Wednesday, April 27, 2005

We're On Your Side

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on a bill calling for reform of the Texas juvenile justice system Wednesday. Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, presented SB 1632, which focuses on reform for the Texas Youth Commission, the state's juvenile corrections agency. TYC is rife with cases of abuse along with other problems such as lengthy stays, high rates of recidivism, and high cost. The commission was created to deal with the most violent and serious juvenile offenders, but the majority of the kids are in for non-violent crime. Hinojosa's bill calls for data reporting to the committee, multi-cultural linguistic training for staff, and the creation of an independent agency to oversee the commission.
Over 30 members of the Texas Coalition Advocating Justice for Juveniles attended the hearing in favor of the bill donning black t-shirts with the words "Education not Incarceration" emblazed across the front. No one spoke against the bill.
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, assured the coalition that this bill was just the beginning of the committee's efforts at reform for the commission. He says the committee will need to get "out of Austin and into the valley" to conduct research before further legislative steps can be taken, but left open the possibility that this research could be completed and then the issue returned to if there is a special session.
"I think you have a lot of support among committee members," says Whitmire, the lone committee member present to hear testimony from supporters of the bill, after pulling one of the groups signature black t-shirts over his suit.