It is generally agreed that the lowest appropriate level of a child’s involvement in the juvenile justice system provides the most beneficial long-term outcome for the child. In that spirit, the Texas Family Code provides for the establishment of first offender programs which may be used by police when they take children into custody for first-time law violations. Sections 52.03 and 52.031 of the Texas Family Code permit police to dispose of these cases without referral to juvenile court and to refer these first-time offenders and their parents to mandatory education and counseling programs in lieu of further prosecution, if appropriate. Many of these cases reflect a need for common-sense parenting training and skill-building that will improve a youth’s behavior, decision-making, family relationships, communication skills and self-image. Services extend over a period of at least eight weeks. Parents or guardians of the child must give consent to participation by their child in a first offender program. Children who successfully complete a first offender program and who do not experience another law violation within 90 days may have their cases permanently closed.
The First Offender is operated through a contract with Lena Pope Home, Inc., which provides trained specialists to teach skills to modify an adolescent’s inappropriate behavior, strengthen family relationships, and improve communication, decision-making skills and self-image. During FY 2002, a total of 380 youth were served through the First Offender Program. Of these, 90% completed the program successfully, while 100% were not re-referred within 90 days following successful program completion.