The Texas Youth Commission was established by the Texas legislature in 1957 under the title of the Texas Youth Council. Its purpose is to provide services to delinquent youths, ages ten to twenty-one, through programs and facilities that administer constructive training for rehabilitation. The agency's roots extend back to nineteenth-century Texas, when in 1859 the legislature acknowledged the need for separate correctional facilities for child offenders. In 1887 funds were approved to build the Gatesville State School for Boys, and in 1913 the Gainesville State School for Girls was approved. The age of adult criminal responsibility, which had been eight years old in 1836 and nine in 1856, was raised to age seventeen in 1918, and the legislature replaced all criminal procedures in juvenile cases with special civil procedures in 1943. The Gilmer-Aikin Laws established the Texas Youth Development Council in 1949. It consisted of fourteen members, with the commissioner of the Department of Public Welfare serving as the council's executive secretary. The Texas legislature established the Texas Youth Council in 1957 with three appointive members serving six-year terms. Over the next two decades the organization held responsibility for the state's juvenile correctional institutions, including Gatesville State School for Boys, Mountain View School for Boys, Gainesville State School for Girls, Crockett State School, Brownwood Statewide Reception Center for Delinquent Girls, and Brownwood State Home and School for Girls. The council also had supervision over the care of dependent and neglected children at Waco State Home, Corsicana State Home, and West Texas State School. By the end of 1970 the Texas Youth Council supervised over 2,940 juveniles in schools and another 836 in homes. By the late 1960s and early 1970s the agency opened halfway houses, initiated community assistance and foster care programs, and provided for psychiatric care and instruction for independent living.
In 1971 Alicia Morales and eleven other teenagers were plaintiffs against the Youth Council in what would be a landmark federal court case known as Morales v. Turman. The plaintiffs testified in 1973 about incidents of physical and mental abuse, segregation, and neglect. As a result reforms were initiated. In the early 1970s the council implemented a number of changes designed to address the issues of constitutional rights regarding juveniles deprived of liberty, which were brought to light in the Morales case. Federal judge William W. Justice ordered the closing of two institutions, the facilities at Gatesville and Mountain View. He also called for the elimination of corporal punishment and segregation. The agency increased staff and supervision of services, established clear policies and procedures, and adopted a Student Bill of Rights. The council board was expanded from three to six members. After a thirteen-year court battle, the parties finally reached a settlement in 1984, and the agency was placed under federal supervision by a three-member committee for a period of four years. In the early 1980s the council supervised over 1,000 juveniles. In 1983 the legislature changed the name of the Texas Youth Council to the Texas Youth Commission, to be governed by a six-member board appointed by the governor with Senate concurrence. An executive director, appointed by the board, manages programs and implements policies through the key divisions of the commission: Youth Programs, Professional Services, and Support Services. In addition to administering correctional youth facilities and programs, the commission tries to meet emotional and social needs of youths through vocational and educational programs, substance abuse programs, and maternity training for pregnant girls. A system of parole services attempts to foster a successful transition back into the community, hopefully reducing the number of repeat offenders. In 1991 the Texas legislature established the Health and Human Services Commission, and the Texas Youth Commission was put under the jurisdiction of that broader agency. As a result, all decisions and policy changes by the youth commission board were subject to the examination and final approval of the Health and Human Services Commission. During the 1992 fiscal year the Texas Youth Commission supervised an average daily population of 1,163 juveniles at the state schools at Brownwood, Crockett, Gainesville, and Giddings and at West Texas State School at Pyote. The commission also oversaw an average of eighty-eight youth at the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center, which provided services for juveniles with emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities. By 1994 the agency employed over 2,000 workers and had appropriations of over $108 million.