Sunday, June 07, 2009

Harris County dominating stats on certifying juvies as adults

Earlier this year there was a sharp debate over whether removing 19-20 year olds from TYC caused more juveniles to be certified as adults. But it turns out the biggest factor in adult certifications may be geographic: Kids are much more likely to be certified to stand trial as adults if they live in Harris County. According to the Houston Chronicle ("Experts: Juveniles dumped into adult justice system," June 7):

As many as 900 Harris County teens, some as young as 14 and most of them minorities from broken homes and mean streets, have been certified as dangerous enough to be charged and jailed as adults over the last decade, at times facing prison sentences as long as a life.

In 2007 and 2008 alone, Harris County juvenile judges transferred 160 teens’ cases to the adult system — more than nine of the largest urban counties in Texas combined, according to a Chronicle analysis of statewide certifications by county.

According to documents obtained by Texas Appleseed in a lawsuit:

Historically, more than 90 percent of the DA’s recommendations for certifications were approved, county statistics indicate. The pace slowed somewhat in the first four months of 2009: 22 requests for certification; six declined.

The hearings tend to be quick — as short as 15 minutes — and based mostly on police statements and probation officers’ reports, according to a review of 2008 case files and interviews with attorneys.

Judges used fill-in-the-blank form rulings with very similar findings, the Chronicle found. In two cases, the forms were written so sloppily that girls certified as adults were referred to as “he.”

Few juvenile defense attorneys asked outside experts to evaluate their 14- to 17-year-old clients. In fact, some children get no formal psychiatric evaluation at all for potential mental health or disability issues before being transferred to adult court, according to records and interviews.

University of Houston law professor Ellen Marrus, an expert in juvenile law, said many court-appointed lawyers don’t “bother to work up the case and a lot of the orders are rubber-stamped.”

It's too early to tell whether the changing of the guard at the Harris District Attorneys office will influence this, but if not, I hope Texas Appleseed's lawsuit tears them a new one. Of all the decisions that merit individual consideration instead of a rubber stamp, surely these cases stand out as deserving extra scrutiny, not a a quickie decision based on a sloppily filled out form with inadequate representation for the youth.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another typical knee jerk opinion by Grits. You see an article that appeals to your liberal bias and you instantly applaud it as wonderful. You identify some simplistic explanation for juvenile criminals going to prison (geography) and you just ignore the more obvious one: very serious crimes. I guess all this cuts down on the thinking but it sure ain't intellectual.

Anonymous said...

What are the stats for the other large population counties? Higher or lower on a per capita basis?

Anonymous said...

liberals! They just don't get it!

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:15,

Don't know the per capita basis but the article did say, "In 2007 and 2008 alone, Harris County juvenile judges transferred 160 teens’ cases to the adult system — more than nine of the largest urban counties in Texas combined, according to a Chronicle analysis of statewide certifications by county."

Anon 8:50,

Almost everybody commits crimes...but only some of us actually face jail. One of the hallmarks of a civilization is how we treat those who do end up in the "system". Rather blow the money on the front end with a chance at success through rehabilitation than keep spending it for cages for the next 50 years. If nothing else it's cost (read tax) effective to keep most of them in the juvie system. :~)

Anonymous said...

It's cheaper to certify them as adults and send them to adult prisons rather than a TYC facility. Just ask Whitmire. This is no surprise. We called this two years ago when they lowered the discharge age from 21 to 19 in TYC. If you go back and read the comments back then, you'll see what we said. More judges will certify more kids as adults. Why didn't Houston take the lead in the diversion programs that Dallas and Travis county did? Whitmire knew. Harris county had a better plan. Just lock 'em up and throw away the key. It's the most cost effective way to deal with troubled child. Nice job John Whitmire - a true tight wad.

Will said...

The OIO blew the whistle on this trend in January. Sen. Whitmire and Rep. Madden said it wasn't true. It's true. The OIO report is available on the internet. You can find it by going to the TYC website.

Anonymous said...

Will is full of himself......go back to the shed.

Anonymous said...

I am all for sending serious offenders to the adult system. I bet a large percentage of those offenders have prior referrals in the juvenile system. The curent juvenile justice system in Texas does not deter crime. These kids go out an break the law and the only consequence is a few hours of community service, a referral to a 6 week program, and a couple of contacts a month with their probation officer and we wonder why they reoffend.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:15 - the other big counties are lower on a per capita basis, as 9:40 pointed out. I think Will's report found that, too.

8:50 - you're full of crap if you don't think juveniles in Harris County face a different brand of justice than the rest of the state. This is just one example. Nobody is ignoring the commission of serious crimes, but you're ignoring the fact that Harris County is an outlier.

1:23 - the adult system hardly "deters" crime, either. Texas incarcerates a greater percentage than other states and generally has among the highest crime rates. You may not like my opinion, but for heaven's sake don't pretend a broken system works when any fool can see that it doesn't.

Will, actually you're wrong, this doesn't speak to the OIO report at all. The data includes cases before SB 103 and since Harris is an outlier, there's no reason at all to think that these data are a reflection of the 2007 reforms. This example is much more about Harris County justice than SB 103.

Anonymous said...

Well if the juvenile system doesn't work and the adult system doesn't work, locking them up is the answer! Incarceration does deter crime as it pertains to the individual that is incarcerated. Rehabilitation is overrated. Don't get me wrong, I am all for making every effort possible; but what I see so often is the probation departments putting for all of the effort with the probationer participating only because it is court ordered.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the "superpredator" mentality in spades.

Historically Harris County has always operated separately from the rest of the state in its juvie justice, detention, and probation functions. This cuts both ways, "good" and "bad."

So it's not totally surprising, though a bit disappointing, to see this article.

Bill B.

Boyness said...

Prison a deterrent? Let's see, 112 prisons, 1 in 10 Texans on paper or in jail or prison, the highest incarceration rate in the nation and now Harris County sending 160 kids to the adult system?

A deterrent to what?

Anonymous said...

Texas incarcerates a greater percentage than other states and generally has among the highest crime rates

So prisons don't solve the crime problem huh? This is bad logic: Texas has high crime because we have a lot of bad people here. If we had fewer prisons, the crime rate would be even higher.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"If we had fewer prisons, the crime rate would be even higher."

No evidence for that at all. In fact, during periods when we had FEWER prisons per capita, crime rates were lower.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
6/07/2009 06:30:00 PM

"So prisons don't solve the crime problem huh? This is bad logic: Texas has high crime because we have a lot of bad people here. If we had fewer prisons, the crime rate would be even higher."

A lot of bad people here huh? So we already have 1 in 10 on paper or in jail or prison. How many do you suppose are bad? How many more prisons do we need? This assertion is asinine. The reason we have 112 prisons is because we are busy locking up innocent people who got caught in the wheels of this police-state machinery that has criminalized EVERYTHING!

Anonymous said...

Grits, I don't know what period you are talking about. But since 1990 there has been a pretty inverse relationship with crime. Prisons do deter crime, but its a complex relationship.

see here

Anonymous said...

You liberals are making it sound like these kids are being transferred to the adult system at random. Make no mistake, there is a victim with a name behind every offense they committed!! It is so easy for those who view the system from a distance to form such ridiculous opinions regarding this issue; but when you deal with the victims and the offenders on a daily basis, you see the issue clearly!!

Anonymous said...

6:30 There is no way 1 in 10 Texans is locked up. Are you on crack? Show me the figures.

Everyone knows the incarceration rate nationally is about 1 in 100; even if Texas is much tougher than the rest of the country 1 in 10 has to be way off. We have 24 million people in the state, your figures would suggest that 2.4 million people are behind bars in Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Interesting chart, 8:45, thanks for the link. How does your theory account for the period from '83 to '91 when incarceration increased regularly but crime spiked to its highest levels ever?

Crime is cyclical and mostly goes up and down for reasons unrelated to prison building. Bill Spelman estimates that prison building accounted for about 1/4 of the crime reduction in the '90s - significiant but MOST crime reduction was for other reasons.

Go back further and in the '50s and '60s we had lower crime rates (though the data isn't all comparable) and MUCH lower incarceration rates. See here for historic incarceration levels.

The US has 5% of the planet's population and 25% of its prisoners. Current Texas and US incarceration rates are an unsustainable, short-term historic anomaly - a rich country's luxury that's not worth the bang for the buck when times are tough.

This may all go into a longer post, but I'm reading a new paper by Spelman ("Crime, cash and limited options: Explaining the prison boom," not online) in which he offered the following calculation:

"Estimates vary widely, but the marginal prison bed seems to prevent somewhtere between two and seven crimes, which saves potential victims between $4,000 and $19,000 per year.

"But note the details: If each prison bed reduces costs by no more than $19,000, but costs us $20,000 to $40,000, then do we need this many beds? Clearly not, and it's not (too) difficult to use current estimates of the crime-control effectiveness of prison, the costs of crime to victims and nonvictims, and the costs of prison to show that we overshot the mark sometime in the early 1990s. Enormous cutbacks - reductions of 50% or more in the prison popoulation - are not difficult to justify and would probably save the US public billions of dollars earch year. Certainly there is little economic justification for continuing to build."

Oh, and to 6:30 and 9:00, the number is not one in ten locked up. However, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, one in 22 adult Texans is in prison, on probation or on parole - i.e, under control of the criminal justice system. One in ten Texas DRIVERs have arrest wrarrants, however - mostly for traffic tickets.

Anonymous said...

There is no justification for Harris County being the outlier except for the "conviction machine" culture of previous Harris Co. DA's. It was once said that a conservative was a liberal that had been mugged. Now it appears that a liberal is a conservative that has been mugged by the state.

Boyness said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Oh, and to 6:30 and 9:00, the number is not one in ten locked up. However, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, one in 22 adult Texans is in prison, on probation or on parole - i.e, under control of the criminal justice system. One in ten Texas DRIVERs have arrest wrarrants, however - mostly for traffic tickets."

6/07/2009 09:12:00 PM

At this rate of incarceration, we will NEED more prisons with all these mean, dangerous Texans!

Anonymous said...

8:45, in addition to answering Grits' questions, could you address how your theory reconciles New York's falling crime rates and falling prison population? And California's?

Anonymous said...

Grits,

While I agree that the United States does incarcerate "25% of the worlds prisoners" I feel that it is only fair to point out that many nations do not actually take prisoners in the same way that the U.S. does.

For instance, street executions as summary judgments are common in many African/Middle Eastern countries.

China takes capital murder to the extreme and executes people for drug offenses. As does Iran and numerous other countries.

I think that if we look at the United States, in a global perspective, we are more humane than most in our method of justice.

Let me ask you, if you saw your neighbor executed for smuggling drugs... Would you see any appeal to doing such?

Also, for example, prior to the invasion of the coalition forces in 2001 into Afganistan, there were almost no large scale opium operations in Afganistan. The reason? Rather than take a person through all of the expenses of a trial by his peers they would simply take him to the tribal elder or other "magistrate" type figure and that elder or magistrate would order the person's execution by stoning or some other heinous draconian type of homicide effective immidiately.

So to answer your statement:
"The US has 5% of the planet's population and 25% of its prisoners. Current Texas and US incarceration rates are an unsustainable, short-term historic anomaly - a rich country's luxury that's not worth the bang for the buck when times are tough."

You are right, in a historical context... Humans are not designed for incarceration. Humans have historically killed, humiliated (through torture or corporal punishment), or maimed each other in order to either punish criminals or stop their personal behavior. So do we kill our prison population out? Brand them with scarlet letters (sex offenders), or flog them in the town square? Or can we treat them in government facilities (although there has not been a lot of success there in this country)?

I am not saying any of what I have said is morally right or wrong, but we are a humane nation that prefers incarceration to execution. In the context of history and in regards to the majority of the world, our humane justice system is in the minority.

This is the most objective view of humanity and justice I could muster....

Common Sense Cop

Anonymous said...

From a stastical standpoint, when Gov. Bush took over and "reformed" juvenile justice, he drastically increased the number of beds in TYC (two or three fold). Counties sent many kids to TYC once the beds were available.

During the same period, there began a substantial decline in the number of referrals to JPD's around the state for several years running.

Surely some of you mathmeticians and statistical people can draw conclusions, mainly that the more TYC beds made available, the more decline in the referral rate to JPD's. Not to say it's the "right" thing to do, just saying.

Anonymous said...

I believe that juvenile crime is down because of the get tough approach that was initiated several years ago. Watch that change in the near future. There is a huge liberal push in the juvenile justice field and they are calling it JDAI. JDAI is an extremely liberal philosphy with a liberal agenda. It is funded by the Anne E Casey Foundation and strips away the accountability and punitive aspect of probation.

Anonymous said...

Scott:

I think this data does reflect an increase in prosecutions since the 2007 reforms. This article aggregates the number of certifications for 2007 and 2008. But I seem to remember an earlier article that compared numbers in 2008 to earlier years that clearly emphasized a reaction to the lowering of the discharge age at TYC. I seem to remember a series of articles in 2008 that did compare current year certifications to prior years and you could determine a response to policy changes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:02 - I've looked at Will's data pretty closely and the problem with that perspective is that you can't just look at 2007 and 2008. Five years ago, adult certifications were even higher!

Part of what's happening in the (over)interpretation of these numbers is that they're so small, small changes make a big percentage difference. When you look at the data over time, current levels of adult certifications aren't significantly out of whack with the trend over the last decade or so, but Harris County ALWAYS dominates. IMO that's the more significant causal factor.

Anonymous said...

Over-criminalization is the latest in industries in Texas. How much money goes to Third party contracts to support the system?

Soon the only people NOT on paper or locked up will be Perry and the legislature. Keeping oneself in power is a difficult thing if others that are actually qualified can run against you...

Anonymous said...

1 in 22 on probation, in jail or prison and 1 in 10 Texas drivers have arrest warrants, mainly for traffic offenses.

You (previous posters) act like the 1 in 22 is too high but explain the 1 in 10 drivers with warrants?

I think the numbers prove we have some issues with people not taking responsibility. 1 in 10 drivers aren't responsible enough to go take care of tickets they've received?

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

The Houston Press ran a story a couple of weeks back (http://is.gd/TmSw) about juveniles being held in the Harris County Jail in an isolation wing. The story pointed out that even though a juvenile has been certified to stand trial as an adult, there's no requirement that he be held in the county jail with adult offenders.

I will agree that some of these kids are already hardened criminals but most of them are young enough to be saved if we care enough to do so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

1 in 22 on probation, in jail or prison and 1 in 10 Texas drivers have arrest warrants, mainly for traffic offenses.

You (previous posters) act like the 1 in 22 is too high but explain the 1 in 10 drivers with warrants?

I think the numbers prove we have some issues with people not taking responsibility. 1 in 10 drivers aren't responsible enough to go take care of tickets they've received?

6/08/2009 10:48:00 AM

I'M NOT DENYING TEXANS DONT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THERE ACTIONS ANYMORE THAN THEY CARE ABOUT THINGS THAT DONT DIRECTLY IMPACT THEM, LIKE 40 DNA EXONERATIONS. RIGHT ON BUT THIS DOESNT MAKE TEXANS MEAN AND DANGEROUS, SELFISH MAYBE BUT THATS ABOUT IT.

Anonymous said...

grits, are you limiting this to 30 comments? it is your blog, but i really feel the tyc people need a forum right now. i am not sure this connections thing is really working. since i am on the outside i can only read this site and the papers, aas (i think mike ward must be on a cruise or something), dmn, and hc. they are pretty lacking as well. i guess it is a silent night, and all is calm, and all is well. seems like i heard this in a song somewhere. i guess howard, bill, and don have moved on as well. matter of fact, i am getting older myself. however i am sure demetria is as young and beautiful and vibrant as ever! billy humphrey too! whitmire is not looking too bad himself.

RAS said...

Singapore uses caning to deter crime and I think quite effectively. One doobie would get you 20 years in South Korea 30 years ago, didn't have any potheads. Perhaps what at first appears as a sign of being unintellectual is really a sign of expanding liberalism.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:27, I'll shut it down if TYCers begin the same garbage they've been spewing (and I've been deleting) in other TYC strings. If TYC commenters need a forum they should visit a site created for that purpose. This site is not the place for them to gripe about their co-workers or supervisors (usually by name, often in an outright libelous fashion). Such behavior by a few TYC commenters has worn out the welcome for all with their trollish off-topic comments. This site is not here to enable destructive behavior.

To 6:49, I can "explain the 1 in 10 drivers with warrants" - it's mostly due to the Orwellian-named "driver responsibility fee" - a revenue generating "civil" fee that must be paid in each of three years running on top of paying the ticket. It was added in 2003 on no-insurance and DWI tickets and about 70% of fees go unpaid. They're just too high.

RAS, move to Singapore if it's so great. Oh, wait, you're staying here? I guess most Americans don't want to live in a country where they treat people like a gangbanger treats his pit bull, huh? Expanding liberalism my ass.

Boyness said...

RAS said...

Singapore uses caning to deter crime and I think quite effectively. One doobie would get you 20 years in South Korea 30 years ago, didn't have any potheads. Perhaps what at first appears as a sign of being unintellectual is really a sign of expanding liberalism.

6/09/2009 07:16:00 AM

And what you describe are growing POLICE-STATES. Perhaps Texas is next!

Anonymous said...

Grits, you can dispense justice with the best of em. It's almost therapeutic to read sometimes.

BB

Anonymous said...

When are Texans going to realize that intensive long term treatment for juvenile offenders is sound conservative fiscal policy. Each of these certifications costs over a million dollars in the long run and ensures another generation of crime and violence.

Intensive, long term treatment of juveniles does work.

Anonymous said...

Are there any stats relating the increase in juvenile crime and removing corporal punishment from the pubic schools? What about stats relating to the punishment of parents for punishing their kids when disrespectful? It just seems that since we have somewhat criminalized parents who make their children respect others and act in a civilized manor the more we have to incarcerate their children. I’m not talking about animalist child abuse like tyc, I’m talking about a loving parent disciplining their child.

On another note when I was in Gatesville there was always a disproportionate amount of boys, primarily black, that were from Harris county. I realize Harris county is like an metropolitan Heehaw, and my dad, may he rest in peace, used to say the klan is big in Houston relative to Big D but I never really gave it much thought. Perhaps it’s just the culture down there that exposes their leaders as being somewhat backwoods.

From what I have been reading I would concur intensive long term treatment of juveniles does work. Where hands off parenting and teaching resulting in dumping to tyc does not work. So now what? We all know this what are we going to do about it?

Sheldon tyc#47333 II c/s

Anonymous said...

Not only should we be appauled that youth languish in adult jails but now we know they also languish in unconstitutionally infirm adult jails. Will anyone act on this? This is really a Harris County issue. Where is the ACLU on this?

Anonymous said...

Hire legislators and governors that are willing to look at the evidence and make policies based on the best interest of the state, juveniles, and families not on politics.

Boyness said...

Anonymous said...

Will anyone act on this? This is really a Harris County issue.

6/10/2009 09:00:00 PM

NO, ONLY THE 160 OR SO FAMILIES AFFECTED WOULD ACTUALLY CARE ENOUGH TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, AFTER ALL, THIS IS TEXAS AND IF IT AINT MY PROBLEM, I DONT CARE!

Anonymous said...

Sheldon,
What increase in juvenile crime are you talking about. It doesn't exist.

RAS said...

I don't think Singapore's police state is expanding, I'd bet that they are being influenced by international pressure to reduce corporal punishment. Which is worse for recidivism? caning or having to join a gang in order to survive your sentence? The thought of being locked up at the mercy of the animals that are there is terrifying to me. I don't know what time periods are being referred to for fewer prisons but there were a lot fewer prisons in the 60's, there also wasn't any Aryan Circle or Mexican Mafia and Bloods and Crips were rare even in the ghettoes. Today there are probably over 100,000 gang members in Texas, probably more of them than cops. I don't want to live in country with a lack of concern for human rights or individual dignity, but I don't want to live here if several thousand of these sociopaths are released or not incarcerated as quickly. I think the only way to decimate the number of members of gangs is to shut off the drugs, which will take thousands of border guards and vehicle inspectors. Not likely to happen in a country that reelects a president that puffs but doesn't inhale.