How Offenders Move Through TJJD

Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) is the State Juvenile Corrections Agency

TJJD is the most serious place a juvenile offender can go in Texas. The only thing more serious for a young offender in Texas is to be certified as an adult by the court and sent to the adult system. At TJJD, youth are in the care and custody of the state. TJJD has programs throughout Texas. Some of them are high security, which means they are surrounded by fences. Others are medium or low security and do not have a fence. Everyone has a slightly different journey through TJJD. That is because treatment programs are customized to meet the needs and abilities or individual youth. This webpage explains a typical way a youth might move through TJJD.

1. The Juvenile Court

Decisions to send youth to TJJD belong to juvenile court judges. Most youth who are sent to TJJD are given indeterminate sentences, which means they are not given a specific number of years they will be in TJJD. For them, TJJD determines a minimum length of stay, which is the minimum time a youth must spend in TJJD before going on parole. This minimum length of stay is between nine and 24 months and is based on the severity of the youth’s offense and the risk he or she poses to the public. Youth are eligible for release once they have finished their minimum lengths of stay and have made treatment progress. Just completing a minimum length of stay is not a guarantee of release. Once sent to TJJD, youth can remain in custody until they turn 19 years old.

Some courts send youth to TJJD with specific sentences. These are called determinate sentences because the time that must be served was determined in advance by the court. Determinate sentences can be up to 40 years long. These longer sentences are typically for youth who have committed the most serious offenses. Determinate sentenced youth are given a chance at treatment in TJJD. If a determinate sentenced youth is successful in TJJD treatment, he or she can often serve the balance of his or her court-mandated sentence on adult parole rather than in adult prison.

2. Orientation and Assessment

The first place youth go in TJJD is an orientation and assessment unit. For girls, it is at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood, Texas. Boys go to the McLennan County State Juvenile Correctional Facility in Mart, Texas.

During orientation and assessment, staff work with youth to determine their strengths and needs. Medical, emotional, educational, and psychological needs are evaluated. The end result for each youth is an individualized treatment plan that is evaluated and retooled as necessary while youth move through TJJD.

3. Placement in a High Security Facility

Most youth go to one of TJJD’s correctional institutions for most of their time in TJJD. Some youth go to private, contracted facilities or directly to medium security facilities or halfway houses. They are placed according to treatment needs and as close to home as possible. At high security settings, youth participate in individual counseling, group sessions, and school. Youth also have opportunities to earn privileges and participate in different skill building groups.

4. Placement in a Low or Medium Security Facility

TJJD operates several halfway houses and contracts with other organizations to provide low to medium security treatment facilities. Typically, these facilities provide youth the opportunity to make gradual transitions back into their home communities.

DS. Determinate Sentenced Offenders Only

Youth who are committed to TJJD with determinate (or specific) sentences by the courts will ultimately transfer to the adult system – the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) – if they are unable to complete their sentences before they turn 19. Depending on progress in treatment, they may be able to serve the TDCJ portion of their sentences (if any) on adult parole rather than in prison. Only a judge, not TJJD, can send a youth to prison.

5. Release Review Panel

If youth have served their minimum time at TJJD and have not already been released on parole, their cases are assigned to a release review panel. This panel, which is made up of three members, determines whether a youth should be released based on behavior, academic achievement, and his or her response to treatment. The panel can order a youth’s release or extend a youth’s stay in TJJD.

6. Parole

Most youth are assigned to serve some time on parole upon release from TJJD facilities. Usually, youth live at home while on parole and report to parole officers until they are discharged from TJJD. If a youth’s home is not approved, or he or she will be living on his or her own upon release, TJJD offers an independent living program.

7. Discharge/Successful Completion of the TJJD Program

It is TJJD’s hope that youth complete treatment and leave with fresh outlooks and sound plans for future success. Often, success depends on youth seeking continued education and having career goals. Even after youth are discharged from TJJD, the agency’s educational liaisons can help them apply to college or trade school and help them apply for financial aid. Most youth are discharged from TJJD after they: successfully complete the program, turn 19, or are transferred to the adult criminal justice system (determinate sentenced offenders).