DALLAS COUNTY (CBSNewsTexas.com) – Dallas County continues to do the hard work of fixing a juvenile justice system that even leaders admit is broken.
On Saturday, the county's juvenile justice board will gather in a called meeting to make more needed changes after turning a critical eye inward.
"The fact of the matter is: No. 1 is the community needs to be safe," says Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. "No. 2, the young people, according to the family code, need to be rehabilitated...to the best of our ability."
But even Price admits that the county's "best" needs to get better. An outside review requested by District Attorney John Creuzot found that low risk juvenile offenders were being held in custody too long – where they were likely learning more bad habits.
CBS News Texas spoke to Creuzot in April, shortly after the Evident Change report was released. Creuzot told CBS News Texas, "If you notice in the report, 64% of them go home eventually. The problem is they've been locked up with the worst criminals for six months. Who's learning from who?"
Price is no longer on the county's juvenile justice board. However, he promised to stay involved and make his voice heard... and he has. And he says he also likes what he sees.
"That change is happening," shares Price. "I've been to all the meetings." He plans to be at Saturday's gathering of stakeholders as well and says the number of juveniles in detention is dropping.
"The [Evident Change] report brought all of us to some light. What I appreciate about Judge Creuzot...is in his admitting there is shared responsibility, but the department is performing."
Price says county stakeholders are now more fully embracing a risk assessment tool to determine which young defendants are more likely to reoffend. It benefits all, he says, for those who are not high risk to be given services and returned to their families. Access to services before getting into trouble, however, has been a challenge.
"I hear it all the time," explains Price. "Little Johnny is acting out? What can I do? The southern part of the city has a transportation issue....40% of my district is transportation deprived. They can't get to the counselors."
So, the county's longest serving commissioner is applauding Dallas ISD's significant investment in mental health: addressing the underlying causes of some behavioral issues.
"DISD has more psychiatrists, and counselors than any other district in the country: 275 clinicians! They saw some gaps and came in and moved them physically into those areas."
Price admits that the juvenile justice system struggles can seem to be someone else's concern – so he cautions the community against apathy.
"Just because it hasn't happened to you today? My mother used to say 'just keep on living.'"
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