FORT WORTH — An emphasis on community- and family-based interventions is being credited for a nearly 40 percent drop in juvenile crime since 2003, according to a report presented Tuesday to the City Council.Overall referrals to the courts — including misdemeanors, felonies and truancy — are down from 6,847 in 2003 to 4,148 in 2012, and felony referrals fell from 1,807 to 949 in the same time, nearly a 50 percent drop, according to the report from Tarrant County Juvenile Services.A change in state and local juvenile services led to the decrease, said Randy Turner, director of Tarrant County Juvenile Services. For example, he said probation officers make more in-home visits, rather than in a central office.“I can have a young person and their parent in the office, which is a very sterile environment, and you just don’t see the realities of what is going on. We train our staff to be responsive in the community. We do their case plan at the table, at home,” Turner said. Councilman Sal Espino recommended taking a closer look at how the Crime Control and Prevention District’s funds are directed to juvenile programs, saying some money should perhaps be redirected to focus on family-based services that mirror the efforts of Tarrant County Juvenile Services. In fiscal 2013, the crime district funded about $1.6 million on the After School Program, $440,005 on the Safe Haven Youth Program and $339,634 on the Comin’ Up Gang Intervention Program. “We have been doing the same thing with youth crime prevention since the ’90s,” Espino said at a pre-council meeting, adding that the changing data should prompt an investigation into making the “difficult call on which services and programs” the city should fund. Turner agreed, saying his department is working with a researcher to evaluate current programs and outcomes. “It is an appropriate time for us to look at: What are we doing that is really doing well? And what are our schools doing? What are our communities doing?” Turner asked. Councilman Danny Scarth said he would like to see data on how Fort Worth juvenile crimes compare with those in other metropolitan cities across Texas and the nation. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department has reduced state-operated facilities from 14 to five since 2007 and the juvenile population in those facilities has been reduced from 5,000 to 1,200, in part because misdemeanor offenders are no longer sent to state facilities, Turner said. The most referrals are among African-American and Hispanic boys, which is an overrepresentation of those groups in the system, Turner said, and is a significant concern. However, Turner said his department is working with the Center for Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities to resolve the skewed representation, including having people on staff to handle the cultural and language needs of each community. “If we can do some things early and provide intervention services early to stop this flow of kids into institutional systems, then we are all better off,” Turner said.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @CatyHirst