Revenue from juvenile detention center has doubled in five years

Victoria’s juvenile detention center houses dozens of kids from outside of Victoria County.

Victoria County is projected to almost double the revenue it brings in by housing youths from outside the county in its juvenile detention center, showing a shift in the economics behind the facility.

The proposed 2019 budget for Victoria County projects that contracts at the juvenile center will bring in almost $2.3 million for the county in the next budget year. In 2015, the county brought in about $1.2 million from contracts with other counties.

The county has contracts with about 50 other counties, most of which don’t have secure facilities to hold kids and teenagers who courts determine require supervision.

County Judge Ben Zeller credited the juvenile detention center as a growing source of revenue for the county that helped to offset a decline in property values.

“We have a lot of improvements out at the juvenile detention center,” Zeller said at the Aug. 6 budget workshop. “Due to our work out there in improving trends, increasing populations, better payment rates, we were able to budget upward $450,000 in revenue at juvenile detention.”

This year’s projections indicate the county will bring in $2 million, and Zeller’s budget expects that revenue to increase to $2.3 million next year.

The shift comes from both a statewide change in how youths are handled within the criminal justice system and a shift in Victoria County’s rate structure to detain juveniles. The county has increased rates in recent years, including the most recent rate change that went into effect Sept. 1. The juvenile detention facility’s budget comes from the revenue it makes through contracts with other counties and from taxpayers.

The change in rates also comes after a 2015 discussion over whether the center was financially viable. Since rates for other counties have increased, the center’s revenue trend has shifted dramatically.

The tides first began to change in 2007, when a series of abuse scandals at the state level rocked the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which were then the statewide agencies that oversaw juvenile justice in the state. In 2011, those agencies were dissolved and replaced with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

After the scandal, Texas lawmakers overhauled the state’s youth justice system, slashing money for statewide facilities and instead encouraging kids referred to local probation departments to be housed in county-based facilities.

This trend toward more local, community-based facilities brought more funding and more kids to the Victoria County juvenile detention center, Victoria County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Pama Hencerling explained. She said state lawmakers were intent on decreasing the number of kids and teenagers in state-run facilities.

“The way that they were going to accomplish that was to get money to local probation departments, so that they could place kids in more community-based facilities like ours and keep them closer to home,” she said.

This shift caused an increase in the population at Victoria County’s juvenile detention facility.

“That’s when we started seeing the major increase as far as how many of those kids we were actually getting here in Victoria from other counties,” Hencerling said.

Hencerling added that part of the reason Victoria’s facility has maintained a steady population is the additional services it offers, including specialized care for residents and the ability to house pregnant teenagers in a secure facility.

There are about 165 local juvenile probation departments throughout the state. There are just 51 secure county facilities in the state, most of which are run by county governments. There are five state-run facilities.

Victoria County has roughly 50 contracts with other counties.

“With 254 counties in Texas, you’re looking at about five counties for every one secure county-based detention facility,” said Lindsey Linder, a policy attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “Texas is just such a vast state it’s practically impossible to have youth detention facilities in every county, and I’m not sure that you would want to because what tends to happen is when you build additional detention facilities and you expand capacity, those beds tend to get filled. And then more youth end up in detention.”

The juvenile detention facility has 72 beds and houses kids both pre- and post-adjudication. (In the juvenile justice system, an adjudication is similar to a conviction.)

The facility houses more kids from outside Victoria County than it does locally, according to data from Hencerling.

Zeller said the juvenile detention center was a “success story.”

“We’ve seen the revenue increases each year, and I’m pleased with that trend,” Zeller said.

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can contact her by emailing cmccarthy@vicad.com.

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