Youth Justice

2 minute read

Our Position

Dark grey icon of the scales of justice.In 2023, CTD urges the Legislature to shut down the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD)’s 5 state secure institutions by 2030 through a thoughtful, staggered closure plan. It should invest in building communities’ infrastructure to appropriately address the needs of children who would have been sent to TJJD and allow recapture from closed facilities to reimburse the costs for community-based resources. Our youth justice advocacy this session is informed by our work with the Finish the 5 Campaign.

CTD supported HB 4356 (Talarico), which called for a staggered closure plan of the five remaining TJJD facilities and creates a new Office of Youth and Community Restoration at the Texas Health and Human Serivces Commission (HHSC). This bill did not pass.

The Latest

March 9, 2023: Texas Public Radio reports on the Bill that would close youth prisons in Texas, with comment from our Jennifer Toon

January 16, 2023: more about the youth-led Finish the 5 Campaign, from the Texas Tribune, Texas teens embark on an idealistic quest to shut down the state’s last five youth prisons



In October 2021, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) to examine “whether Texas provides children confined in the facilities reasonable protection from physical and sexual abuse by staff and other residents, excessive use of chemical restraints and excessive use of isolation." The investigation also examined "whether Texas provides adequate mental health care.” In recent months, the DOJ expanded its investigation to include whether Texas violates the rights of children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This issue focuses on whether Texas is providing adequate special education services at these five facilities.

In August 2022, an investigation by the Texas Tribune revealed that about 600 children in Texas’ 5 state secure juvenile detention facilities are living in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Incident reports revealed that kids in understaffed facilities were stuck in their cells for over 22 hours a day and were unable to access bathrooms. High numbers of these incarcerated children were on suicide watch, and some had harmed themselves. 60 to 80 percent of the population are kids with mental health needs and/or intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The treatment of children in these youth prisons is inhumane and unacceptable. It represents a critical failure by state leadership and by an agency that claims to prioritize rehabilitation. Leadership has excused these pervasive and decades-long issues by blaming current low staffing levels at TJJD.

In the 2021 Legislature, CTD made our first strides into the area of youth justice, with our work on:

HB 2107 (Wu), effective September 2021, which ensures that children who need competency restoration as a result of an intellectual disability in order to participate in juvenile court proceedings will receive appropriate services or treatment, including outpatient services as necessary.

HB 30 (Talarico), effective September 2021, which mandates that minors in the adult system receive a full education, including requirements to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and directs the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to develop an individualized education plan or program for all eligible youth with a disability. The following spring, the first student to benefit from this bill earned his diploma.

HB 686 (Moody), the Second Look bill, would have required parole panels to consider certain factors relating to growth and maturity when making release decisions for inmates who were younger than 18 years of age when they committed the offense for which they were tried as adults and would have changed parole eligibility for inmates serving a sentence for first degree felonies committed when younger than 18. Despite wide support and passage in both houses, the Governor vetoed this bill.

Further Reading