by Maia McCoy
These last few weeks as we’ve been waiting for the Speaker of the House to assign committees has felt much like a roller coaster slowly ratcheting up to that first impending apex. We know the first freefall into bill analysis mayhem is coming, and in fact, I think it just might be here. Speaker Straus announced House committee assignments Wednesday afternoon. All of us policy analysts in the LSG were in a briefing on the 1115 Transformation Waiver (which happens to provide for so many jail-diversion, mental health, and community-capacity building programs relevant to social work in our state!) when we began repeatedly refreshing the internet browsers on our phones for the news. Over the weekend, we turned in our committee preferences to our Executive Director and now anxiously await our assignments — c’mon Criminal Jurisprudence, Corrections, or Juvenile Justice!
When I came to school for social work in September, I was really following my values on a very gut level. Sorry, I kind of stumbled in with a hazy idea that I wanted to help people via counseling and was drawn to the social justice component of social work, lacking from other helping professions. I know that the mechanisms of oppression, both systemic and internalized, are powerful and insidious, and the social work curriculum was the only one that spoke to this very real force holding so many back from actualizing their/our radical potential. We can’t treat poverty, racism, or internalized homophobia with a pill or through talk therapy. Now just a semester of school behind me and a little over a month into the legislative internship, my feelings about social work and what I want to do with it are drastically different than counseling. After a semester interning in the Family Criminal Law Division within the Harris County DA’s office I became very interested in the intersection of social work and legal, law enforcement, and criminal justice systems. I hope to one day be able to help marginalized populations navigate those systems and advocate on their behalf. That said, what better place to gain a synoptic view of our current efforts in regards to restorative justice and what better way to understand the infrastructure of these efforts than as a policy analyst through this program.
There is no question in my mind that social workers offer invaluable insight to the legislature in regards to whether or not our initiatives to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism among incarcerated youth and adults are evidence-based practices and are achieving the desired outcomes. While we might be polarized politically as a state and as a nation, rehabilitation is being prioritized in our state’s criminal justice system, as we can no longer overlook and shoulder the financial burden of individuals repeatedly cycling through our jails and prisons. The social worker in me believes that every human being is an asset to society and that we should, of course, work to restore capacity to function regardless of the bonus of financial relief provided by these efforts.
I am very excited that a new committee has been created to address juvenile justice and family issues and am curious, regardless of my committee assignment, to monitor the bills passing through this committee. As we learned in our meeting with the Executive Director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), David Reilly, MSW , TJJD has undergone a series of transformations since a scandal in 2007 in a state-run youth correctional facility. In an effort to prevent future issues, the state has reduced the number of youth assigned to these facilities from 4,000 to just over 1,000 and has opted instead to keep adjudicated youth in probation programs closer to their families. According to the Texas Observer, recidivism has reduced by nearly 20% as a result of these changes.
I feel privileged to have the time to study the intricacies of our current efforts and law and hope to be able to use the tools acquired now to shape future policy. A democracy can only function when its citizenry are engaged participants able to contribute to the larger society, working, voting and thriving.