As many as 900 teens in Houston’s Harris County, some as young as 14 and most of them minorities from broken homes and mean streets, have been certified as dangerous enough to be charged and jailed as adults over the last decade, at times facing prison sentences as long as life, reports the Houston Chronicle. In 2007 and 2008 alone, county juvenile judges transferred 160 teens' cases to the adult system – more than nine of the largest urban counties in Texas combined. The certifications are based on allegations they committed felonies, including robbery, murder, car theft, and drug possession. Such rulings are so common – and so nearly identical – that they have prompted a legal attack from local attorneys and juvenile justice experts who call them “rubber-stamped” and “assembly line” injustices that violate children's rights.
The result: “virtual destruction” of dozens of juveniles who are dumped and damaged in adult prisons and “could otherwise turn their lives around,” charges a nonprofit called Texas Appleseed. The nonprofit is part of a pending legal challenge of the 2008 certification of a Houston teen charged with murder. Bill Moore, a prosecutor overseeing juvenile prosecutions, said only the “worst of the worst” cases get recommended for certification. Some, however, have been certified for property crimes, like car theft, or drug charges Before certifying a child, juvenile judges are supposed to hold a hearing and review evidence about the seriousness and nature of the offense, a child's maturity and background, the likelihood of rehabilitation and the need for protection for the community. The hearings tend to be quick – as short as 15 minutes – and based mostly on police statements and probation officers' reports.