Study: Juvenile probation departments are in need

A recent survey conducted by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC) found 64 percent of 73 county probation departments evaluated in Texas had insufficient funding for county juvenile probation departments. The survey included urban, rural and medium-sized counties. According to TCJC, these funds are needed to sufficiently implement the best practices for reductions in juvenile crime and recidivism or habitual relapse into crime.

“(The survey) was completed in early August,” said Dr. Anna Correa, executive director at TCJC. “We wanted to find what the departments needed so they could better serve the kids and make sure the kids they were serving had the resources they needed.”

Correa said many of the kids in these departments have gone through trauma in their life, have been abused sexually, physically or mentally, have drug addictions, or suffer from mental health problems.

“The probation departments are the ones who are working with these kids on a daily basis, so we wanted to get their perspective,” Correa said. “Unfortunately, they think that (the funding) is not enough to meet the kids’ needs. In terms of what they need the most is funding for mental health services.”

Other areas of concern the survey indicates are community-based alternatives to secure detention, family involvement programs, prevention programs and substance abuse services.

Community involvement was another big concern, according to the survey. Seventy percent of the probation departments cited receiving less than $10,000 annually and 70 percent reported receiving zero hours of volunteer work.

“Everybody needs more volunteers and across the board that speaks to the need for probation departments to feel like the community cares and the need for the community to get involved,” Correa said. “Kids need someone to be there for them. Probation departments will definitely welcome people to mentor kids and to help them.”

Correa said these areas need to be addressed before the juveniles reach adulthood.

“We have certain expectations for our children,” she said. “In order for them to meet these expectations, we have to meet certain expectations too. These kids have to be fed, their basic needs have to be met, and if they suffer from mental health, substance abuse, or if they have been traumatized, the state or the community, at the very least, needs to give them the resources to heal so they won’t grow up as people who are in pain. When you think about the adult (probation) system, the vast majority have substance abuse problems, mental health problems, with a fifth-grade level of education. One thing ties to the other.”

Correa hopes that state legislators will consider the TCJC survey while putting together their budgets.

“When the state fails to give probation departments what they need to fully realize and help a young man or woman fulfill their potential as human beings, we’re going to end up paying a lot more not just in financial costs, but in human costs as well,” Correa said.

Locally, the survey included Jefferson and Orange County probation departments. Hardin County did not participate in the survey.

Ed Cockrell, chief juvenile probation officer at Jefferson County, said the county is receiving ample volunteer work through the Foster Grandparent Program, senior citizens that are going into the facility to work with the kids through the detention center.

Cockrell also mentioned that he received great volunteer work from Inspire, Encourage, Achieve, another volunteer organization that helps young people in Southeast Texas achieve their goals by initiating enhanced educational, rehabilitative, and support services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system.

He also said mental health is a concern across the state.

“We have a program here in Jefferson County working with MHMR to help kids who have mental health issues,” Cockrell said. “We have a probation officer and they have a case worker at their office that work together to service those kids and families.”

Despite all the things going right for the Jefferson County Probation Office, Cockrell said,  “Probation departments could always use more funding.”

Brenda Blohm, chief juvenile probation officer of Orange County Juvenile Probation, said their department has been fortunate.

“We have been very blessed,” Blohm said. “I don’t really have any big complaints here when you look at the whole scheme of things.”