Thursday, July 27, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Giddings State School welcomed friends, family, and volunteers to a graduation ceremony where 31 students received their GEDs and three students were awarded their high school diplomas.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s Lone Star High School Southeast is a fully accredited high school where students work to earn their GED or diplomas. After graduation, they have the opportunity to earn certification in various vocations or earn college credits. Giddings State School offers certifications in fields like automotive technologies, welding, and general construction and works with outside instructors to provide OSHA and CPS certifications. During their stay at TJJD, youth can earn college credits through Navarro College and apply for scholarships to help with their transition after they return home.

For more information or to inquire about how you can help, please call Anita Schwartz, Community Relations Coordinator for Giddings State School at 979-542-4609.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Giddings State School hosted its 2017 Victim Impact Panel (VIP) on Sunday, April 1st and Monday, April 2nd. The highly emotional gathering featured several crime victims and their families meeting with youth and staff at the facility.

The event began with snacks and fellowship shared between VIP members, the Giddings youth student council, and Giddings State School staff. Aside from the many smiles shared between attendees, a wonderful program was held outdoors at the flagpole, which highlighted the true essence of the event.

Giddings Superintendent Jorge Gonzalez declared April 2-9 Victim Impact Week and members of the student council shared their favorite quotes of healing and forgiveness. The event wrapped up with a balloon release in which youth, staff, and volunteers alike wrote messages of love, remembrance, and healing on their balloons in hopes of bringing a small measure of comfort to themselves and those around them.

Monday was a day of sharing as VIP volunteers toured the campus to speak to youth on the dorms. Event coordinator Destany Carter said, “The youth heard from the presenters about their life experiences. This often times gets the youth to thinking about what they have done, whom they have hurt, and the reason they will make a different decision from here on out.”

Panel volunteers were treated to a catered barbeque lunch in appreciation of their hard work and dedication in sharing their stories with the youth and staff at Giddings State School.

Friday, July 21, 2017

TJJD began piloting the juvenile supervision officer certification exam in February and the last phase of the pilotbegan earlier this month. The pilot will be conducted over a six-month period and the exam will not be required for certification until September 1, 2017. To date, we have collected valuable data to be used as we move toward the final set of questions that will be used for the exam.

We continue to ask departments or facilities to assist us with the pilot and have any new or existing staff take the exam. Continued feedback is always welcomed. The pilot will be for data collection only and not to give official credit for passing the exam. The link to access the third and final pilot may be found online on the Juvenile Justice Training Academy’s site.

As of the end of May, we had 410 individuals attempt the test statewide, with an average score of 86.25%. The average time to take the exam has been 20 minutes. Only 1% (5) of the individuals who have attempted the test failed. One of the best ways to prepare staff for the certification exam will be to ensure that all departments or facilities are using the most current training material from TJJD’s Training Resource webpage.

As a reminder, there will be no fee associated with taking the JSO exam, neither during the pilot or once it goes live. For more information, please contact Kristy Almager at 512.490.7125 or or Chris Ellison at 512.490.7245 or

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

By Doug Vance, PhD, Advisory Council Chair

Almost a decade ago, the Texas Legislature instructed the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJPC) to develop Standards of Care (Administrative Rules) that would govern non-secure residential facilities operated by local Juvenile Probation Boards. At that time, there were approximately eleven such programs being operated in Texas by nine different Juvenile Probation Departments.

While several of these programs were licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, several others were operating without independent state oversight. As such, TJPC initiated a standards development project. However, due to a variety of circumstances, the project was left pending for several years and never completed.

In October 2012, newly appointed TJJD Executive Director, Mike Griffiths, met with Doug Vance and addressed the Standards Committee requesting that the committee’s next project involve the drafting of standards for Non-Secure Correctional Facilities. Mr. Griffiths additionally requested that the committee attempt to complete the project by the fall of 2013. After some discussion, the Standards Committee agreed to take on the assignment.

TAC 355 Committee Development:
The first priority was to assemble a workgroup of dedicated and knowledgeable professionals representative of the scope and makeup of Juvenile Justice in Texas. Therefore a committee was soon established consisting of membership from the Advisory Council, TJJD, Juvenile Probation Chiefs Associations, Juvenile Justice Professional Organizations, as well as from specific juvenile probation departments operating non-secure facilities.

Project Outline:
The committee’s inaugural meeting was held in March 2013 in Austin at the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department. During this initial meeting, each county representative presented an overview of their agency’s Non-Secure Program detailing many of its unique program components. Second, a time-line for completion was established with specific goals and associated plan of action.

Committee Work:
The lofty goal was to draft a base set of standards that would be flexible enough to encompass the multitude of non-secure facilities currently in operation, while at the same time not compromising the health, safety, and welfare of children, and that would be flexible enough to allow for the creation of hybrid type non-secure facilities in the future — audacious to say the least!

Using TAC 343 Standards for Secure Facilities as a reference guide, the committee began drafting nonsecure standards that followed the already established TAC 343 model and format.

However, after only a few meetings the standards committee was suddenly diverted from its initial task and asked by TJJD Executive Staff to shift attention towards drafting an “emergency set of rules” for nonsecure facilities as TJJD Executive Staff indicated a sudden urgency to get a base set of emergency rules in place that would ensure the immediate health and safety of residents and that would remain in effect until our final draft could be completed and adopted by the TJJD Board.

As such TJJD legal staff presented the committee with a working draft of emergency rules for review and comment. The committee spent one entire day going through the draft line-by-line editing and revising as deemed appropriate until the committee was satisfied the draft was ready for submission to the TJJD Board of Directors.

The draft of “emergency rules” was subsequently adopted by the TJJD Board during their May 2013 regular board meeting. By rule, emergency rules may only remain in effect for up to six months. Therefore, the committee had to then quickly shift its attention and energies back to our original task.

The committee worked extremely hard over the next few months and as a result was able to complete its work by July 2013. The proposed standards were presented to the TJJD Board of Directors during its July 26, 2013, regular board meeting for initial posting for public comment in the Texas Register. Final adoption by the TJJD Board of Directors occurred at the October 18, 2013, Board Meeting. A state-wide effective date of January 1, 2014, was adopted.

The standards committee faced arduous challenges with this project. To begin with, being requested to draft both an emergency set of standards as well as a complete draft of newly created standards that would be comprehensive enough to address all key areas of facility management, all within a five month time-line, was something that had never been done before, and thus proved an enormous challenge to say the least.

Second, drafting a comprehensive definition of a “Non-Secure Correctional Facility” proved quite difficult as one did not exist. The committee wanted to ensure the definition that we came up with would encompass all the necessary components required of a non-secure facility.

Additionally, we needed to make modifications to TAC 344 pertaining to training and officer certification, as there was a need to ensure proper training requirements for certification were in place for the newly created position of “Youth Activity Supervisor.”

Despite the multitude of challenges this committee faced, members remained undaunted in their work, unwavering in their commitment, and unyielding in their fortitude, assiduously pressing onward towards project completion.

While we recognize that standards in and of themselves are limiting by nature, our goal was not to simply develop a set of arbitrary rules requiring blind adherence. Rather, our desire was to create a “base set” of guiding principles and related standards of care that would not only serve to ensure an adequate amount of safety and protection for children, but that would also be inherently flexible enough to accommodate limited revisions as necessary to meet the specific requirements of any type of unique, non-traditional program that may be approved for operation.

The committee acknowledged that there were a multitude of varying types of non-secure program models currently in existence, ranging anywhere from tiny halfway houses, to transitional living centers, to large residential treatment centers, and that each of these programs, while similar in many ways, were also unique.

Therefore, our desire was that these standards not restrict creativity, nor limit probation departments from developing the type of non-secure program, traditional or non-traditional, that they have a particular need for in their respective communities. I am very proud to say the committee’s final draft did just that - “Mission Accomplished!”

In closing I want to offer sincere praise to each of the committee members. Without their dedication, commitment, knowledge, and skill, the success of this project would not have been possible and each one of them is deserving of much praise.

Additionally I want to recognize Ms. Estela Medina for her unwavering support and consistent encouragement, and also for graciously inviting the committee to make full use of her facilities and staff resources during the duration of this project.

This project was truly a triumph in teamwork. Not only does it provide a sagacious framework for current thought, but perhaps more importantly, it will stand forever as an organizational archetype inspiring future generations to pattern after.

In conclusion, the TAC 355 project will forever remind us of what great things can be accomplished when the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Juvenile Probation, and Juvenile Justice Professional Associations all work together, with singularity in purpose, committed to a common cause, all for the betterment of Texas Juvenile Justice.

Standards Committee Membership - TAC 355 Project:
Doug Vance, PhD Chair
Phil Hayes, Vice-Chair
Darryl Beatty
Linda Brooke
Ed Cockrell
Karol Davidson
Terri Dollar
Scott Friedman
Richard Garza
Kavita Gupta
Tom Hough
Ashley Kintzer
Vicki Line
Sal Lopez
Reba Moore
Jesse Murillo
Leah Probst
Steve Roman
Laura Torres
Jim Vines
James Williams
Ross Worley

Monday, July 17, 2017

Evins Regional Juvenile Center celebrated the Easter weekend by having a daylong family event. The day was filled with food, music, a variety of games, and an Easter egg hunt for Evins youth and youth that have children. The event was partially funded by volunteers and the Evins Volunteer Council, now renamed the South Texas Youth Council.

PHOTO: Father and son enjoying a beautiful day at Evins Easter egg Hunt

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The 2017 Earth Day project at the Brownwood Halfway House was a study on Monarch Butterfly Conservation. Staff and the young ladies discussed the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly and the importance of butterflies to the eco-system.

Three staff and five youth traveled to a Mullin farm to harvest milkweed and look for caterpillars and/or eggs. While enjoying their time outdoors, they found three caterpillars and dug up several plants to transplant at the halfway house. The caterpillars were placed in a mesh cage and are being supplied fresh milkweed every few days until they undergo metamorphosis. So far, one caterpillar has already transformed into a chrysalis!

Also, with the help of groundskeeper/horticulturist Charlie Hubbard, milkweed seeds have been planted in a wildflower patch next to the halfway house. Once the butterflies are born, they will be released to this wildflower patch. This also creates a habitat for the butterflies for years to come. Mr. Hubbard tends to the wildflower patch to ensure it is there each year.

The youth will continue to collect milkweed and caterpillars throughout the four generations in a year.

PHOTO: The youth found a caterpillar during their trip.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Willoughby House youth are gaining a new and valuable skill thanks to the efforts of JCO IV Christopher Golden. Mr. Golden has created a woodworking class for youth who are interested in refurbishing furniture.

Mr. Golden said he initiated this project because, “I wanted to provide the guys with an opportunity to stay busy and learn a craft, which they can later use as an opportunity to generate income. One youth has expressed to me that he wants to pursue this as a possible career, since he enjoys it so much.”

Mr. Golden has donated most of the supplies, such as a sander, paint, stain, paintbrushes, and other items as needed to complete the projects. So far, the youth have completed two end tables, a card table, and they are currently working on refurbishing the television stand in the facility. Other staff have donated items for the youth to work on as well.

Mr. Golden stated that this was a craft that he’s been doing for the past ten years and wanted to give the youth the same experience. He also goes on Craigslist to see what free furnishings are available and he picks those up. There are several more projects on the agenda.

“The youth take so much pride in their work and practically every day I get summoned to the back patio to see their latest creation. They really do a beautiful job. Sometimes I wonder how in the world they are going to salvage a piece of furnishing, but the end product is amazing!”

PHOTO: A table finished by Willoughby House youth.