Juvenile Justice Policy
Topics for these policy seminars have included environmental and natural resources policy, health-service delivery policy, social welfare policy, transportation policy, science and technology policy, international affairs, national security, urban and regional growth policy, and political campaigns.
Juvenile justice reform efforts have been a major feature of the last three legislative sessions in Texas, and are often in the news nationally. From Texas to California to New York, policy-makers are trying to reshape the administrative structures set up to handle juvenile offenders. Guided by both fiscal concerns and research indicating that juveniles are best served in community-based programs, policy-makers are beginning to emphasize local responsibility for juvenile justice rather than state-level incarceration. There is also an increasing emphasis on prevention and rehabilitative services, even as the system still functions under laws and policies designed during the “tough on crime” period in the 1990s.
This seminar will cover a broad range of topics that examine these shifting policies, with a particular focus on recent reforms in Texas. Texas provides a perfect laboratory for us as the Texas Legislature appears poised to abolish the state’s juvenile justice agencies (the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission) and to create a new juvenile justice structure for the state that emphasizes probation over incarceration.
In addition to examining this structural change, we will discuss national best practices in juvenile justice and will learn about the operations of the different parts of the juvenile justice system in Texas, from the courts to the probation system to juvenile correctional facilities. We will also explore a variety of substantive issues such as mental health services, education and treatment, juvenile sentencing laws, juveniles in the adult criminal justice system, juvenile life without parole, ticketing of juveniles for minor offenses, prevention of delinquency, and cross-over youth who are in both the juvenile justice system and the child protection system.
We will invite various key players in the juvenile justice system to join us as guest speakers in the class. We will also ground our discussions by spending time observing proceedings in juvenile court and touring juvenile correctional facilities. Students will be expected to write essays that reflect on those experiences. We may also observe legislative hearings, if any take place during the fall semester, or archived videos of hearings from the current legislation session.
Depending on the outcome of the current legislative session, there could be opportunities for our class to engage with the reforms at the implementation stage. The instructor is working closely with various stakeholders in the effort to restructure the juvenile justice agencies, and will seek opportunities for students (working either individually or in teams) to take on research assignments or other tasks that will assist these stakeholders. Thus, the exact nature of the assignments for the course cannot be provided at this time. However, students should anticipate a significant research and writing project, with the possibility that this could be part of a team effort. And there will likely be assignments that involve memo writing and other policy-relevant writing skills.
Students are expected to attend all classes and field trips, and to prepare for and participate fully in class discussions. Grading will take into account class participation as well as the various research and writing assignments.
The goals for the course are: (1) to expose students to the operations of the Texas juvenile justice system, as well as to current challenges and reform efforts; (2) to help students understand how juvenile justice policy has devel