Criminal Justice

Majority of Texas children are kept on probation despite being low risk for rearrest, new report says

The report also found racial disparities among Texas children placed on probation, with Black children making up 27% of supervised youth throughout the state despite accounting for only 13% of Texas’ population.


A majority of children placed on probation in Texas are supervised for longer than necessary, which has inadvertently increased their likelihood of recidivism while leading to an inefficient use of state resources, according to a new report.

The report from The Pew Charitable Trusts analyzed data on 33,128 children who were placed on probation in Texas from October 2013 to September 2017. The report found that most children who weren’t arrested within the first six months of probation were unlikely to be arrested for a new offense later. However, nearly half of the kids — 15,362 in total — remained on probation for more than one year.

Among those who were rearrested while on probation, 54% were for misdemeanors and 21% were for nonviolent felonies, while the smallest share — 12% — were for violent felonies, according to the report.

The report also found that children assessed as low risk to reoffend were most likely to be held on probation the longest despite engaging in no new criminal behavior. At the two-year mark, 5% of children assessed as low risk remained on probation, compared to 2% of medium-risk and 1% of high-risk kids.

Additionally, the report found that after the first 10 months of probation, there were more new arrests for technical violations — like missing a probation meeting or violating curfew — than for new offenses. The report added that technical violations may actually increase subsequent offending.

“There isn’t really a good business case, a good research basis, a good public-safety case for keeping them on probation for that long,” said Ruth Rosenthal, a senior manager with the public safety performance project at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Rosenthal said most children who do end up reoffending while on probation do so in the first few months of their sentence. After the first year on probation, the monthly rate of rearrests for all children averaged just under 1.5% — regardless of their initial risk level, according to the report.

Racial disparities among Texas children placed on probation

Despite making up only 13% of Texas’ general population, Black children accounted for 27% of youth on probation in Texas. In comparison, white children make up about 33% of the state’s population, but only 23% were placed on probation.

Black children were also 1.5 times more likely to be placed in a facility and 1.2 times more likely to be placed on probation when compared to white children, who were most likely to receive alternatives like diversion or dismissal, according to the report.

These disparities existed despite Black and white children being charged with a similar share of felony offenses — 23.1% for Black children compared to 22.7% for white children, according to the report.

“These racial and ethnic disparities may be due to differential enforcement of the law, differential participation in criminal behavior, or some combination thereof,” the report read.

This comes after another recent report found that Texas’ juvenile justice system provides an "unsafe environment" for both children and staff due to severe understaffing and a lack of resources.

Rosenthal said recent findings in Texas have shed light on how other states have attempted to decrease the length of probation sentences for children. She specifically pointed to states like Utah, which set a six-month cap on probation for children.

“Do we want to be bringing kids into placement and probation in order to access services or is there a different way we can work with the community to make sure that kids are getting the type of behavioral health, mental health, educational resources and pro-social supports that they need?,” Rosenthal said.

Read the full report below:

Lucio Vasquez

Lucio Vasquez

Newscast Producer

Lucio Vasquez is a newscast producer at Houston Public Media, NPR’s affiliate station in Houston, Texas. Over the last two years, he's covered a wide range of topics, from politics and immigration to culture and the arts. Lately, Lucio has focused his reporting primarily on public safety and criminal justice...

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