$1 million grant supports Williamson County’s rehabilitation program for young adult offenders

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County’s transformative justice program will continue for three more years after a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Justice, county leaders said.

The Transformative Justice Program is a court-supervised diversion program to help nonviolent offenders ages 17-24 break the cycle of incarceration, discharge, and reoffending. Program leaders said the course program offers help with substance abuse problems and life skills.

The program was launched in 2019 through a grant from the Texas Indigent Fund. Williamson County also matched those funds at the time, and additional money was contributed by agencies such as the Texas Bar Association.

Judge Stacey Matthews presides over the 277th District Court, which often hears cases involving these young offenders. She said it was disheartening to see young people appearing in court again and again

“Something about this younger population, we felt the traditional justice system was missing something for them,” Judge Matthews said.

Judge Matthews said the program is the result of the district attorney’s office, the court and program facilitators coming together to rehabilitate offenders who often struggle to find housing and employment after a felony conviction. Those struggles often lead them back to similar criminal activity to survive, said program director Terence Davis.

“There are things we can do to change the trajectory of their lives. We know that these things [crimes] happen, but we also know what will happen if we do nothing … which is 85% we will reoffend,” Davis said.

The program is also a research study, Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute is one of the agency’s data collectors on the success of the diversion program.

Researchers Georges Naufal and Emily Naiser said that now that additional funding has been secured, their work can continue for another three years. Although they can’t share their findings gathered so far, Nizer says the past few years of following participants and interviewing them have been interesting.

“It’s interesting to watch them embrace the process and how it goes deeper than just avoiding a crime,” Nizer said.

Naufal and Naiser said it may be several years before their full, in-depth study data is published, but preliminary results are expected to be ready to share in just a few months.

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