Moral Leadership in Texarkana?

You want to pinch yourself reading this story. A Texas probation office works with local school district to educate kids out of trouble, resulting in a decreased criminal justice budget for youth enforcement? The reduction in Texarkana detentions may have something to do with recently completed juvie halls elsewhere, reducing contract assignments, but we are more in a mood to believe with Socrates that expediency and justice are really quite the same thing, and that Texarkana offers a clue why. Thanks to the Yahoo Prison Movement list for this little gem: Bowie’s detention center holding fewer juveniles

By Greg Bischof

Texarkana Gazette

Of more than 16 office budget requests reviewed by the Bowie County Commissioners Court last week, most requested the same amount of money, but one asked for much less for the upcoming fiscal year.

For the 2006-2007 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, the Bowie County Juvenile Probation and Detention Center asked for a 21 percent cut in funding.

During last week’s budget hearings, Bowie County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Bruce Ballou asked for $1,357,901 — $515,000 less than he received for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The Bowie County Auditor’s Office attributed this to a decrease in the juvenile population during about the last three years — not only in terms of Bowie County inmates, both long- and short-term, but also out-of-county contracted inmates (both long- and short-term).

The center is holding about 50 children ages 10 to 17. This amounts to just under a third of the center’s capacity.

The Auditor’s Office attributes the dwindling population, in part, to the fact that more Texas counties have built their own juvenile detention centers.

However, Ballou also attributes a portion of the decrease to what appears to be an overall decline in the county’s juvenile crime rate during the last three years.

Three years ago, the county averaged about 1,000 juvenile arrests on an annual basis. That has dropped to about 580 — a 47 percent decrease since 2003.

Ballou said some of the decrease could be attributed to the center’s effort at reforming juveniles and setting them back on the right path for their adult lives.

The center, licensed by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, is staffed by faculty provided by the Liberty-Eylau Independent School District to provide regular classroom education to both pre-adjudicated and post-adjudicated inmates, Ballou said.

LEISD has also provided a new, top-of-the-line computer system classroom, which inmates will use once the school year starts.

“We focus on teaching the kids daily living skills during the time they are sent here,” Ballou said. “But during the time the kids are here, the state requires that each one have at least six hours of classroom instruction.”

Juveniles are processed in, just like adult inmates in adult prisons. This includes being fingerprinted and photographed.

Then the inmates are placed in a holding cell until a judge can determine whether they will be sentenced for a period of time to the center, or released immediately to their parents’ custody.

One part of the center is designated for pretrial (or short-term inmates—meaning from 1 to 10 days) while the other part is designated for sentenced or long-term, post-adjudicated inmates (for periods that could last up to six months or longer).

Apart from the traditional inmate reform program, the center also offers students expelled from either the Texarkana, Texas, independent School District or LEISD a Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program, which stipulates that an expelled student must complete 45 days of good behavior before being released to return to school.

“What this does is get the troublemakers out of school so as to allow teachers to go ahead and instruct the public school students who are behaving well,” Ballou said.

Besides academic instruction, the center also provides students with vocational education through an automotive technical and body frame repair shop, which the JDC opened about two years ago.

“The kids learn everything from oil changing to engine overhauling in this workshop,” Ballou said. “This includes brake work, tire rotation, frame repair and auto body repainting.”

Ballou said the vocational training has been and continues to be particularly valuable because of trade skills it teaches the juvenile.

“Here the kids learn the importance of working at a legitimate job for a living, rather than selling dope on the streets,” he said. “They learn how to be an asset to society, not a liability.”

http://www.texarkan agazette. com/articles/ 2006/07/17/ local_news/ news/news07. prt

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