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This course combines the content and structure of a seminar with client- directed research and a service learning opportunity through a field placement with a community partner. Students will learn about the Texas juvenile justice system, which has been the subject of intense legislative scrutiny over the last two years, as well as the process by which the Texas Legislature considers and works on major reform initiatives. Students will work with key stakeholders in the ongoing juvenile justice reform effort, and will contribute their research and writing skills to assist with these reforms. Their field placements will give them the opportunity to observe and engage with the legislative process from the vantage point of advocates, state agency officials, and local officials affected by these policies.
While this class is intended as a continuation of the seminar entitled "The Texas Juvenile Justice System" from the Fall 2008 semester, participation in the previous seminar is not a prerequisite for registration. Returning students will be encouraged to work with a different community partner than during the previous semester, and may have slightly different assignments in lieu of certain classwork.
This three-credit course is open to a total of 10 students: four from the LBJ School; three from the Law School; and three from the School of Social Work. All placements with community partners will be arranged by the instructor following consultation with each student and based on the students' interests and discipline. Placement options currently include: the Office of the Independent Ombudsman for the Texas Youth Commission; the Travis County Juvenile Court/Probation Department; and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition - Juvenile Justice Initiative; other placement options may be added. Students may focus on a particular substantive area (e.g., health care; mental health; education; parole; alternatives to detention; use of force), but will not be representing or treating any clients nor will they be engaged in any lobbying efforts.
Students are expected to work approximately 6 - 8 hours per week with the community partner, usually on-site, for a total of about 80 - 100 hours over the course of the semester. Some of that time will be spent assisting on research and writing projects, but it will also include exposure to and involvement in the general work of the office.
The goals for the course are: (1) to expose students to the operations of the Texas juvenile justice system, as well as to current challenges and reform efforts; (2) to teach students about the Texas legislative process using the vehicle of a particular substantive area and high-profile reform effort; (3) to give students the opportunity to apply their research skills in a real-world setting; (4) to teach students the fundamentals of policy writing; (5) to provide a needed service to our community partners; and (6) to encourage students to think about the juvenile justice field from an interdisciplinary perspective.
Background and System Placement Options
The state of the Texas juvenile justice system dominated the news headlines during the 80th legislative session in 2007, following a sexual abuse scandal in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) and the virtual dismantling of the agency's management structure. Lawmakers passed numerous reform measures, and have continued to hold frequent hearings about progress in implementing these changes. TYC is currently under the control of an appointed Conservator, is facing Sunset review, and has one of its facilities under court order. After a lengthy crisis period, the agency is finally achieving sufficient stability to allow it to begin to implement a more rehabilitative vision in concert with the changes demanded by the Legislature. However, many aspects of the agency's operations continue to be under intense legislative scrutiny, and TYC's future as an agency is very much an open question at this point. One of the critical questions generating continuing legislative debate is whether the state or counties should be responsible for housing and treating serious juvenile offenders.
There will be at least three field placement options that will offer students the opportunity to engage directly with key system players on issues of fundamental importance to the continuing operations of the juvenile justice system in Texas:
(1) Office of the Independent Ombudsman (OIO) One of the most important legislative reforms was the appointment of an Independent Ombudsman to evaluate the treatment of children held in TYC custody, to recommend reforms to TYC, and to report to the Legislature and the Governor on issues of concern. The Office of the Independent Ombudsman (OIO) has complete access to all TYC facilities and conducts in-depth reviews of various issues affecting youth in custody as well as investigations of individual complaints. This office can accommodate students with interests in almost any substantive area affecting juveniles, and will rely heavily on assessments and research conducted by student interns to help guide the OIO's policy recommendations to TYC, the Legislature, and the Governor. The Ombudsman will also need help tracking and analyzing relevant legislation, preparing to testify before legislative committees, and developing materials for submission to these committees.
(2) Travis County Juvenile Court/Probation Department Last session, the Legislature required local juvenile justice agencies to handle a greater number of juvenile offenders locally. Key lawmakers are now suggesting that local governments may soon have even greater responsibilities in this area. Thus, local juvenile boards need to step up their assessment of their needs and the success of their programs. Travis County's juvenile justice system is considered a model for the rest of the state in terms of its range of programming and success in keeping serious juvenile offenders in the community. Local officials need assistance, however, in analyzing the extensive database they maintain regarding programs and juvenile offenders, in developing proposed programs, services, and budgets for certain populations of juveniles, and in assessing the impact of proposed legislative reforms on the county. Students may also be asked to track and analyze bills that would impact the county's provision of juvenile justice services, and to prepare materials that allow local officials to testify before legislative committees.
(3) Texas Criminal Justice Coalition Juvenile Justice Initiative This small non-profit organization has played a leading role in advocating for many of the juvenile justice reforms passed last legislative session and under consideration for the upcoming session. The group will need assistance in preparing background materials for legislators, researching policy recommendations, developing position statements, drafting proposed legislation, and tracking and analyzing relevant bills. Priority for this placement will be given to students who have taken the prior seminar on "The Texas Juvenile Justice System." Course Requirements
The class will meet six times at the beginning of the semester and periodically thereafter. The introductory sessions will provide all students with grounding in the way the Texas juvenile justice system works, the efforts to reform TYC and restructure the juvenile justice system, and the Texas legislative process (including committee work, the budget process, the Sunset process, and the role of advocates). Key players in the reform effort and the legislative process will be invited to participate in these discussions so students will have a "view from the inside." Subsequent class meetings will focus primarily on skills-building and preparing students to draft policy memos, briefing papers, and Op-Eds. Students will also learn to develop budgets for proposed programs and services. There will also be an opportunity to focus on substantive topics suggested by the students. There will also be substantial time in this course devoted to reflections on students' work experiences, including discussions about the role of race and cultural differences in the operations of the justice system.
In addition to classroom work and service learning work, students will have the opportunity to participate in a class tour of a TYC facility and to observe some juvenile courtroom proceedings. As relevant legislative hearings are scheduled, students will also be expected to attend these hearings to the extent possible.
Students will have their placement determined prior to the start of the class, following consultation with the instructor, and each student will have a community partner supervisor for his or her placement work. Over the course of the semester, students should expect to draft at least one policy memo, a briefing memo, an Op-Ed, and a bill analysis, in addition to whatever other projects they work on in their placement. Students are expected to be self- directed and assertive in identifying, suggesting, and designing relevant research and writing projects for their placement organization.
Students should expect to work between 80 - 100 hours for their placement. The work schedule will be arranged with the placement supervisor, but will usually involve 6 - 8 hours of work per week (less at the beginning of the semester, while our classroom work is more intensive and the legislative session is not yet in full swing, and more during those weeks when no class meetings are scheduled and legislative hearings are frequent). Typically, at least 4- 6 hours per week will involve either on-site work at the placement office or at the legislature, with the remainder of time spent conducting off-site research or drafting. In addition to any research and writing assignments given by the supervisor, students should expect to participate in routine office activities, including case work, courtroom hearings, attendance at meetings, field visits, etc., depending upon the placement.
Students are also expected to prepare for and participate fully in class discussions, and to submit to the instructor brief reflective writing assignments, in addition to the policy writing projects. Students will receive a written evaluation from their supervisor on their field work, taking into account attendance and the quality of their work products. Grading will take into account all of these factors.
Interested students are required to contact the instructor and to complete an application for the course. Preference will be given to students who have completed at least one year of their graduate program. Student may not receive compensation for their field placement.