Dallas County's juvenile justice process is slow — and that could lead to bad outcomes
Youths accused of crimes in Dallas County spend more time in the juvenile system because of the way it handles the cases — longer than a national standard and peer Texas counties.
And that could lead to worse outcomes for youths.
This is the conclusion of a new report on the county’s juvenile justice system. The Dallas County Commissioners Court contracted a team of researchers last year to analyze the system at the urging of District Attorney John Creuzot. That team has finished its work and is recommending the county take a hard look at its processes.
“The results suggest that Dallas County is operating within a juvenile justice processing model like those found in adult criminal justice processing systems,” the report concluded.
Dallas’ procedures were markedly different from the juvenile systems in Bexar, Tarrant, and Hidalgo counties. Consequently, the time it takes to dispose — or conclude — a case in Dallas County is much longer than in those other urban areas in Texas.
That can affect whether a youth gets the services he or she needs and how likely the child is to reoffend.
Creuzot said his office deserves some of the blame and that the county - broadly speaking - has been doing it wrong.
"We’re actually creating recidivism and working against rehabilitation by keeping them detained, number one, for any amount of time, and number two, for an extended period of months," he told KERA.
Darryl Beatty, Executive Director of the Dallas County Juvenile Department, acknowledged the data showing a petition-to-disposition timeline that was "not as on par as they could be."
"To kind of really look at all the different parts of the system that could affect that, I think, is a positive thing,” Beatty said.
He said his department has already implemented improvements recently, a “promise that we're headed in the right direction.”
The analysis, from the data and research firm Evident Change, found several major areas of distinction between Dallas County and its peers when it comes to juvenile justice processes.
Other counties have a specific team of probation officers that begin handling the case right away. They start psychological and risk assessments, gather information on the child, and look for ways to divert a justice-involved youth away from the formal court system.
A portion of Dallas youths, however, do not see a probation officer immediately, and risk assessments generally do not happen until after the initial decision about whether to keep the youth in custody.
The vast majority (91%) of the youth cases that came to Dallas County prosecutors were petitioned (i.e. became involved with the formal court system). Of those, 34% were ultimately moved out of the courts and into an alternative pathway.
Dallas County is similarly formal when it informs a family about an accusation of a crime. For children not already in custody in Dallas County, a county constable will serve the petition summons to the youth and his or her family. In Tarrant, Bexar, and Hidalgo Counties, a juvenile probation officer serves a summons.
“Everyone interviewed expressed concerns that this practice causes delays to case processing,” the report states, because using a constable delays the work of a juvenile probation officer.
Dallas County also requires a court order for the juvenile probation department to start a social history report on a youth.
“No one interviewed could identify a reason why a court order is required” for that work to begin, the analysis said.
The report found that white and Latino youth had a disposition (i.e. resolution) of their cases 30 days faster than Black youth for cases that ended in diversion through deferred prosecution and 20 days faster for cases ending in formal probation.
The time it takes to resolve juvenile cases in Dallas County means it exceeds both peer counties and national guidelines known as the Model Time Standards.
The researchers had several suggestions, including more training, stakeholder meetings, figuring out how to engage families earlier, and reevaluating how the system uses risk assessments.
“Targeting opportunities to divert youth from petition and/or to examine ways to expedite their time spent pending disposition ... could improve youth and system-level outcomes,” the report said.
Creuzot said he has put his staff through more training on assessments and hopes the Dallas County Juvenile Board will take up the issue.
This story has been updated.
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