

“Prior to the reforms, youth were placed in facilities and essentially put on a path to the adult prison system. They were exposed to violence, disconnected from their families, and offered few rehabilitation options,” Whitmire said. “Now, we need to take additional steps to make sure we are doing everything we can to support youth under community supervision to help them become successful adults. This report points to a number of areas in which the state can better partner with local governments to achieve that goal.”

The combination of additional funding from the state and fewer youth under community supervision means counties are spending more than ever on each youth under community supervision. Nevertheless, recidivism rates for youth under community supervision have not improved measurably over the past several years, according to the study, which reviewed not only statewide data, but also analyzed outcomes among youth under community supervision in 30 individual Texas counties.

IMPROVED LOCAL SUPERVISION ALSO KEY TO HELPING YOUNG OFFENDERS

The report found substantial evidence that all counties could lower recidivism rates further by doing a better job applying the latest research, such as assigning youth to the right programs and appropriate levels of supervision.

“Neither poor matching of high risk youth with inappropriate programs, nor over-programming youth with minimal needs does much to reduce the likelihood of a young person reoffending, and could actually have the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of rearrest,” said Dr. Mark Lipsey, a national expert who directs the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University and advised the team on the study’s methodology, along with Dr. Edward P. Mulvey, professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In a closer examination of eight large Texas counties, the report found 298 of the 300 programs mix youth of different risk levels. Between 34 percent and 90 percent of youth considered to have a low risk of reoffending were placed in one or more programs, despite only a small fraction of these youth having a high need for such programs.

“The findings in this study and the extensive dialogue we’ve had with the CSG Justice Center will provide support and guidance as we look to further improve operations and outcomes for juvenile justice youth served in the community,” said Randy Turner, Director of Juvenile Services in Tarrant County.

David Reilly, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said this report sets the stage for the state and Texas’s juvenile probation departments to partner together to continue make progress in juvenile justice.

“We’ve come a long way already,” he said. “Now, we need to continue to reduce the number of youth in state facilities and further refine our partnerships with local probation departments to achieve better outcomes for youth while continuing to maintain public safety.”

CLOSER TO HOME: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms was developed in partnership with Texas A&M University and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, added: “States across the nation are adopting better public policy by looking at the data, Texas is making communities safer and also saving money by keeping more youth under supervision closer to their local communities. Housing juveniles in a state facility is often the most expensive correctional option and generally fails to produce better outcomes.”

The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities.

For more information about the Justice Center, visit http://www.csgjusticecenter.org.

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Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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