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Spotlight on transformative justice

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 19 May 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2566

Williamson County Commissioner Cook: Spotlight on transformative justice (statesman.com)

In 2018, a program began in Williamson County diverting young adults ages 17 to 24 accused of nonviolent felonies, such as drug charges, from the traditional criminal justice system to services that address their development needs and help them make wise decisions to develop a strong foundation for adulthood.

Judge Stacey Mathews of the 277th District Court presides over the Transformative Justice Program, based on the model of stakeholder and community partnerships. The TJ program team includes court staff, prosecutors from the Williamson County’s district attorney’s office, members of the defense bar and county's Juvenile Services staff.  The county aggressively seeks grant-funding for such programs to offset costs and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. The Commissioners Court proudly partners with the Texas Indigent Defense Commission and the Texas Bar Foundation to help us fund this important program.

Does a community-based program led by decision-making teams improve emerging adults’ physical and mental health and reduce recidivism compared to the current criminal justice system? I interviewed two alums of this program. I changed their real names to protect their identities.

“Laura” was born into an unstable environment in a Michigan inner-city home. Her father left the family after fathering four children in as many years. Mom, who drank heavily, moved with her three kids to a trailer home in Georgetown, leaving one son behind. When Laura was 9, CPS removed the kids from the home. She, along with the older and younger brother, were placed in a neighborhood home for two weeks and ultimately moved to a group home of strangers. While there, Laura’s mom gave up her parental rights. Later, a foster family with big hearts adopted the three children. 

Laura thrived in her first two years of high school, joining ROTC, the Color Guard and becoming active in community service. However, her fragile life foundation began crumbling during her junior year, and she lost interest in the programs she had so enjoyed. Lacking friends outside of her prior groups, she drifted. In her words, “everything became meaningless.” Then her new parents divorced, and she moved again with her adoptive dad.

She started associating with troubled kids and began making poor decisions. She was arrested in Leander with a bag containing drugs and paraphernalia (the result of a group purchase) on a felony charge to the terror of her younger brother who witnessed her being handcuffed and placed in a police vehicle.

At the jail, J.R. Hancock, a defense attorney for the Transformative Justice Program and whose position is partially funded by the Texas Indigent Defense Commission grant, contacted Laura about the new program. Unbeknownst to her, Hancock was part of Laura’s adoption legal team. Recognizing the value of joining this program, Laura agreed to become one of its early clients. The next day Laura walked out of jail to her adoptive dad and her two siblings with a business card<

May 24, 2022 - Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections & Early Voting Information

Information from the Williamson County Elections Office

  • 9 May 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 4027

Image of illustrated hand depositing ballot into white box marked VOTE by www.bing.com/imagesElection Day: Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Early Voting period: Monday, May 16 to Friday, May 20

Last Day to Apply for Ballot by Mail (Received, not postmarked): Friday, May 13



The polling location is in the designated areas of each location.

May 24, 2022 Texas Secretary of State Election Law Calendar

If you voted in the March 1 primary, you can cast your vote only in runoff races for the same party. If you didn’t vote in the March primaries this year, you can choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican runoffs as long as you are registered to vote.

May 7 Joint, General and Special Election -- Plus Locations for Round Rock, Cedar Park & Austin

Information from the Williamson County Elections Office

  • 4 May 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2315

Depending on where you live, you may get to vote on city council and school board elections, and city propositions.

Image of a a hand with a finger pressing the red button with white letters that spell VOTE from www.flaticon.com/free-icon/online-voting

Everyone has the opportunity to vote on TWO statewide propositions.


Elections (wilco.org)


Newest court helps families make it together

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 21 April 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2026
Williamson Co. Commissioner Cook: Newest court helps families make it together (statesman.com)

District Court Judge Ryan Larson is one of three Williamson County judges who have collectively worked to establish a specialty court for family restoration.

We travel through life wishing certain moments were forever. For some, that wish seems to happen. For others, the wish dims but for a while, then the glow returns. Yet there are many whose wish disappears with little hope of it returning. 

I have written about several programs in the Williamson County judicial system restoring lives and hope: our specialty courts for those suffering from substance use disorder(s) like illicit drugs and alcohol; our transformative justice program for youthful offenders (non-violent) and, just last month, our stellar juvenile justice program of trust-based relational intervention for the troubled youths sent to their care. 

I recently joined the Round Rock Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for an Ishtar dinner the first weekend of Ramadan and was asked to speak about "Justice through Compassion." What a great opportunity to talk about the three programs listed above and how, through investing in those lives — seemingly on the wrong path — brings changes in positive ways. Jail is sometimes cheaper but rarely results in positive changes in the trajectory of a person’s life.

I’m lauding our newest, compassionate program: Family Recovery Court. This program focuses on families torn apart by drugs, alcohol and perhaps mental health challenges in which children are removed from their homes destined, at least for a time, for life in the Child Protective Services arena. We’ve heard the disconcerting tales of the CPS world in Texas and feel blessed that we were never in that or that we survived. This court must address the needs of at least one parent, but hopefully both parents, and all their children. In this case, it does take a community.

Kids soar with mentoring through juvenile justice programs

Column by Commissioner Cook

  • 17 March 2022
  • Author: Doris Sanchez
  • Number of views: 2264

Williamson County Juvenile Services Assistant Director Matt Smith trains officers from Williamson County and from Oklahoma in Trust-Based Relational intervention in Georgetown. Juvenile Services Executive Director Scott Matthew is seated at far left. Once, kids ordered to Williamson County’s Juvenile Justice Center by a judge were met with a military academy culture that focused on building self-discipline and increasing compliance with rules.

Despite some gains, recidivism rates were high, with many youths penetrating further in the justice system. Executive Director Scott Matthew and Assistant Director Matt Smith looked for a better way. Their search led them down several paths, and one was to Round Rock Starry, a local nonprofit known for supporting youths and families in the Child Protective Services and foster care system. Recognizing that kids in the Starry programs have experienced significant trauma, its leadership implemented the internationally recognized Trust-Based Relational Intervention framework.

TBRI, the brainchild of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, offers innovative approaches for working with traumatized children. 

A look at the backgrounds of the youths at the juvenile center revealed that 83% of its residents had been in the CPS system, with 27% of those youths previously removed from their homes.

Recognizing that youths in both systems have similar backgrounds and that many touch both systems, in 2016 Matthew and Smith sought TBRI training for the staff at the juvenile center. Their previous approach wasn’t addressing root causes in most kid’s lives; the staff wanted to make a positive long-term difference in the lives of the kids placed in their care. 

Through TBRI training, juvenile agency staff learned how adverse childhood experiences impact normal brain development when toxic stress levels are daily occurrences for children. 

So how do children with brains geared for survival operate normally in this world? They struggle. TBRI practitioners blend nurture and structure as they work with kids on their behavioral responses to events and pressures in their lives. The focus is on teaching these youths appropriate coping skills. Mentoring and teaching, not punishment, brings improvement and positive change for the children. Lives can be changed. In many cases, time spent at the juvenile center can be the best thing in these kids’ lives to date.


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