HOUSTON (FOX 26) - My Brother’s Keeper Houston, an initiative of the Houston Health Department, and Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis have joined together to launch the first law enforcement-assisted program in the U.S. to divert young low-level offenders from prison to treatment and wraparound services.
The Houston Harris County Youth Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program began on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Attucks Middle School, a Houston Independent School District campus in the historic Sunnyside super neighborhood.
Nationally, LEAD programs target adults, however the program in Houston will serve youth who commit offenses at school and on school property. Such offenses typically lead to arrests, costly court expenses and short stays in supervised detention and confinement facilities. Harris County accounted for almost 25 percent of the youth sent to juvenile prison in 2017, according to state data.
“Programs like the Houston Harris County Youth LEAD program align with the mission of My Brother’s Keeper, in that a huge part of our work is to ensure our city’s youth enter school ready to learn at all levels, graduate from high school and college or trade school and successfully enter the workforce thus dismantling the cradle-to-prison pipeline one life at a time,” said Noel Pinnock, bureau chief of the Houston Health Department Bureau of Youth and Adolescent Health and director of MBK Houston.
Unlike pre-trial interventions, the Houston Harris County Youth LEAD program stops the legal process before it begins, diverting would-be inmates before they are handcuffed and charged by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“When we provide mental and behavioral health services to youth at the point of entry of the juvenile justice system, we will more likely address the deeper root causes that promoted the behavior in the first place,” said Stephen Williams, director of the Houston Health Department.
Resources from both the City of Houston and Harris County will be leveraged to provide the overall coordination of services. Houston reVision will pair Houston Harris County Youth LEAD program participants with Harris County Protective Services to develop and administer case plans.
The concept of the Houston Harris County Youth LEAD program started in 2017 with the MBK Houston Youth Justice Council. Members Judge Michael Schneider and Robert Mock, former HISD chief of police, evaluated offense data and the potential impact of the program.
Attucks Middle School was selected as the inaugural site to launch the pilot program based on data showing the school had experienced more than 40 student arrests in the past year, more than any other campus in the district.