AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Some 52 percent of young people in Texas’ six youth prison facilities have moderate or high mental health treatment needs, the head of the state juvenile justice department says.

Texas Juvenile Justice Department executive director Cherie Townsend said Tuesday that that figure “greatly concerns us.”

She said early intervention programs designed to rehabilitate problem children before they enter the juvenile justice system are especially crucial for youngsters with mental health problems.

Townsend is head of a new agency created after last year, when the state Legislature voted to merge two previously existing juvenile justice agencies.  In the months immediately before it was shut down, one of those agencies, the Texas Youth Commission, had several incidents involving violence against its inmates.

Townsend is the former Executive Director of the Texas Youth Commission.

Of the state’s six youth prison facilities, two are in North Texas: the Gainesville State School and the Corsicana Residential Treatment Center.

Supporters say the move will save Texas money and bolster early-intervention and rehabilitation programs for a juvenile justice system that in the past was dogged by allegations of neglect and sexual abuse.

Click here for the state’s statistics on the demographic makeup of its juvenile inmates.

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(Copyright 2012 by CBS Local.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.  All Rights Reserved.)