$1 Million Grant Advances Williamson County Rehabilitation Program for Young Adult Criminals

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – Williamson County’s transformative justice program will continue for another three 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 non-violent criminals between the ages of 17 and 24 break the cycle of incarceration, release and recidivism. Program officials said the course curriculum offers help with substance abuse issues and life skills.

The program was launched in 2019 with a grant from the Texas Indigent Fund. At the time, Williamson County also matched these funds, additional funds were also contributed by agencies like the Texas Bar Association.

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

“Something for this younger population, we felt they were missing something from the mainstream justice system,” Judge Mathews said.

Judge Mathews said the program resulted from 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. These struggles often lead them back to similar criminal activities to survive, said program director Terence Davis.

“There are things we can do to change the trajectory of their lives. We know these things [crimes] happen, but we also know what happens if we don’t do anything…that’s 85% will reoffend,” Davis said.

The program is also a research study, the Institute for Public Policy Research at Texas A&M University is one of the data collection agencies 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. While they can’t share their findings gathered so far, Naiser says the past few years of tracking participants and interviewing them have been interesting.

“It’s interesting to see them embrace the process and how it goes beyond just avoiding a crime,” Naiser said.

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

Ryan H. Bowman