Juvenile justice systems seeing success with Closer to Home program

The reforms sweeping the nation in criminal justice and how inmates are rehabilitated have come down to the juvenile level.

While there are still some hurdles, the changes in how juveniles in the system are reformed seems to be making a difference.

Even though Dallas County Juvenile is dealing with the fallout of a recent incident involving girls having improper sexual contact, juvenile justice in Texas and Dallas County has changed.

Fewer teens are being sent to state-run correctional facilities. The working theory is that delinquents have a better chance at rehabilitation closer to home.

The latest incident involved two handfuls of girls going through rehabilitative treatment at the Letot Center in Dallas County involved allegations of inappropriate sexual contact.

Interim Dallas County Juvenile Director Mike Griffiths says operational changes have been made and staff has been retrained.

“We're dealing with youth that have higher behavioral health issues and more severe offenses,” he said. “It’s looking at pro social ways to work with youth and working with them as close as you can to where there home is.”

The Closer to Home program launched six years ago. It’s the center piece of juvenile justice reform in Texas.

“What it showed policy makers both locally and at the state level is that youth do better when they’re closer to their families,” Griffiths explained.

It means treating troubled teens with higher behavioral health issues and more severe offenses are closer to home.

“It’s impacted it by the severity of our youth. That’s put challenges on our staff,” Griffiths said. “Wo we need to get them prepared to work with that level of youth.”

But Griffiths says it’s also showing success.

“The proof is we've reduced referrals by 50 percent commitments to the state system. Almost 180 percent,” he said. “So, it is working.”

The dollars being spent on juvenile justice is shifting to provide community supervision, services, and treatment at the local county level.

Griffiths says the positive results here are being repeated across the state.