Juvenile Justice Policy
Juvenile justice reform efforts have been a major feature of the last four legislative sessions in Texas, and are often in the news nationally. From Texas to California to New York, policy-makers are trying to reshape the administrative structures set up to handle juvenile offenders. Guided by both fiscal concerns and research indicating that juveniles are best served in community-based programs, policy-makers are beginning to emphasize local responsibility for juvenile justice rather than state-level incarceration. There is also an increasing emphasis on prevention and rehabilitative services, even as the system still functions under laws and policies designed during the “tough on crime” period in the 1990s. At the same time, the United States Supreme Court is changing its views about juvenile sentencing, recently eliminating mandatory application of life without parole sentences for youth under age 18. This seminar will cover a broad range of topics that examine these shifting policies, with a particular focus on recent reforms in Texas. Texas provides a perfect laboratory for us as the Texas Legislature recently abolished the state’s longstanding juvenile justice agencies (the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission) and created a new juvenile justice structure for the state that emphasizes probation over incarceration (called the Texas Juvenile Justice Department). Other recent reforms in Texas include the closing of several state-run juvenile facilities. Yet problems in the Texas juvenile system remain: youth violence continues to be a problem; many youth still get sent to the state’s adult criminal justice system; there are limited options for mentally ill juvenile offenders; and funding is inadequate to support important therapeutic programs for youth. All of these issues will be addressed in the course. This seminar will meet in conjunction with a juvenile justice-themed PRP course (a year-long course that involves group work on a major project for a stakeholder client). However, the seminar is a one-semester course, and seminar students will not be doing team work on the project (unlike in previous incarnations of this course). Seminar students will be engaged in individual research projects that may or may not be related to the needs of stakeholders in the juvenile justice system. To the extent possible, the instructor will accommodate seminar students’ interests in pursuing research on subjects of their own choosing. This seminar is open to students in both the Law School and the LBJ School. Students who are interested in a more in-depth juvenile justice experience or who wish to be involved with a major team research project that may have an impact on ongoing juvenile justice reforms in Texas should consider registering instead for the year-long PRP class. This class will meet with a PRP (Reforming the Juvenile Justice System).