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:
Dear Colleagues,

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.

Best regards,
Michele
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.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe this to be something of a farse due to the fact that some areas do not have the same type of issues as another.

Anyone who knows anything about statistics knows that they will not transfer from one geographic area to another due to changes in demographics, social problems, economics, or other things.

Further each case involving juveniles is different, as cases involving adults are different.

There is a very well established system of checks and balances to preclude a juvenile from being mistreated by the justic system.

Attorneys that are appointed or hired to represent them should be held at fault for not doing their job, but there appears to be minimal penalties for this travesty.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall the first ombudsman getting lambasted by Madden and Whitmire for being the first to identify and tutu to reverse this trend.

Anonymous said...

4:21 is right.

Will Harrell expressed concerns about SB 103 leading to more youth transferred to the adult system and John Whitmire essentially told Harrell to GTFO.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing about disproportionate sentencing percentages that doesn't translate from one county to another. Please.

Yes, the well established system of checks and balances is why judges get kick backs for sending youth to detention facilities, why Harris County Youth are disproportionately committed to TYC without prior community based placements.

Sometimes the facts are just the facts.

Anonymous said...

Did you stop to think that maybe Harris County sends more due to the fact that it is the most heavily populated County in the State?

I will bet that per capita they do not send anymore than any other county, and I would challenge you prove it to be different...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps given the timeframes referenced for the adult certifications, one should look at the media frenzy on the reports of TYC mistreatment of youth. Those actions may have led to a distrust of sentencing entities from properly utilizing TYC as an alternative to adult prison. It is interesting to note (after the fact) that the media NOW reports some positive aspects of TYC, which have existed all along.

Anonymous said...

When directing these kids to the toughest slammer, a politician feels tough, powerful, righteous, even holy. That'll teach them boys...

Yeah, just like a college guy feels after "teaching a lesson" to a first grader... Just like the boss sending his assistant to fire someone...

Compassion is a sign of weakness, ststistics are irrelevent, unless of course they back OUR position...

IDIOTS!

Anonymous said...

To 8:20 - Obviously by raw numbers, it makes sense that Harris Country certifies more kids than others because of their larger population. But the report shows that they certify over twice as many youth as Dallas & Tarrant counties combined, so it definitely seems disproportionate even when considering the population difference. Plus Harris certifies twice as many youth as it gives determinate sentences,something that is disturbing when you see that Dallas County distributes those sentences pretty evenly, while Tarrant & Bexar counties use DS more often than certification. And Travis county, 5th in population, isn't even in the top 10 in either certification or DS - showing there are ways of dealing with juveniles within the counties without sending them to either TYC or TDCJ. Harris County - for whatever reasons there may be - seems to often be deliberately choosing to forgo the juvenile system & send their youth into the adult system instead.

Anonymous said...

Again, I love a advocacy group who reports on everything they know NOTHING about. Work in the positions you want to talk about before you judge. Ever stop to think that the crime in Houston may be of a more dangerous level than other locations?

Anonymous said...

From the report:

"As many as 73 percent of young offenders accused of the most serious offenses who came through local juvenile courts between 2006 and 2009 were certified as adults, the study found. Dallas County courts, by comparison, certified only 51 percent as adults; Bexar County courts in San Antonio just 44 percent."

This suggests the "Harris is larger" thesis doesn't explain it.

BB

Anonymous said...

Did we not say this would happen in 2007? Less commitments to TYC would result in increased certifications as adults, and that's exactly what happened. It's funny that people say juvenile crime is down, but the fact is they're being counted as adults - so that really makes me question that statement.

Anonymous said...

LOCK THEM UP AND KEEP THE COMMUNITY SAFE! BUNCH A WHINERS. DO THE CRIME. DO THE TIME.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree 3:51pm. Give me the 90k. I'll build a shed in the backyard and keep him locked up.

Anonymous said...

wow. So, people are just figuring out that judges tag many juvenile offenders as adults so they can get them out of their county? This is news?

Anonymous said...

8:28 wrote: "Perhaps...one should look at the media frenzy on the reports of TYC mistreatment of youth. Those actions may have led to a distrust of sentencing entities from properly utilizing TYC as an alternative to adult prison." I agree. Most of the frenzied media reports were overblown, speculative, and inflamed the public unnecessarily. Then, the politicians took advantage of the cover that gave them. After four years, and after everything finishes shaking out, surprise, surprise: TYC turns out not to be the evil, abusive, exploitative black hole it was portrayed to be, only an agency full of mostly well-meaning people upon whom unrealistic expectations had been placed by ignorant politicians. In the TYC affair, I know first hand that the media were extraordinarily lazy. They published speculation,lies, and hearsay rather than finding the facts themselves. Now that the written record is materializing, it would be wonderful if they came back to give their reporting a measure of balance.

XTYC

Charity said...

I am concerned once TYC and TJPC merge more juveniles will be sent to the adult system as there seems to be no place in new system to treat or contain violent juveniles.

Anonymous said...

6:11, I believe it was Madden,not Whitmire, who told Harrell to GTFO when he first raised this.

RAS said...

Juvie treatment costs 4 or 5 times as much as adult and there is a big push to have the counties keep their kids in their county. If Harris county keeps 80% of their juvenile offenders and comply with SB 103; what is the annual tab?