The dormitory unit has plain white brick walls and a concrete floor. There are cots lined up against a wall with metal cabinets placed between every other bed. The cabinets have padlocks on them.
This is a look into the Harris County Leadership Academy, a juvenile detention and rehabilitation facility in the Houston, Texas area. Just about 100 teens live in the facility, both male and female. It used to be only male, but there was a rise in female offenders, attributed to the rise in prostitution in the Houston area, forcing the facility to accept more juveniles. The males and females are never in contact with each other.
The daily routine is very strict, and starts at 5:15 a.m. with a wake-up call. There are classes and meals spaced through the day, and once a week, the families of juveniles in the Academy can visit. This goes on for an average of six months until they are released.
Overall, the Academy keeps a tight lid on the juveniles. Anyone that’s not family has to go through a long journey of paperwork to speak to any of the residents. With so many of the youths coming out of tough families, keeping the juveniles in line with the program is key to helping them recover and move on.
The staff working in the Academy all received training on talking to teens. The chief juvenile probation officer, Tom Brooks, acknowledges that juvenile detention centers get a bad rap and can be a psychologically taxing experience for teens. As a result, part of the funding is used on mental and physical health experts, including a licensed therapist.
Keeping this facility running costs $42 million annually, funded through taxes. The program is successful with only 17% of juveniles returning to a criminal life after release.