Judge Mario E. Ramirez, Jr. Juvenile Justice Center
JUVENILE COURT CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
The Juvenile Court Conference Committee Volunteer Program (JCCC) is an early intervention / prevention program which is geared towards diverting referred juvenile offenders from further involvement in the juvenile justice system. This program recruits and trains local community citizens to work with first time juvenile offenders through a structured volunteer program. The heart of the program relies on the volunteer to take an active role within their own community to assist the youth and their families. The primary objectives of the program are to divert there juvenile offenders from further involvement in the juvenile justice system by providing accountability for delinquent behavior, to educate the families regarding the community program that might assist in resolving their issues, encourage parental involvement, and empower the community and encourage neighborhood collaboration.
Program Historical Background
The concept of the Conference Committee which emphasizes “Neighbor helping Neighbor” originated in the State of New Jersey in 1953 and the State of Washington in 1959. In 1981, the concept was implemented in El Paso, El Paso County, Texas and subsequently began in Hidalgo County in 1985. Each county was effective in establishing a successful Conference Committee Volunteer Program and inspired other Texas counties to follow their example to include Travis County in 1995, and San Patricio and Nueces Counties in 1997.
Since the revision of the Texas Family Code in 1974, pursuant to Section 52.031 via the Juvenile Court guidelines and pursuant to Section 53.03, the Juvenile Court has initiated programs both within and outside the Juvenile Justice System to handle both minor and first time offenders informally. The Hidalgo County Juvenile Justice System has long felt that the answer to the minor offender, and the responsibility of preventing and deterring juvenile delinquency, lies within the community. Consequently, the concept of the Conference Committee was approved by the Hidalgo County Juvenile Board of Judges, and designated to the Honorable Mario E. Ramirez Jr., Judge, 332nd District Court, as its Overseer.
The program was introduced to the City of Mission by the Honorable Joe B. Evins, Judge of the 206th District Court, as he discovered its existence from the Honorable Enrique Pena of El Paso, Texas. In 1985, the first Juvenile Court Conference Committee began in Mission, Texas, as the core program of Horizons of Mission Enterprises, Inc., directed by its Volunteer Executive Director, Betty Bundy. As a result, a full-time coordinator was hired by the Hidalgo County Juvenile Board of Judges and the program was designated a unit of the Hidalgo County Juvenile Probation Department.
The coordinator’s primary responsibility was to develop the Conference Committee concept in every community in Hidalgo County by implementing a system of recruiting and training local community volunteers. Once trained, the volunteers were sworn in by a district judge, became an arm of the Juvenile Justice System at the local level and were entrusted to work with juvenile first time offenders and their families.
The Juvenile Court Conference Committee Volunteer Program, a unit of the Judge Mario E. Ramirez, Jr. Juvenile Justice Center, seeks and trains local community volunteers to work with juvenile first-time offenders and their families at the local level. The heart of the program relies on the volunteer to take a proactive role within their own community to assist the youth and their families. This is done via a conference with the family.
A committee of three (3) volunteers meets with the youth and parent(s) at a neutral location. Once the family has been interviewed, it is the committee’s responsibility to develop a contract with certain conditions for the youth and parent(s) to follow. This contract, which can have a duration from two (2) weeks up to three (3) months, may contain anywhere from one (1) to eighteen (18) conditions. Once the contract is explained to the family, all parties sign it and one (1) volunteer becomes the monitor to ensure the youth successfully completes the program by following the conditions of the contract.
The primary objectives of the program are to: divert the youth from further involvement in the juvenile justice system by facilitating a resolution to early confronting issue(s); provide accountability for the youth’s behavior; to educate and inform families regarding community programs that might assist the youth and family in resolving their given issues; stimulate and maximize the youth’s potential while encouraging parental involvement; and empower the community and encourage neighborhood collaboration.