Last June we featured the people and purpose of Williamson County Transformative Justice. Aimed at emerging adults, this court-supervised diversionary program facilitates counseling, life skills education, training, and additional support to individuals aged 17 to 24 years charged with non-violent felony offenses. In short, it is an innovative case management effort to help young people change the trajectory of their lives and stay out of grownup jail. Graduates may also have their charges expunged, which will enable them to find employment or build a business. Directed by attorney Terence Davis, the program is managed by Judge Stacey Mathews, Juvenile Services Executive Director Scott Matthew, District Attorney Shawn Dick, and a cadre of defense attorneys and treatment providers.
Scott Matthew, affectionately known to his wards as Chief, explains, “This age group is distinguished in the justice system because, as is generally understood, our brains do not fully mature until we are about 25 years old and it is an injustice that we don’t manage this population differently. More than 75 percent of offenders in this demographic re-offend in the short term, and their probations are revoked at a rate three times higher than older adults. Once people in this age group get into the adult justice system, there is only a 20 percent chance of them getting out.”
What the program does not do is give young people a pass on their bad choices. Instead, it gives them an opportunity for a do-over by helping them break down the individual challenges that brought them to the point that they made bad decisions. Director Matthew said, “Young people feel hopeless over things like a pile of traffic citations when they are already in debt and they may turn to drugs or petty theft to try to cope. We try to identify what overwhelmed them and refocus away from the stifling aggregate to repairing one thing at a time.”
Fortunately, of the 50 young adults who have been through the Transformative Justice program, 80 percent have gotten on the right track. Director Matthew adds, “Many of these kids have never had a support system to help them navigate even the simplest undertakings of adulthood. Consequently, our case managers don’t just schedule and notify them about hearings and appointments, they help them make the calls, remind them, and troubleshoot, much like a parent would. This above-and-beyond support is critical to our success rate and, while a 50 percent achievement is a milestone, 80 percent is tremendous.” Just one example of their training and mentorship successes is a young man who is now managing his own plumbing business.
Stewardship and Success
In October, with help from the Texas Bar Foundation and underwriting support from the Georgetown Health Foundation, they received a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice, which will allow the program to continue for another three years. Judge Mathews says, “We are able to impact justice-involved young adults in a way that promotes public safety and strengthens the next generation of our community’s leaders. This grant will allow us to continue and even expand that good work.”