I am excited to announce publication of my new report, "Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas" (LBJ School of Public Affairs, 2011). The report is available for download on the LBJ School website at: http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/news/2011/lbj-school-publishes-report-juveniles-texas-adult-criminal-j
The report provides a comprehensive look at Texas’s methods for dealing with the state’s most serious juvenile offenders. It gathers all available Texas data with respect to certified juveniles—those youth who are transferred to adult criminal court—and compares them to the population of determined sentence juveniles who are retained in the juvenile justice system. The report also compares the significant differences in programming and services for the two populations of juvenile offenders—those who get sent to adult jails and prisons, and those who receive placements in the Texas Youth Commission.
The report and its findings are especially timely during the Texas Legislature's ongoing effort to restructure the state's juvenile justice system, and are consistent with the direction that juvenile justice reform has taken in the state since 2007.
Among the report's most significant findings are these:
-- It breaks down the common myths about which juveniles get transferred to the adult system. They are not the "worst of the worst"--in fact, they are almost identical to youth who stay in the juvenile system in terms of criminality. What's more, it is far from the case that they are all chronic, violent felons who are beyond the help of the juvenile system: 29% are first-time offenders; 15% have committed a non-violent offense; and 72% have no prior violent criminal history. Only 17% have committed some form of homicide.
-- The main difference between those juveniles who get transferred to the adult criminal justice system and those who stay in the juvenile system is what county they come from. Harris County, in particular, disproportionately certifies juveniles as adults, whereas Travis and El Paso counties rarely use this option, preferring to instead rely on the tough but more rehabilitative options in the juvenile system.
-- The vast majority of juveniles transferred to the adult system have never been through the toughest options the juvenile system has to offer, including sentences of up to 40 years. 89% of certified youth have never even been to TYC. That means they have not been able to participate in programs like the Capital and Serious Violent Offender Program at the Giddings TYC Facility, an intense therapeutic intervention that has a 95% success rate. Given the flexibility of the determinate sentencing option and its ability to hold youth accountable while protecting public safety, it makes no sense that juvenile judges are bypassing this option in so many cases.
-- Juveniles who get tried as adults in Texas are held in adult jails while awaiting trial and in adult prison after conviction. These facilities are a really poor fit for youth, and put them at extreme risk for suicide, mental health problems, sexual assault, and physical assault. Many juveniles age 14 - 17 languish in isolation for periods of a year or more. The adult facilities have limited specialized programming for these youth, unlike the juvenile system with its effective rehabilitative programming, and in many cases the youth are co-mingled with adult offenders. Research shows that youth held in adult prisons and jails have 100% greater risks of violent recidivism than those held in juvenile facilities.
-- A significant number of states have policies that allow juveniles tried in adult court to be housed in juvenile facilities, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, which adopted such policies in 2010.
The report offers a number of policy recommendations to better serve the needs of serious juvenile offenders in Texas and to protect public safety through improved outcomes.
I hope you will find this report useful in your work. Please share this report widely with your colleagues.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Report: Whether youth offenders are certified as adults mostly depends on where they live
From Michele Deitch at UT's LBJ School comes a report on youth certified as adults in Texas, described in this email:
Brandi Grissom at the Texas Tribune has initial coverage, noting in particular how much more frequently Texas courts are using adult certification instead of sending youth to TYC with a determinate sentence: "from fiscal year 2005 to fiscal year 2010, Texas courts certified nearly 1,300 youths as adults. During that same time, about 860 youths received determinate sentences" through TYC. I don't know to what extent that unfortunate trend was affected by moving the max age at TYC from 21 to 19, but there are many reasons to lament such a pattern. I may have more to say about this report after I've had a chance to read the full thing.