A $15,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation has bolstered the Williamson County Transformative Justice program’s mission of transforming young lives and keeping the community safe.
The Transformative Justice program is a diversionary program for 17 to 24-year-olds charged with non-violent felonies. The initiative meets participants where they are with early intervention and personalized case management over 10 to 18 months. Program partners learn about participants’ journeys and address substance abuse and mental health issues, and educational and vocational challenges.
The program is a collaborative effort of the Williamson County District Courts, Juvenile Services, the Defense Bar, and the District Attorney’s Office. With the support of the Williamson County Commissioners Court, the program focuses on reducing crime recurrence for emerging adults in an effort to change the trajectory of their lives and safeguard the community.
Defined as individuals age 17-24, these offenders are too old for juvenile detention, but, because of their age and maturity, it is believed adult incarceration is less likely to fully rehabilitate them. Data show emerging adults represent 10 percent of our population, but make up nearly 30 percent of arrests and 21 percent of the adult prison population.
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. As such, more than 75 percent of offenders in this demographic will re-offend in the short term, and their probations are revoked at a rate three times higher than older adults.
The Texas Bar Foundation’s grant supports enhancements to mental health services for participants. “I’m deeply grateful to the Texas Bar Foundation for approving this grant,” says District Judge Stacey Mathews, who presides over the program. “These funds will make a real difference for our program as we work to transform young lives and make a positive impact on our community.”
The program provides life skills education to prepare participants for success in the community. Program graduates are eligible to have their charges dismissed and records expunged. “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that individuals facing criminal charges remain a part of our community,” District Attorney Shawn Dick says. “I am proud to support a program that works to keep our community safe while helping participants so they can make a positive contribution going forward.”
County leadership has partnered with Texas A&M University and Harvard University to conduct research to verify the effectiveness of the program and its impact on a vulnerable age group. Through the study, Judge Mathews believes the program will show that investing early on in case management and mental health services can reduce crime recurrence and decrease the number of people who end up in the criminal justice system.