The second installment about Juvenile Court is about the process. Obviously when a juvenile breaks the law, there is a different method and set of laws about their adjudication. The interesting thing is that TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) and the Juvenile Laws of Texas are designed to hold the juvenile responsible for their actions, but also to be very proactive in trying to heal them of whatever problem they have pushing them toward the bad behavior (drugs, alcohol, anger, behavioral, etc.). There are very specific laws about how soon the young person must be given a hearing (72 hours) and how the individual’s rights and the parents’ or guardians’ rights are respected. TJJD is insistent that the young people be called detainees and not prisoners.
Much of their processing when they are arrested and “detained” is like the adult jail in the respect that they are processed, given a physical, a drug test, given “detainee” clothing and they go into confinement pending their first hearing. An attorney is always assigned to them almost always at the county’s expense. Disposition always depends on their previous record, the seriousness of the alleged crime and the County Juvenile Probation Officer’s (JPO) assessment. These are hard working people and they are responsible to spend time interviewing and consulting with the juvenile, the parents or guardians and to make a home visit to assess their home environment. They are also responsible for arranging medical and psychological assessments for the court and to recommend treatment.
Treatment can consist of being put on probation and sent home with a treatment and counseling plan or sometimes, if called for, a placement for long term treatment. When the young people are in our facility, they will be treated humanely, they will attend our school and they will be clean and well fed. Beyond the consequences for their actions, the overriding concern of the Atascosa Juvenile system is to try to fix their problems and integrate them back into their home life to be a law-abiding teenager that respects authority.
Not all are successes, but many JPOs report that they have prior clients (detainees) come back to see them when they grow up and thank them. That is always the goal.
Thanks for listening.
We want you to be proud of your County Government.
BOB HURLEY is the Atascosa County Judge. You may E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.