Bexar County (TX) Program and Aftercare Revisions to Address Length of Stay

Oct 28, 2021 |

The Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department applied and was selected to participate in the Length of Stay (LOS) Policy Academy.  As part of the LOS Policy Academy, selected jurisdictions examine and reform policies, practices, and other factors driving post-adjudication length of stay. Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform and the Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators, with funding and support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, are assisting jurisdictions in the development and implementation of their Action Plans by providing education, consultation, and technical assistance (TA).

The Bexar County Juvenile Probation Department team developed an action plan that focused on program revisions at the Krier Center, our secure post-disposition treatment facility, ending the use of disciplinary seclusion, and adding more aftercare supports through the creation of a reentry court.

Program Revisions– Krier utilizes a Comprehensive Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) model for treatment and programming.  In September 2020, updates to programming were made to emphasize progress towards a youth’s target behavior and incorporate program elements from the DBT Forensic adaptation.  Treatment tasks were grouped into phases in order to more comprehensively capture a youth’s progress in completing programming.  The treatment phases focused on therapeutic tasks specific to DBT treatment targets.  Greater focus was also placed on addressing criminogenic risks and needs.  Criminogenic needs and risks are addressed throughout programming and culminate in participation in a Crime Review group.  The Crime Review group walks a youth through a behavior chain of their referring offense, explores the offense from their victim’s point of view (or another important person if there was no victim), and helps the youth identify a DBT skill they could have used that would have prevented the offense from occurring.  This group allows the resident to take an in-depth view of their offense and creates an opportunity to display empathy for their victim/others.  When a youth is ready to graduate from placement they participate in a Graduation Review presentation.  This presentation allows the youth to acknowledge their accomplishments in placement, share their therapeutic gains, and discuss their plans for the future.  These program revisions allowed the treatment teams to better track a youth’s progression in programming and closely monitor their readiness for graduation.

Ending Disciplinary Seclusion- Beginning last year, the Length of Stay team began reviewing our behavior management programming at the Krier Center. . Our historical use of seclusion often resulted in the child’s length of stay being extended significantly, resulting in the decrease in their motivation to complete the facility program.  With the overall implementation of DBT programming, it was the obvious next step to look at how we were managing behaviors within this clinical/theoretical model. Disciplinary seclusion is being eliminated and being replaced with more robust incentive-based programming. Resident support and restorative justice programming will also be expanded to address the wider continuum of behaviors and individualized resident needs

We began with facilitating multi-disciplinary work groups (including front line officers, clinicians, supervisors, and management) to review existing programming and what it would look like to remove disciplinary seclusion from our program.  This team was focused and thorough in their detailed assessment of how we could effectively address behaviors without using seclusion.  The updates in our Resident Support Program came shortly after this initial assessment and gave the team the opportunity to build the treatment response for each individual behavior.  The individual behaviors were reviewed for their specific impact on programming, facility operations, and treatment.  Four classifications were identified using DBT environmental targets to classify behaviors: program destroying, program interfering, treatment interfering, and quality of life interfering.  Having classifications for behaviors also signals the youth as to how their behaviors impact not only themselves but the treatment community in which they live.  Once these classifications were identified, the Resident Support Program team began identifying therapeutic work requirements associated with each of the classifications.  The therapeutic work consists of therapeutic assignments/learning opportunities (corrects), DBT skills (over-corrects), and repairing damage to property or persons (repairs).   Each of these therapeutic tasks have to be completed thoughtfully before reintegrating back into programming. Each classification has varying requirements of therapeutic work.

The work group was beyond happy with the outcome and we moved forward with training the entire facility on these changes.  By the end of September 2021 we had trained all officers, clinicians, probation officers, educational staff, and management on the new programming.  As of October 1, 2021 we no longer have disciplinary seclusion in our facility.

Reentry Docket Model – A critical component in reducing length of stay is ensuring youth and their families feel confident and supported regarding the youths’ transition back to the community.   Guided by feedback from youth and families, aftercare services are being strengthened to include support through a Reentry Docket model.  The reentry provider is now part of the treatment team while a youth is in residential care and helps families practice skills that will support their child upon their return.  Facilitated by the youth’s probation officer, the presiding court, district attorney and defense counsel remain engaged with youth while they are in residential care and, upon release, continue support and coordination of care through a specialty court framework.  As entreated by youth and families, particular emphasis will be placed on education reintegration support, natural incentives and sanctions that foster development and independence, as well as prosocial and vocational opportunities.

In conclusion, the LOS Policy Academy provided the technical expertise and professional support to examine and reform several of our policies, practices, and other factors influencing our post-adjudication length of stay. We look forward to fully implementing these changes and celebrating better outcomes for children in Bexar County.