A recent report, Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas, highlights the high number of young Texans sent to adult prisons and emphasizes the detrimental effect this has on youthful offenders as well as their communities. From the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, the report revealed that hundreds of adolescent, first-time offenders convicted of violent crimes are being sentenced to adult prison – punishment legislators intended only for the worst of juvenile offenders.
In Texas, judges may certify juveniles accused of felony offenses between the ages of 14 and 17 as adults. If certified as an adult, this means the juvenile will be detained in county jail while awaiting trial. If convicted, he or she faces an adult sentence, including prison time under the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
When not certified as adults, young offenders may receive something called a determinate sentence in which they are sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission for up to 40 years. With a determinate sentence, a juvenile offender may continue to adult prison only if a judge deems it necessary.
From 2005 to 2010, Texas judges certified about 1,300 adolescents as adults. In the same time period, only 860 juveniles received determinate sentences, according to the report. Significantly, the University of Texas analysis revealed that there was little difference in “criminality” between the youths sent to adult prison and those sent to the Texas Youth Commission – for both groups, the majority of the individuals were convicted of violent crimes and had either one or no previous juvenile crime cases.
Keeping juveniles in adult jails and sentencing them to adult prisons is detrimental because adult prisons are not designed to rehabilitate and educate young offenders as juvenile detention centers are. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youths sent to adults prisons have a 100 percent greater risk of committing violent crimes in the future than those who remain in the juvenile justice system. In addition, juveniles in adult prisons are more likely to develop mental health problems while incarcerated, to suffer physical and sexual assault and to commit suicide.
A juvenile accused of any crime should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible for help in achieving the best-possible outcome through a sound defense strategy.
Source: The Texas Tribune, “Report: Hundreds of Youths in Adult Prisons,” March 24, 2011.