Since law enforcement authorities declared war on juvenile crime in the 1990s, Harris County courts in Houston consistently have prosecuted more underage teens as adults than four other major Texas counties combined, the Houston Chronicle reports. Harris County accounts for half of all underage teens in the state’s adult prisons, despite youths there accounting for just 15 percent of all juvenile crime in Texas. Judges and prosecutors expect the number of teens in prison will continue to increase. The sex and abuse scandals within the Texas Youth Commission prompted legislators to require offenders to be released at 19 rather than 21 or be sent to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “The irony is that the Legislature’s intent was to keep more kids out of institutions” by overhauling TYC, said Judge Michael Schneider. “It may cause more kids at younger ages to end up in the adult system.”
Prosecutors may seek more adult certifications of juvenile sex offenders because of the lowered age cap on youth commission stays. “If a sex offender enters [the corrections agency] at 16 or 17, that’s only about two or three years,” said prosecutor Bill Hawkins. “That’s not enough time to rehabilitate them.” Texas permits courts to certify juveniles as young as 15 to be tried as adults for murder and other violent crimes.