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This course combines the content and structure of a seminar with client-directed research and a service learning opportunity through a field placement with a community partner. Students will learn about the Texas juvenile justice system, which has been the subject of intense legislative scrutiny over the last two years, and will contribute their research skills to conduct important research for one of three components of the system. The research tasks performed by the students have the potential to directly impact reform efforts currently underway.
This three-credit course is open to a total of 10 students: four from the LBJ School; three from the Law School; and three from the School of Social Work. All placements with community partners will be arranged by the instructor following consultation with each student and based on the students' interests and discipline. Placement options include: the Office of the Independent Ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission; various divisions within the Texas Youth Commission; and the Travis County Juvenile Court/Probation Department. Students may specialize in a particular substantive area of research (e.g., health care; mental health; education; legal issues; nutrition; parole; discipline), but will not be representing or treating any clients.
Students are expected to work 8-12 hours per week with the community partner, usually on-site, for a total of at least 120 hours over the course of the semester. Some of that time will be spent on the research projects, but it will also include exposure to and involvement in the general work of the office. Background and System Placement Options
The state of the Texas juvenile justice system dominated the news headlines during the 80th legislative session, following a sexual abuse scandal in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the virtual dismantling of the agency's management structure. Lawmakers passed numerous reform measures, and have continued to hold frequent hearings about progress in implementing these changes. TYC is currently under the control of an appointed Conservator, is facing Sunset review, and has one of its facilities under court order. After a lengthy crisis period, the agency is finally achieving sufficient stability to allow it to implement a more rehabilitative vision in concert with the changes demanded by the Legislature. Virtually every aspect of the agency is currently in a state of flux.
There are three field placement options that will offer students the opportunity to engage directly with key system players on issues of fundamental importance to the continuing operations of the juvenile justice system in Texas: (1) Office of the Independent Ombudsman (OIO)
One of the most important legislative reforms was the appointment of an Independent Ombudsman to evaluate the treatment of children held in TYC custody, to recommend reforms to TYC, and to report to the Legislature and the Governor on issues of concern. The Office of the Independent Ombudsman (OIO) has complete access to all TYC facilities and conducts in-depth reviews of various issues affecting youth in custody as well as investigations of individual complaints. This office can accommodate students with interests in almost any substantive area affecting juveniles, and will rely heavily on student interns to conduct in-depth research to help guide the OIO's policy recommendations to TYC, the Legislature, and the Governor. (2) Texas Youth Commission
Students working with TYC would be assigned to the central office (in Austin) rather than to a juvenile facility, in order to maximize the policy impact of the students' work. Specific placements within TYC would be based on the student's particular interests. For example, a student could be assigned to work with the Conservator on "big-picture" management issues, with the General Counsel's Office evaluating legal aspects of agency policies, with the Education, Treatment, or Medical Departments, or with the Release Review Panel. (3) Travis County Juvenile Court/Probation Department
Last session, the Legislature required local juvenile justice agencies to handle a greater number of juvenile offenders locally. Key lawmakers are now suggesting that local governments may soon have even greater responsibilities in this area. Thus, local juvenile boards need to step up their assessment of their needs and the success of their programs. Travis County's juvenile justice system is considered a model for the rest of the state in terms of its range of programming and success in keeping serious juvenile offenders in the community. Local officials need assistance, however, in analyzing the extensive database they maintain regarding programs and juvenile offenders. Students can choose to focus on a particular area of interest within the database, or can conduct more general quantitative research. Course Requirements
The class will meet four times at the beginning of the semester and periodically thereafter. The introductory sessions will provide all students with grounding in the way the Texas juvenile justice system works, the crises facing the TYC, the legislative reform efforts, and national best practices. Key players in the reform effort will be invited to participate in these discussions. Subsequent class meetings will focus primarily on topics suggested by the students. For example, we may decide to hear from additional guest speakers, go into more depth in a substantive area of interest, focus on skills-building to assist in research projects, discuss work environment or ethical issues, or have students present their research. There will be substantial time devoted to reflections on students' work and research experiences.
In addition to classroom work and service learning work, all students will participate in a class tour of a TYC facility and will observe some juvenile courtroom proceedings. As relevant legislative hearings are scheduled, students will also be expected to attend these hearings to the extent possible.
Students will have their placement determined prior to the start of the class, following consultation with the instructor, and each student will have a community partner supervisor for his or her placement work. While each student should anticipate having several research and writing assignments during the course of his or her placement, the course requires every student to complete one substantial research project that will be submitted to the instructor as well as to the placement supervisor. That major research project will be determined by the student in collaboration with the supervisor at the start of the placement, and the project topic must be approved by the instructor. Although supervisors will make every effort to ensure that students also receive other worthwhile assignments during the course of the placement, students are expected to be self-directed and assertive in identifying, suggesting, and designing relevant research and writing projects. Students must work no fewer than 120 hours for their placement. The work schedule will be arranged with the placement supervisor, but usually involves 8-12 hours of work per week. Typically, at least 8 hours per week will involve on-site work. In addition to the research assignments given by the supervisor, students should expect to participate in routine office activities, including case work, courtroom hearings, attendance at meetings, field visits, etc., depending upon the placement.
Students are also expected to prepare for and participate fully in class discussions, and to submit to the instructor brief reflective writing assignments and timesheets, in addition to the major research project. Students will receive a written evaluation from their supervisor on their field work. Grading will take into account all of these factors.
Interested students are required to contact the instructor and to complete an application for the course. Preference will be given to students who have completed at least one year of their graduate program. Student may not receive compensation for their field placement.