Texas judges, particularly in Houston’s Harris County, are sending hundreds of adolescent, first-time violent offenders to state prison, a punishment lawmakers intended for youths considered the worst of the worst, says a report quoted by the Texas Tribune. “Adult jails and adult prisons are simply the wrong place to hold these kids,” says report author Michele Deitch of the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Texas law allows judges to certify as adults youths between the ages of 14 and 17 who have committed felony offenses. Young, violent offenders can be given determinate sentences of up to 40 years that begin in a youth facility and continue to adult prisons if the judge determines that is necessary. Over a recent 5-year period, Texas courts certified nearly 1,300 youths as adults, and about 860 got determinate sentences. The report said there was little difference in the criminality among youths sentenced to the adult system and those who were sent to youth facilities. In both cases, the majority committed a violent crime like aggravated robbery or sexual assault, and had one or no previous juvenile court cases.