Since 2007 in Harris County juvenile auto theft referrals are down 44%, murder referrals down 41%, felony drug referrals down 53% and burglary referrals down 18%. Children at Risk’s Bob Sanborn says those figures aren’t even the most significant.
“The biggest statistic for us is that we’ve been fighting for many years the whole idea of reduction in terms of kids being sent to the Texas Youth Commission. And so, we seen that number decreased by 62%. A couple of years ago we sent 533 kids from Harris County, more than double that was sent from Dallas. But that number has dropped down to 216 for this last year.”
Sanborn says in recent years, prosecutors, judges, police and community leaders are working together to keep bad kids from becoming good criminals. He says authorities are now taking the view that just because a child breaks the law doesn’t mean he or she should be treated as a criminal. The proof he says is that recidivism rates for juvenile offenders are also down in the county.
The Reverend Leslie Smith, who founded Change Happens, says the big change over the last few years has been the relationship with Juvenile Probation and the community.
“A few years ago there was no relationship. When they brought people like me around a relationship started. Now they’ve got the ear and the pulse and the voice of the community, and they didn’t have that in the past.”
Smith says it wasn’t long ago that Juvenile Probation was the enemy, that kids in trouble just got locked up, but now organizations like his are asked offer input on how authorities deal with children.
“They call and they truly want your opinion and want your suggestions on what we need to do about our kids, and we were never asked in the past.”
One of the recent changes was the establishment of a juvenile mental health court in Judge John Phillips 314th District Court. He says it was started because 50% of juvenile offenders have a mental health issue.
“But what was really disturbing was that 25% of those kids had serious mental health diagnosis.”
He says the mental health docket has been running for a year and half and can accommodate 35-40 children in a six month period and that so far 86% have successfully completed the program.
“We provide therapy twice a week, which is at least eight times a month, and we review their case on a monthly basis, so this is an intensive program that has intensive and frequent contact with these kids. I attribute that fact as much as any thing to why it’s been so successful.”
There are many others programs and services that have helped bring the juvenile crime numbers down. Bob Sanborn says these results should be celebrated but the work must continue.