County honored for innovative, money-saving juvenile defense program

GideonAwardFor immediate release Dec. 23, 2013

For media follow up, please contact Jim Fredricks at (936) 520-6098.

Montgomery County recently was honored by a state commission for its work to provide representation for indigent juvenile defendants, leading to reduced county costs for juvenile detention and better outcomes for the juveniles themselves, according to officials.
The Texas Indigent Defense Commission recently honored Montgomery County with its Gideon award; one of several local governments across Texas honored for meeting high standards for indigent defense. Counties are recognized based on how well their programs meet the principles of the Fair Defense Act and the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Craig Doyal was one of several county officials invited to go to Austin to receive the award. He was one of the members of the court who voted to launch the program nearly three years ago. Also present at the award presentation were 284th state District Judge Cara Wood, 359th state District Judge Kathleen Hamilton, County Court-at-Law No. 4 Judge Mary Ann Turner, Director of Juvenile Detention Ron Leach, Juvenile Board Member and Judge Olen Underwood, and attorneys Bill Patillo and Chris Allen, two of three attorneys with whom the county contracted for the service. The third attorney is Carolyn Atkinson.
The program, in which the county has contracted with three attorneys to provide legal representation to indigent juvenile defendants, has been good for both taxpayers and juveniles, said Doyal, a candidate for county judge in the GOP March primary in 2014.
“They’ve done a great job in representing the indigent youth of our county, and they’ve done it at great savings to the taxpayers,” Doyal said.
The Contract Defender attorneys provide representation for indigent juvenile defendants in Montgomery County. If the juvenile qualifies for appointed counsel, the program attorney is assigned prior to the detention hearing.
According to a press release from the commission, the contracted indigent defense program is a one-year contract approved by the Juvenile Board for the Montgomery County, and attorney fees are paid by Montgomery County. After the initial award of the contract in 2011, the same attorneys have been awarded the contract in the subsequent years.
But according to Doyal and officials familiar with the program, the county’s expenditure on the program has yielded taxpayers savings well in excess of the expense.
According to data from the county provided for the award submission, the number of days juveniles have spent at taxpayer expense in the county’s juvenile detention center has been drastically reduced.
A comparison of the detention data before and after the launch of the program shows that the average daily population of juveniles held in the detention center has decreased from 38 to 32.
During the same period, the number of bed days used has decreased by 5,529 days. The state average cost per bed day is $162 per day. Montgomery County’s average cost per bed day is $100 – significantly lower than the state average cost. At the $100 per bed day rate, the savings to Montgomery County for this 32-month comparison period is $552,900.
“They have done an exceptional job,” Doyal said.
Ron Leach, the county’s director of Juvenile Detention, said the program has benefits for not only taxpayers, but the juveniles themselves and the broader community.
“The key benefit is that you have three defense attorneys who are all board certified in juvenile law, and all three are former juvenile prosecutors; they have an established working relationship with the juvenile department,” Leach said.
“We’ve always had this approach that we’re all going to work together to help these juveniles.”
The contract defender program identifies indigent juveniles more quickly and pairs them with an attorney to establish a plan for supervision, thus helping get them in front of a judge more quickly and reducing the need for detention. By doing that, it connects juveniles more quickly also with the consequences of their action.
“It expedites getting the juveniles through the system; the more immediate the consequences are, the better the impact this is going to have.”
Chris Allen, one of the three attorneys board-certified in juvenile defense who work under the contract, said the program only makes sense.
“We’re representing kids at their initial detention hearing; that didn’t always occur in the past,” Allen said.
“Now that we’re on board and there is a lawyer who can put a game plan together with the family, we can get them through their hearing faster than they have in the past.
“Folks like Commissioner Doyal had the foresight to see we could save the county money in the long run because we’re specialists.”

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For media inquiries or to speak with the commissioner, call Jim Fredricks at (936) 520-6098 or email jfredricks@thefredricksgroup.com

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