Weekly Notes: Will Texas merger lead to community program investment?; Upcoming meetings; and more

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***The Texas Public Policy Foundation expressed support this week for the merger of the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, the two agencies that oversee juvenile facilities and county-level probation departments in the state. But its support came with a major caveat that could be the difference between whether the merger is a point of ascent or descent in Texas’ effort to reform its juvenile justice system.

TPPF, a right-leaning think tank that houses the Center for Effective Justice, said the move makes sense only if the state reinvests the savings from the agencies’ consolidation into community programs and alternatives to detention and incarceration.

Supporters of the merger are hopeful that consolidation will make two agencies, each of which has improved in recent years, even better. Opponents see it the other way: that recent improvements at both agencies will be lost, making them worse.

It is not clear which will be true. But if the savings reaped by the state get plowed into ways to serve juveniles effectively outside of facilities, there is certainly a reasonable expectation that a) those juveniles will have better outcomes and b) the facilities will be less prone to overcrowding.

The temptation to take the savings and apply them to the state’s massive budget deficit will be strong; Texas faces a $27 billion deficit over two years. It will be on TPPF and other advocates to persuade people in power that using merger savings to affect a potential long-term improvement in juvenile crime rates is a better investment than the short-term gain in state revenue.

The merger of the two agencies was approved this week by the Texas House. Now it moves to the Senate.

***Some events of note coming up:

Coalition for Juvenile Justice Annual Spring Conference, May 20-24 in Washington. The theme for this year’s conference is “Fair & Equal Justice: Alternative Sentences and Sanctions for Youth,” and the agenda is posted here. Among the conference keynote speakers will be retired juvenile judge Irene Sullivan, whom we interviewed recently.

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to Hold 74th Annual Conference: July 24–27 in New York City. Sessions focus on a wide range of topics, including custody and visitation, trauma, military issues and the courts, high conflict divorce, juvenile justice, domestic violence, immigration, substance abuse, and child abuse and neglect issues, and more.

Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools Announces National Conference: Aug. 8-10 in National Harbor, Md. (just outside Washington). Hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, sessions at the conference will focus on youth alcohol and drug abuse prevention; bullying and cyberbullying; violence prevention in schools; emergency management; health, mental health, and physical education; data collection; special populations; and emerging issues. The conference targets potential grantees, juvenile justice practitioners, policymakers, education and prevention leaders, and school administrators, among others.

***Day number 830 of the Obama administration and still no nominee to serve as administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

In other OJJDP news, the April meeting of its Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was cancelled due to the squabbles over 2011 federal spending, which have since been resolved. The meeting has been rescheduled for May 23; click here to register.