A new Williamson County program will provide an alternative to incarceration for emerging adults charged with a felony.
During a Commissioners Court meeting Jan. 22, the court voted to partner with Lone Star Justice Alliance to bring the program to Williamson County, the second county in Texas to do so.
The program will create a docket devoted to 17- to 24-year-olds who have committed low-level offenses, diverting them away from a path of incarceration and repeated crimes and into a service-based system with programs geared toward improving health and mental health. This is similar to what the county is currently doing with its drug and veterans court.
“The goal is that we are going to create an aversion. We’re going to provide services [and]improve health outcomes and justice outcomes for these young adults that we don’t want to saddle with a criminal record,” 277th District Judge Stacey Matthews said. “It’s ultimately going to provide cost savings to the county … and improve lives.”
Matthews said the current Williamson County recidivism rate, or the tendency for a convicted criminal to commit a crime again, for individuals in this age group is 85 percent, which the program intends to reduce.
The results of the program will be monitored and studied by researchers from Harvard Law School Access to Justice Lab, Texas A&M Public Policy Research Institute and UT Health Science Center, said Elizabeth Henneke, executive director of the Lone Star Justice Alliance.
Henneke said this is the first study to be done in the U.S. in 40 years that looks at not only recidivism rates but access to health care and the importance of family structure and commitment to a community in being a productive member of society.
The program and services will be free to the individual and at no cost to the county, Henneke said. She added the program gains its funding through grants and donors.
The funding will pay for a program manager to secure future funding and organize programs, two defense counsels and basic overhead, Henneke said. The positions will be contracted and are not county employees, she added. A separate source will fund a juvenile probation officer.
In addition, Henneke said while the program is intended to extend through four years, every year she will present Commissioners Court with the program’s progress and a cost-benefit analysis.
“[In the research,] we will be able to tell [the court]if the program is really paying for itself through jail space and recidivism rates,” Henneke said. “Every year we will be back to give reports on how we are doing and asking [the court]to continue the program if it makes sense for the county.”
The program is also in coordination with the district attorney’s office and the county’s juvenile detention center.
“We all believe this is going to work,” county District Attorney Shawn Dick said. “It’s going to improve lives, improve our community [and]improve safety.”
In other business:
Williamson County will join Amazon Prime Business. The county currently has more than 50 Amazon Prime accounts for various departments, county Director of Purchasing Randy Barker said. The new Amazon Prime Business will combine all of the accounts into a single one, which Barker said will lower costs to the county in shipping and annual subscriptions. The county will spend $1,300 on the annual subscription and receive a 90-day free trial, Barker said.
The court also approved seven Emergency Service District board member reappointments. The two-year term will go through Dec. 31, 2020:
- James Crabtree, Liberty Hill ESD No. 4
- Dan Clark, Liberty Hill ESD No. 4
- James Baker, Liberty Hill ESD No. 4
- George Hill, Cedar Park ESD No. 11
- Jason Willis, Cedar Park ESD No. 11
- Barbara Keese, Cedar Park ESD No. 11
- Judy Lawler Pokorny, Cedar Park ESD No. 12
Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell was appointed to the state of Texas Tobacco Settlement Permanent Trust Account Investment Committee. The position was previously held by former county Judge Dan Gattis. The appointment will expire Aug. 31, 2023.
County employee Dorothy Mikulencak was recognized for her 28 years of service to the county. Mikulencak worked in the county clerk’s office holding various positions. She retired Dec. 27, 2018.