After nearly 30 years of serving adult and juvenile probationers across the state, Alumna Pama Hencerling recently was presented the Amador R. Rodriguez Lifetime Achievement Award from the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas (JJAT).
As the Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Victoria and Goliad Counties, Hencerling serves juveniles from pre-hearing through probation for the two country region and operates a 72-bed residential facility that contracts to house juveniles from 50 counties across the state. It also serves as the only juvenile facility to handle pregnant offenders in the state.
Hencerling recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Juvenile Justice Association of Texas.“The Amador Rodriguez Lifetime Achievement Award is given to members of the juvenile justice profession across Texas recognizing their work in the juvenile justice field,” said William Carter, president of JJAT. “Pama has been a leader in this field all of her career and is very deserving of this award. Her progressive and innovative thinking translates into excellent programs for the youth we serve. She is a model for us all and I am very proud to not only call her a colleague but a friend. The Juvenile Justice Association of Texas is honored to have her as a member and the recipient of this award for 2014.”
Hencerling began her criminal justice career as an intern with the 24th Judicial Community Supervision Corrections Department and was hired as an adult probation officer following graduation. Shortly afterward, the department was split between adult and juvenile probation, and Hencerling was one of three assigned to handle youth cases.
Hencerling at her first job with the 24th Judicial Community Supervision Corrections Department.“It was a lot different, and I wasn’t sure that it was what I wanted to do,” said Hencerling. “But it turned out to be a blessing.”
In 1992, Hencerling was promoted to Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Victoria County, handling only about 100 referrals a year. That was just before the explosion of juvenile crime hit, spurred on by gangs and drugs, especially crack cocaine. Because the nearest residential facility was 70 miles away in Rockport, Hencerling petitioned county officials for a local unit and a 16-bed, short-term facility was established.
By 1992, that facility was quickly outgrown, and Hencerling again asked for a larger facility, a 72-bed unit that could handle not only pre-hearing juvenile offenders, but also those serving long term post adjudication programs. The Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center was opened in 1995 by then Texas Governor George W. Bush.
Hencerling oversaw the construction of the Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Center.“It was an undertaking, and it took a lot of convincing of local officials,” she said.
Because Victoria is at the “crossroads” of Texas, that facility has contracts to house juveniles from 50 counties across the region, ranging from the Panhandle to the Valley.
Because the state had no secure facility for pregnant female juvenile offenders, Victoria County established the first program to serve that population and contracted with the then-Texas Youth Commission (renamed the Texas Juvenile Justice Department) to house these young women until they gave birth. The unit is equipped with specialized personnel and programs to address the needs of the young mothers-to-be, including physicians, prenatal services, medical staff, pregnancy preparation classes, and infant and child care classes. Hencerling estimates that 100 babies have been born in the post adjudication program since 1996.
The Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Facility was the first county-run juvenile facility to meet PREA standards.The Victoria Regional Juvenile Justice Facility was also the first county-run juvenile facility in Texas to meet the new standards of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which ensures safeguards are in place that provide for the sexual safety of offenders held there.
For her outstanding efforts, Hencerling has earned many accolades, including the 2001 Juvenile Justice Association of Texas Outstanding Achievement in Probation Award, the 2004 Texas Institute on Children and Youth Clayton Morrison Award for Outstanding Service to the Children of Texas, and the 2008 Amador R. Rodriguez Award for Outstanding Juvenile Probation Administrator from the Texas Probation Association.
Hencerling has received numerous awards for her service.“It has been lots of fun, even though I have to deal with kids that have lots of problems,” said Hencerling. “But I am only as good as the people I work with.”
Over the last 30 years, Hencerling has seen significant changes in the juveniles she serves. In the past, the county dealt only with the criminal offenses committed by youth. Today, those needs have expanded to include mental health, substance abuse and learning disability issues.
“We are known as the broker of services,” Hencerling said. “These are very real issues.”
Hencerling is a graduate of Sam Houston State University.Hencerling has shared what she has learned as an instructor at the Victoria Police Academy and at the Correctional Management Institute of Texas. She has been active with many associations in the state, including the Texas Institute on Children and Youth, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and the Texas Probation Association.
Hencerling said she learned a lot at Sam Houston State University from professors who shared real life examples from careers in the field along with what was learned in books. She encourages students to participate in an internship or part-time volunteer work in the field before committing to a career.
“You have to want to do this,” said Hencerling. “It’s not like you are going to get rich doing this, however, it is very rewarding if you are in it to make kids and families lives better.”