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Juvenile Sentencing Options in Texas

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2 Juvenile Sentencing Options in Texas
Juvenile Indeterminate Sentencing sentenced by juvenile judge available for all offenses can stay in TYC up until age 19 and then must be released Determinate (Blended) Sentencing available only for the most serious and violent offenses sentences up to 40 years start sentence in TYC, then possible transfer to adult prison at age 19 if not rehabilitated Adult Certification transferred by juvenile judge to adult criminal court available for any felony offense, including state jail felonies and non-violent crimes sentences up to 99 years start sentence in adult prison as early as age 14

3 Adult Certifications in Texas vs
Adult Certifications in Texas vs. Determinate Sentences with TYC Placement FY 2005 – 10 Currently, there are about 229 juveniles between the ages of 14 – 17 who were certified as adults last year. A figure that has had some variation, especially in 2008 following the problems in TYC, but is generally fairly stable. The chart shows that juvenile judges have been certifying more juveniles than they place in TYC on DS. Lately, it is almost 100 % more. Source: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Data, 2010

4 Comparing Certified Juveniles and Determinate Sentence Juveniles
Demographic Factors Similar in age (mostly 16 year-olds in each population) Similar in gender breakdown (overwhelmingly male) Similar in ethnicity (disproportionately African-American in both populations (40%)) Main difference is county of conviction

5 Number of Certifications and Determinate Sentences with TYC Placement by County, FY 2006 - 09
Chart looks at the 10 counties responsible for the most certifications in the state Harris County has certified more than twice as many cases over a 4-year period than any other county, and more than the next 6 counties combined Note that Travis County (the 5th largest county) and El Paso (the 7th largest county) do not appear in the chart, telling us that the decision to transfer kids to adult court is a policy decision at the county or judicial level and not inevitable based on the size of the county. Also note the extremely large discrepancy between use of DS and certification in 6 counties (Harris, Jefferson, Hidalgo, Nueces, Lubbock, and Potter), suggesting possible disproportionate efforts to try juveniles as adults in these counties. Source: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Data, 2010

Comparing Certified Juvenile and Determinate Sentence Populations by Top 5 Offenses, FY CERTIFICATIONS DETERMINATE SENTENCES WITH TYC PLACEMENT Offense % of Total Certifications % of Total Determinate Sentences Aggravated Robbery 35.2% 40.7% Sexual Assault 19.0% 16.5% Homicide* 17.0% Aggravated Assault 10.3% Violation of Probation for Sexual Assault 6.3% Burglary 5.6% 4.8% Other 13.0% 15.2% TOTAL 100% Next, we compared the two groups Source: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Data, 2010 * “Homicide” includes Capital Murder, Murder, Felony Murder, Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, and Criminally Negligent Homicide.

7 Comparing Criminal Offenses
Agg. Robbery cases dominate both populations, and together with sexual assault, accounts for more than 55% of cases in each category Homicide only accounts for 17% of certification cases (contrary to popular perception) Determinate Sentence cases include almost exclusively violent crimes, including homicide Non-violent offenses, including state jail felonies, account for 10-15% of certification cases Certified juveniles and Determinate Sentence juveniles are relatively comparable when it comes to criminal offenses. Certified youth are not demonstrably more violent than youth retained in juvenile court.

8 Determinate Sentence Juveniles FY 2005-09
Prior Referrals Determinate Sentence Juveniles FY Prior Referrals for Certified Juveniles FY Source: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Data, 2010

9 Comparing Criminal History
Certified youth and Determinate Sentence youth have similar numbers of prior referrals to juvenile court Referrals can be for any offense, including truancy and curfew violations Roughly a quarter of each population have never been in trouble before Almost 45% have had either no prior referrals or only one Dispels myth that certified youth are chronic, repeat offenders

10 Prior Violent Referral for Certified Juveniles, FY 2005 -09
for Determinate Sentence Juveniles FY Prior Violent Referral for Certified Juveniles, FY No Prior Violent Referral 65% Source: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Data, 2010

11 Prior Violent Criminal History?
Overwhelming majority of both Certified juveniles and Determinate Sentence juveniles do NOT have a prior history of violence Only 28% of the certified juveniles and 35% of the DS juveniles had a prior referral for a violent offense “Violent” includes felony-level offenses such as homicide, attempted homicide, sexual assault, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, weapons offenses, arson with injury or death, and terroristic threat.

12 Prior TYC Commitment for Certified Juveniles FY 2005 – 09
Source: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission Data, 2010

13 Beyond the Help of the Juvenile Justice System?
9 out of 10 certified juveniles have not exhausted the most serious options offered by the juvenile system Certified youth miss out on successful rehabilitative programs in TYC, such as the Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program (95% success rate) Majority have relatively minor and non-violent criminal histories, and many are first-time offenders

14 Length of sentences for Determinate Sentence youth in TYC
FY 2010 Length of sentences for current youth age 19 and under at TDCJ who were received prior to age 17 FY 2010 Sentence length # Youthful Offenders % Youthful Offenders Less than 4 years 6 6.4% 4-10 yrs 49 52.1% 11-30 yrs 25 26.6% 31-40 yrs 5 5.3% 41 - Life 9 9.6% TOTAL 94 100% Sentence length # Juveniles % Juveniles Less than 4 years 115 15.4% 4-10 yrs 461 61.8% 11-30 yrs 156 20.9% 31-40 yrs 14 1.9% TOTAL 746 100% Source: Texas Youth Commission Data, 2010 Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Data, 2010

15 Most Certified juveniles will get out of prison while still young
58% of certified juveniles in prison received sentences of less than 10 years Only 9 juveniles in recent years received sentences longer than the 40 years available under determinate sentencing Similar sentence lengths for certified juveniles and determinate sentence juveniles But certified juveniles do not have access to the rehabilitative programs they need for re-entry

16 Juveniles in Adult Jails and Prisons
In Texas, Certified juveniles ages are required to be confined in: Adult county jails, while awaiting trial, usually in isolation for a year or more Adult prisons, after conviction In adult prisons and jails, juveniles face vastly higher risks of: suicide sexual assault physical assault mental illness Limited access to effective therapeutic interventions, education, specialized staff, and age-appropriate services

17 Public Safety Concerns
Center for Disease Control: “transferring juveniles to the adult system is counter-productive as a strategy for preventing or reducing violence” one study found that transferred juveniles who served at least a year in adult prison had a 100% greater risk of violent recidivism


19 TDCJ Youthful Offender Program (YOP)
Designed to keep juveniles separate from adults Provides some limited therapeutic programming Minimal opportunities for females Inadequate educational, vocational, and recreational opportunities for youth Only 68% of the 14 – 17 year olds are in the YOP 32% of 14 – 17 year olds in TDCJ are in: --state jails --transfer facilities --administrative segregation --medical and mental health facilities where they receive NO specialized programming and can be co-mingled with adult offenders

20 Compare to Programs at TYC
Determinate Sentence youth can participate in Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program (95% success rate) Sex Offender Treatment Program (94% success rate) Educational classes (96% participation rate, compared to 38% in YOP) Special education Basic treatment services for all youth Other advantages of juvenile facilities Specialized staff and age-appropriate services No co-mingling with adult offenders No long-term isolation

21 Conclusions Data breaks down the common myths about which juveniles get transferred to the adult system Not the “worst of the worst”—many are first-time offenders, are charged with non-violent offenses, and have no prior violent criminal history Certified youth are almost identical to those retained in the juvenile system in terms of criminality Vast majority of certified juveniles have never been through the toughest options in the juvenile system Not a case of “nothing works”; rather “nothing has been tried” Certified youth miss out on effective rehabilitative programs and school in juvenile system Determinate sentencing option is flexible—holds youth accountable while protecting public safety with potentially long sentences Adult jails and prisons are a poor fit for juveniles Increases violent recidivism Puts youth at extreme risk

22 Policy Recommendations
Limit certification to the most serious and violent offenses, so that it is truly for the “worst of the worst” Confine certified juveniles in juvenile detention facilities instead of adult jails while they await trial Confine certified juveniles in TYC instead of adult prison until age 19, then transfer to prison to complete sentence Protect public safety by allowing a juvenile judge to order a 19-year old to complete rehabilitative programming in TYC prior to release Seek ways to keep more youth in the juvenile system

23 Relevant Legislation HB 3351 (Turner) and HB 3698 (Gallego)
Limits certification to serious and violent offenses HB 3350 (Turner) Allows a juvenile judge to order a 19 y/o determinate sentence youth to complete rehabilitative programming in TYC prior to release SB 1209 (Whitmire) and CSHB 3303 (Marquez) At county option, certified juveniles can be held in juvenile detention center rather than adult jail while awaiting trial SB 1208 (Whitmire) Extends term for determinate sentence probation to age 19 to keep lower-risk youth in juvenile system

24 For More Information: Michele Deitch, J.D., M.Sc.
Senior Lecturer, LBJ School of Public Affairs **** To download full report, visit:

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