By Elizabeth Zavala
A Bexar County specialty court that deals with the mental health needs of girls has received a national award for its innovation and effectiveness serving adolescents in the justice system.
Crossroads Girls Mental Health Court is among five programs to receive the 2016 National Criminal Justice Association Outstanding Criminal Justice Program award for the western region, officials said Thursday.
State District Judge Laura Parker, who runs Crossroads Court out of her 386th Juvenile District Court, will accept the award at an NCJA forum in August in Philadelphia.
“This is a prestigious award, and we are honored to receive it,” Parker said in a statement announcing the recognition.
“The impetus for establishing this diversion program was to address the mental health needs of junior high-aged girls before they become extensively involved in the juvenile system,” Parker said. “By focusing on the root causes contributing to delinquency, this court can positively impact these girls’ lives.”
The Bexar County Juvenile Justice & Mental Health Task Force spent a year developing the Crossroads program and started it in 2009 with two Justice Department grants totaling nearly $250,000, said Lynne Wilkerson, Bexar County’s chief juvenile probation officer.
“The program was innovative when she (Parker) created it six and a half years ago, and now it has become a national model for other specialty courts,” Wilkerson said
Wilkerson said the program is voluntary and has specific supervision and participation requirements, including regular court appearances, home-based treatment services and meetings with probation officers. Drug testing also is required.
“We try to keep the caseload manageable to around 12 at any given time because it is a very intensive program,” Wilkerson said, adding that there are 10 girls currently enrolled. Since its inception, Crossroads Court has served 108 girls.
Last year, Bexar County received a $249,980 grant from the Justice Department to create a court much like Crossroads, but for boys. The Males in Need of Direction, or MIND Court, will be run by 289th Juvenile District Court Judge Daphne Previti Austin.
MIND Court, which Parker and Austin have said they hope to launch in September, will be designed to provide treatment instead of incarceration for young men who struggle with mental illness, among other initiatives to prevent future involvement in the criminal justice system.