Reporter: Ellie Mahan
October 27, 2021
More than 50,000 Texas juveniles are arrested or referred to the juvenile probation system each year, according to the Juvenile Justice Department. The Hill County Juvenile Drug Court Program, which was created in March 2005, provides an alternative to formal probation for minors who have committed a drug offense. This program focuses on treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment, with a goal of preventing children from ending up in the adult justice system.
Tina Lincoln, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer with Hill County’s Juvenile Probation Department, is the drug court administrator. She said, “When the drug court was created, the community saw that there was a need for substance abuse services within the community, specifically for those juveniles who were either put on probation for substance abuse or using illegal substances.”
The local service was created to give Hill County residents access to a rehabilitation program without driving to Waco or a nearby city.
When a juvenile has allegedly committed an offense involving an illegal substance, the juvenile can be referred to the drug court program rather than being issued a more punitive punishment. The juveniles come before the court, and the court issues a drug court contract that requires certain conditions to be met during all four phases of the four-month program.
Contracts require juveniles to attend weekly group counseling sessions, attend monthly individual counseling sessions, provide a sample for a weekly drug-test urinalysis, complete community service and ensure that their parents attend monthly parenting classes. Then, each month, the juveniles come before the court to review their progress. The court praises the juveniles for their successes and discusses their areas of improvement. If they test positive for an illegal substance on the urinalysis, the court has the ability to place them in a juvenile detention center for up to three days. Once all the requirements for all four phases are met, the juvenile’s case can be closed.
“Unfortunately, I’ve seen the negative effects of substance abuse on juveniles and their families my entire career. It’s just so incredibly important that we at the juvenile justice system try to identify those issues at a younger age and provide services and intervention so that those particular kids will not end up in the adult system one day or potentially have really significant substance addiction,” Lincoln said.
The program had 19 participants in 2020 and 2021. Shane Brassell, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2, volunteers as judge of the juvenile drug court. Brassell and Lincoln both said that the program can be a place for the youth to work out their issues rather than just a place of punishment.
“Usually there is a lot more to it than just a kid that is wayward. Sometimes there are home issues or past abuse issues. We try to delve into those issues,” Brassell said.
Brassell said as the county grows, the drug problem in the area could grow too. The drug court program is an opportunity to prevent the youth of today from developing an addiction that would be harmful to the community in the future.
“It gives them a chance to correct their actions and know that there are people out there who do care and want them to be successful,” Brassell said.
The program was postponed for a period of time due to loss of government funding, but the court picked back up and is fully operational again, without additional funding. The representatives on the juvenile drug court program work to help youth on a volunteer basis. The drug court team consists of: Judge Shane Brassell, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 2; the Hill County Attorney’s Office; Gregg Hill, defense attorney; the staff members of the Juvenile Probation Department; and Amie Cheek, LCSW, MSSW.
“The program is really effective. We have a really good success rate with most of our clients, and those that we don’t have the success with are usually going to be those whose needs exceed what we can do within our own community, so those will be those youth that may require placement in a substance abuse program outside of their home,” Lincoln said.
Brassell said that his favorite part of being the judge of the drug court is seeing the difference the court can make in children’s lives. He enjoys seeing children who graduated from the program go on to get jobs or go to college.
“The best thing is when you have a kid successfully complete the program, and we’re able to use some of our collective resources to give him a boost and hopefully send them on a productive path. We have written letters to coaches asking that a kid be put on the football team because their cooperation with the court was exceptional. We really try to boost their high school career and hopefully their adult life,” Brassell said.
The program’s parenting classes provide the guardians of juveniles with a support system and help them understand how to best help their children work through their issues.
“It’s our future. These kids will be our JPs and our county judges and our commissioners. Just because they’re making mistakes now doesn’t mean they’re not salvageable,” Brassell said.