In recent years, Williamson County has seen a significant movement towards providing treatment when individuals face certain types of crimes, as opposed to just charging them with a crime and seeking jail or prison time. These programs are designed to address the root cause of offenses, instead of jumping straight to punishment that may result in the offender re-offending as soon as the sentence is up. This is accomplished through various treatment courts that were established over the past ten years, with newer ones beginning just this past year. Services in these courts can include assistance with employment, education, housing, and other additional assistance based on the individual and the situation. Court-mandated milestones, mentorship, and guidance are also provided to help individuals manage these resources.
The goal with these programs is to prevent these at-risk individuals from reoffending, yes, but also to extend compassion and a second chance to those that may be eager to turn their lives around if given the chance. According to county data, these courts have seen high success rates, and have been able to contribute significantly to reduced recidivism rates.
Here’s a look at some of these specialty courts in Williamson Country and how they help our community:
The DWI/Drug Court in Williamson County is designed to assist in rehabilitation and treatment for those convicted of repeat DUI/DWI and drug offenses. The program was founded in 2006, and recently expanded to include certain felony drug and alcohol offenses within the last few years. Like many similar programs across the country, the DWI/Drug Treatment Court has a proven record of helping repeat offenders stay out of trouble by getting them necessary treatment, maintaining sobriety, and connecting them with the resources they need to get back on their feet. By coming together as a community and connecting those who have a genuine problem with the resources they need to get sober and live a drug-free lifestyle, this court focuses on rehabilitation and proactive treatment rather than punishing the offender for what is really a symptom of a bigger problem. Generally speaking, an individual is only eligible for the DWI/Drug Treatment Court when they already have at least one conviction involving an alcohol or drug related offences – usually a DWI, or a possession of a controlled substance of possession of marijuana.
The Williamson County Veterans Treatment Court was established in 2015, as a way to assist more and more of our veterans that return home from overseas tours. Since its inception, this court has worked to help keep veterans accused of misdemeanor crimes from serving time or reoffending. The court specifically deals with the unique issues that veterans face, from service-based injuries, to self-medication, to even post-traumatic stress disorder, and creates a personalized program for each veteran to help address and prevent the root cause of their struggles. Since the number of veteran arrests is on the rise, with 600 arrests in 2015, 700 in 2016 and 800 in 2017, a program like this is sorely needed. Fortunately, this veteran-run program has seen significant success since it was founded and has seen a 94% completion rate in those enrolled in the program. One distinct advantage that the Veterans Treatment Court provides to those participating is the ability to receive an expunction of certain offenses, at no cost, once the course of treatment is completed and no additional criminal occurrences occurred.
Emerging Adults Court
In January of this year, Williamson County was awarded a grant to support the Second Chance Community Improvement Program (SCCIP), which will create a rehabilitation program for young adults ages 17-24 who have been charged with a felony. This will include a specialty court for these individuals, which will keep them out of prison and instead connect them with alternative routes to rehabilitation that are designed for that age bracket. A primary goal for this program is again to reduce the recidivism rate for this age group—which currently stands at 85 percent. While still getting established, the team that is heading up this program consists of experienced professionals that work within the juvenile justice system, along with experts from outside the State of Texas.
In “Teen Court”, underage individuals ages 10-18 who have committed a low-level crime (and pled guilty or no contest) are able to be tried by a jury of peers. This court is made up of teen volunteers, and sentences are typically civic activities or community service. Teen court provides an opportunity for teens to face consequences for their actions, while staying out of the formal court system—and if they complete the sentence given in teen court, their case will be dismissed. This is an excellent educational opportunity that enforces the idea that illegal actions have consequences, while keeping first-time and low-level teen offenders out of the justice system.
In light of these proven successes, it’s worth considering the value of providing a second chance to those who are struggling. Instead of focusing on punishment and saddling folks with a criminal record, we have the opportunity to change lives for the better in a way that benefits everyone—the justice system, the community, and those struggling individuals. As the work demonstrated by these specialty courts in Williamson County shows, sometimes all folks really need is a helping hand to get them on the right path.