Law-and-Order Texas Tries Treatment For Juveniles

AVING launched the world's largest substance-abuse treatment program for incarcerated adults, Texas now wants to reach young offenders as well.

The specifics of the state's ``juvenile-justice treatment initiative'' have yet to be worked out. ``It's still being cooked,'' says Dorothy Browne, the governor's project coordinator on substance-abuse treatment.

The Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse (TCADA) will launch the initiative next month as a pilot program in Dallas, where more than half of youths arrested in violent crimes test positive for drug use.

The program will be community-based, reaching young offenders through ``safe houses,'' Ms. Browne says. The reason: Centralized programs have failed elsewhere because teenagers don't show up for treatment. And treatment will emphasize the whole family, whose problems may be what led the juvenile to start using drugs in the first place.

If the program succeeds, TCADA will seek funding to expand when the Legislature meets in January. Browne says the juvenile-justice system has always received stepchild treatment. But she expects it to get much attention next session.

Texas, a state whose law-and-order traditions tend to favor punishment and deterrence over treatment and early intervention, is erecting prisons at a pace unparalleled in history and at a cost of billions of borrowed dollars. But given the close correlation among violent crime, recidivism, and drug and alcohol abuse, Gov. Ann Richards (D) prodded the Legislature in 1991 to fund the treatment program for adult inmates. Those who overcome their dependency won't return to prison, the theory goes.

Meanwhile, the national rate of violent crime has soared among juveniles.

``It's not unusual at all to have murders by 14-year-olds,'' says Brandy Wisner, executive director of the Greater Dallas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

``We are witnessing auto-genocide among our young,'' says George Kosnik, acting associate director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. ``Our children are killing our children.'' Drug dealing or use often play a role in juvenile violence.

Thus, Governor Richards wants to treat juvenile offenders, too. However, Browne points out, Texas was able to copy treatment programs of proven effectiveness in setting up its eventual 14,000-bed in-prison treatment program. No such models exist for juveniles, Browne says.

The Texas plan could change this.

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