By Kirsten Bokenkamp Communications Coordinator Largely driven by cost savings, since 2007 there have been some changes in the way that Texas deals with its most vulnerable group of offenders: our youth.    From 2006 to 2010 the number of incarcerated youth in Texas dropped from 4,800 to 1,800 – all without an increase in crime. Juvenile arrests have decreased too, and mental health services have become more available to young offenders. The most recent change, again, with the focus on saving taxpayer money, is that the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission are merging into one new agency that will be tasked with continuing the reforms that were started in 2007.  We hope that the new agency will take seriously the fact that youth that remain near family networks have an easier time rehabilitating, and that the agency acknowledges that very few youth should ever actually end up behind bars.  We agree with Senator Whitmire’s suggestion that those youth that are locked up are not sent hours away, but are instead put in facilities close to their homes so they don’t lose connections with their families and communities.  Additionally, youth, like offenders of all ages, are often in need of mental health and substance counseling.  We hope this priority is at the top of the list. While we recognize that one of the main purposed for this merger is to save taxpayer money (another reason we advocate for less-expensive alternatives to incarceration such as probation), we echo the sentiment of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition – there must be adequate funding to ensure secure facilities and top-notch treatment centers so that these young offenders are given a chance to get back on the right track.   It is worth noting, this investment in treatment for youthful offenders will pay-off in years to come because this kind of treatment is designed to route youth out of the criminal justice system permanently. We have long argued that throwing a young person in jail is not the correct answer. The numbers show that keeping kids out of jail gives them a much better chance at a productive future – and furthermore, incarcerating youth is expensive – up to 6 times more expensive than incarcerating an adult.  Rehabilitating youth is easier than rehabilitating adult offenders, and will help keep future adults out of the criminal justice system as well, thus saving the state more money.  We have better ways to spend our tax dollars, and youth have more potential to have bright and productive futures if they never see the inside of a jail cell.