Williamson County has been awarded $308,728 by the Indigent Defense Commission to support the defense component of an innovative alternative to incarceration program for emerging adults. The supported program establishes a formal diversionary option to the criminal justice system for emerging adults charged with a felony offense and connects individuals with services through a localized, integrated program structured to support positive health and safety outcomes that reduce continued justice system involvement. The Lone Star Justice Alliance was awarded the contract to administer this program. To date, the Lone Star Justice Alliance and its partners have secured $607,000 in donations so Williamson County can expand opportunities for young adults through the program.
Emerging adults, ages 17-24, are overrepresented in the adult criminal justice system in Texas. In 2012, emerging adults made up 10% of the U.S. population but comprised 29% of arrests, and 21% of people admitted into adult prisons across the country. Currently, over 75% of justice-involved emerging adults recidivate, the highest short-term recidivism rate of any age group, and emerging adults sentenced to a term of probation are revoked at a rate three times higher than older adults.
“The Second Chance Community Improvement Program ensures individuals most at risk for ongoing involvement with the criminal justice system are given the support they need to remain positively engaged with their communities,” said County Judge Bill Gravell. “Critical to my vote was the commitment by our health and human service providers to address the needs of these young people in the community. Their support and willingness to tackle these issues will be essential for this program to succeed.”
“As a county that cares deeply about the public safety and health outcomes of its citizens, it is time for us to explore innovative programs that will better address these young people,” said Williamson County Judge Stacey Mathews. “This alternative to incarceration program will provide substance abuse and mental illness treatment and connect people with criminal justice histories to jobs and education, all while saving taxpayer dollars every year.”
This support came after the release of the Lone Star Justice Alliance report, Transformative Justice: A Developmental Approach to System-Involved Emerging Adults, which outlines the ways Texas counties can better serve emerging adults. This report identifies the ways in which emerging adults are more vulnerable to justice system involvement than older adults, the best evidence-based intervention strategies for emerging adults, and an approach for meeting the needs of emerging adults in their communities to produce positive health and public safety outcomes for all residents in Texas.
“The report highlights the need for a strong infrastructure of community-based programs that provide training, counseling, education, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, anger management, family and parenting services and other essential tools that help defendants find employment and housing and to live stable crime-free lives,” said District Attorney Shawn Dick. “Through expanded diversion opportunities, transitional services and more, we can lower recidivism rates, while holding these young people accountable for their misdeeds. This will ultimately save our county dollars by providing alternatives to incarceration. As the elected District Attorney for Williamson County, I thank everyone involved for their dedication to reforming offenders and increasing public safety.”
“Williamson County Juvenile Services is honored to serve as a partner in this innovative program,” stated Juvenile Services Executive Director Scott Matthew. “We believe we have developed a robust infrastructure that includes a wide variety of community supports, a focus on trauma informed care, developmental relationships and client accountability that will support successful outcomes for this population”
The program will be evaluated by Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab, Texas A&M’s Public Policy Institute, and the University of Texas’s Heath Science Center. This evaluation will assess the impact of this program on public safety and community health.