Positive Youth Justice, Part Three: Tarrant County Advocate Program, Texas

by John Kelly

Intro Part One / Part Two / Part Three

Last week, our Positive Youth Justice series explored the use of a community conferencing approach in Oakland, Calif. That program diverts youth from the system after arrest.

The next logical step on the juvenile justice continuum is handling youth who are processed after arrest. There have long been three traditional options available to systems: probation, residential treatment and incarceration in juvenile facilities.

Most state and county juvenile justice systems have reduced the number and rate of juveniles admitted to secure or residential confinement. But many communities still lack community-based options beyond the very light involvement of juvenile probation.

Tarrant County, Texas, has filled that need for more than 20 years through partnership with the only national provider of community corrections that uses a youth development framework.

The Tarrant County Advocate Program (TCAP) pairs paid advocates with high-risk juveniles and their families in an attempt to identify and build on the strengths of both.

“They’re not just serving that kid,” said Randy Turner, director and chief probation officer of Tarrant County Juvenile Services (TCJS). “You’ll have the younger brother, a mom that might need to take classes. They’re helping that family, as a unit, connect to the right resources.”

The program began amidst a violent gang war, and immediately cut the county’s juvenile incarceration rate nearly in half. It continues to post strong results with youth that otherwise might be too big a risk to leave in the community.

“If necessary, I can put an advocate in a kid’s back pocket for a lot of hours,” said Turner, who has spent more than 40 years working in juvenile justice. “That’s intrusive, and we have the capability of doing that.”

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