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Deitch Lbj School of Public Affairs Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas 2011

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Juveniles in the Adult
Criminal Justice System in Texas
by Michele Deitch

Special Project Report
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin

Juveniles in the Adult
Criminal Justice System in Texas
By

Project Director
Michele Deitch, J.D., M.Sc., Senior Lecturer
LBJ School of Public Affairs
Student Participants
Emily Ling, LBJ School of Public Affairs
Emma Quintero, University of Texas School of Law

Suggested citation for this report:
Michele Deitch (2011). Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas,
Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin, LBJ School of Public Affairs

A Special Project Report from the
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin
Applied Research in Juvenile and Criminal Justice—Fall Semester 2010
March 2011

© 2011 by The University of Texas at Austin
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Doug Marshall, LBJ School Communications Office
Cover photo by Steve Liss/The AmericanPoverty.org Campaign

Table of Contents
List of Tables and Figures  v
Acknowledgements  vii
Executive Summary  x
Part I: Introduction  1

A.	Purpose of Report  1
B.	Methodology  2
C.	Structure of Report  2

Part II: Overview  3

A.	Historical Background  3
B.	Sentencing and Transfer Options for Serious Juvenile Offenders Under Texas Law  4
C.	Problems with Confining Juveniles in Adult Prisons and Jails  6

Part III: Findings  9

A.	Numbers of adult certification cases vs. juvenile determinate sentencing  9
B.	Characteristics of certified and determinate sentence populations  10
(1)	 Demographics  10
	
Age  10
	
Gender  11
	
Ethnicity  12
	
County of Conviction  12
(2)	 Criminal Offense  13
(3)	 Criminal History  16
	
Prior Referrals to Juvenile Court  17
	
Prior Referrals to Juvenile Court for Violent Offenses  17
	
Prior TYC Commitments  18
C.	Disposition and sentencing outcomes for certified and determinate sentenced
juveniles  19
(1)	 Disposition outcomes for certified youth  19
(2)	 Outcomes for determinate sentenced juveniles who are placed in TYC  20
(3)	 Lengths of sentences given to certified youth  22
(4)	 Lengths of sentences given to determinate sentenced youth  23
D.	Placements and programming for certified youth and determinate sentence
juveniles  24
(1)	 Housing of certified youth in TDCJ  24
(2)	 Programming for certified youth in TDCJ  25
(3)	 Housing of determinate sentenced youth in TYC  27
(4)	 Programming of determinate sentenced youth in TYC  27

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Part IV: Discussion  31

A.	There are minimal differences between juveniles who are certified as
adults and those who receive a determinate sentence with placement
in TYC.  31
B.	Certified juveniles do not represent “the worst of the worst”.  32
C.	TYC has not been given a prior opportunity to treat those juveniles
who are certified as adults.  32
D.	The programming in TYC, especially the Capital and Serious Violent
Offenders Program, is far more successful in meeting the specialized
needs of juveniles than the Youthful Offender Program in TDCJ.  32

Part V: Recommendations  35

1.	Limit eligibility for certification of a juvenile as an adult to the most
serious, violent offenses.  35
2.	No juvenile should be eligible for transfer to adult court unless that
juvenile has previously been committed to TYC.  35
3.	Require all certified juveniles convicted in adult court to be confined in
TYC until age 19, when they could be transferred to TDCJ.  36
4.	Juveniles certified as adults and awaiting proceedings in adult criminal
court should be confined in local juvenile detention facilities rather
than in adult jails.  37
5.	TDCJ should adopt policies mandating streamlined transfer of certified
youth to the Youthful Offender program upon conviction.  38
6.	Allow juvenile court judges to order 19-year olds to complete
programming in TYC.  38
7.	Improve data collection for juveniles who are certified as adults.  38

iv

Lists of Tables and Figures
Tables
Table 1. Gender of Certified and Determinate Sentence Juveniles, FY 2005–09  11
Table 2. Certifications by Most Frequent Offense, FY 2005–09  14
Table 3. Determinate Sentences with Placement in TYC by Most Frequent
Offense, FY 2005–09  15
Table 4. Comparing Certified Juvenile and Determinate Sentence Populations
by Top 5 Offenses, FY 2005–09  16
Table 5. Current status of determinate sentence youth in TYC, received FY
2006–07  21
Table 6. Current status of determinate sentence youth in TYC, received FY
2008–10  22
Table 7. Length of sentences for current youth age 19 and under at TDCJ, who
were received prior to age 17, FY 2010  23
Table 8. Length of sentences for determinate sentence youth in TYC, FY 2010  23
Table 9. Current juvenile population (under age 18) at TDCJ by units, on
August 31, 2010  25
Table 10. Determinate sentence population at TYC by units, on December 6,
2010  27
Table 11. Capital & Serious Violent Offenders Program 1-Year Effectiveness
Results, 2009  28
Table 12. Capital & Serious Violent Offenders Program 3-Year Effectiveness
Results, 2007  29
Table 13. Sexual Behavior Treatment Program 1-Year Effectiveness Results,
2009  29
Table 14. Sexual Behavior Treatment Program 3-Year Effectiveness Results,
2007  30
Figures
Figure 1. Number of Adult Certifications vs. Determinate Sentences with TYC
Placement, FY 2005–10  9
Figure 2. Age of Certified Juveniles, FY 2005–09  11
Figure 3. Age of Determinate Sentence Juveniles with Placement in TYC, FY
2005–09  11

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Figure 4. Percent of Determinate and Certified Juveniles by Ethnicity, FY
2005–09, as a percentage of the total juvenile population in Texas, 2009  12
Figure 5. Number of Certifications and Determinate Sentences with Placement
in TYC by County, FY 2005-09  13
Figure 6. Prior Referrals for Certified Juveniles, FY 2005–09  17
Figure 7. Prior Referrals for Determinate Sentence Juveniles, FY 2005–09  17
Figure 8. Prior Violent Referrals for Certified Juveniles, FY 2005–09  18
Figure 9. Prior Violent Referrals for Determinate Sentence Juveniles, FY 2005–09  18
Figure 10. Prior TYC Commitment for Certified Juveniles, FY 2005–09  19
Figure 11. Sentencing Outcomes for Certified Youth, FY 1996  20

vi

Acknowledgements
This report could not have been prepared without the assistance of many talented and thoughtful individuals who provided us with data, explanations, insights, and expertise. We are grateful to all of you for recognizing the importance of this project and for making yourselves available to us.
Special thanks are due to John Posey and Linda Brooke at the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, Chuck
Jeffords at the Texas Youth Commission, and Geralyn Engman and Alicia Frezia Nash at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for their responsiveness to our data requests. We also deeply appreciate the expert
guidance and information provided by Travis County Senior District Judge Jeanne Meurer, as well as the
opportunity to observe hearings in her courtroom. Bexar County District Judge Laura Parker, Bexar County
Assistant District Attorney Jill Mata, Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Riley Shaw, Travis County
Juvenile Public Defender Kameron Johnson, and Office of Court Administrator Carl Reynolds also answered many questions for us and helped us in our data-gathering efforts. Our visit to Giddings State School
was graciously arranged by Superintendent Stan DeGerolami and his wonderful staff, and we also truly
appreciated the opportunity to spend time at the Hilltop Unit’s Youthful Offender Program, as arranged by
Assistant Warden Susan Willburn and her talented counseling staff. We were also delighted to have the opportunity to meet with some youth in both of those facilities. This report also benefitted from the guidance
and expertise of several other individuals, including Deborah Fowler, Jodie Smith, Marc Levin, Ana Yanez
Correa, Neelum Arya, and Pat Arthur.
This report builds on prior research conducted by University of Texas students Terry Schuster (Law), Nicole Trinh (LBJ School of Public Affairs), and Lindsey Stuart (LBJ School of Public Affairs). We are grateful
to them for their earlier research efforts and tireless investment in this issue.
Final thanks are due to Robin Pearson, Doug Marshall, Susan Binford, and Kerri Battles at the Lyndon B.
Johnson School of Public Affairs for their assistance in the production of this report, and to photojournalist
Steve Liss, for lending us the powerful cover image.
Michele Deitch
LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin
March 2011

Executive Summary
Purpose of report
Texas law permits juveniles 14 and older who have committed felony offenses to be transferred by a juvenile
judge to adult criminal court for trial and punishment. The process is known as “certification.” While awaiting trial these youth are confined in adult jails, often for periods of a year or more in isolation conditions. If
convicted, they will serve their time in adult prisons.
The law also permits serious and violent juvenile offenders to be retained in juvenile court and to be given a
determinate sentence with a placement in the Texas Youth Commission. Depending on the offense, juvenile
judges can impose sentences of up to 40 years. The sentence begins in the Texas Youth Commission where
the juvenile can participate in highly effective rehabilitative programming, and at age 19 the juvenile judge
re-evaluates the youth to determine if a transfer to the adult prison system to complete the sentence is warranted.
The common assumption is that certified juveniles are the “worst of the worst,” repeat, violent offenders
who are beyond the rehabilitation offered by the juvenile justice system. But is this assumption in fact true?
This report examines all available Texas data with respect to certified juveniles and compares them to the
population of juveniles who receive determinate sentences and are placed in TYC. It also compares the significant differences in programming and services for the two populations of juvenile offenders.
The need for this information about serious juvenile offenders is especially important during the restructuring of the Texas juvenile justice system currently underway in the Texas Legislature.

Major Findings
(1) Minimal differences exist between certified juveniles in the adult criminal justice system and determinate sentence juveniles in TYC, except for county of conviction.
The data reveals little to distinguish the two groups of offenders. Youth who are transferred to adult court
and those retained in the juvenile system look substantially similar with respect to most demographic factors, criminal offense, prior criminal history, and sentence length. Most significantly, the juveniles present
similar levels of criminality in terms of both their current offense and their criminal history. The majority
in each group has committed violent offenses, with the crimes of aggravated robbery and sexual assault accounting for well over half the current offenses in each population. As for their criminal backgrounds, the
majority in each population has either one or no prior referral to juvenile court. Even in cases where the
juvenile has three or four prior referrals, very few of those prior referrals involved violent offenses.
Sentences lengths are also remarkably similar, with youth in both populations most often receiving sentences between 4 and 10 years. Only a handful of juveniles certified as adults in recent years received sentences
longer than the 40 years available for determinate sentence youth.
The one significant difference between the two populations is the county of conviction. More than twice
as many certification cases have arisen in Harris County over a four-year period than in any other county,
and Harris County in fact certified more juveniles than the next six counties combined. Also, six counties,
including Harris, Jefferson, Hidalgo, Nueces, Lubbock, and Potter, appear to disproportionately use the option of certifying youth rather than giving determinate sentences. In contrast, two of the largest counties in
the state, Travis and El Paso, have extremely low certification rates. This data suggests that county of conviction plays a very large role in determining whether a juvenile offender will receive a determinate sentence in
juvenile court or whether that youth will be tried as an adult.

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
(2) Certified juveniles do not represent the “worst of the worst.”
The data dispels prevailing assumptions that juveniles transferred to adult court are more violent and more
persistent in their criminal behavior than those retained in juvenile court. Indeed, the two groups look remarkably similar, as discussed above. Moreover, the data revealed the following:
•	 While the large majority of certified juveniles have committed violent offenses, only 17% have committed homicide.
•	 About 15% of juveniles transferred to adult court are charged with non-violent felonies, including state jail offenses.
•	 72% of certified juveniles do not have a prior violent criminal history,
•	 29% of certified juveniles are first-time offenders.
•	 89% of certified juveniles have never been committed to TYC, suggesting that few of them have a
serious history of delinquency of any kind.
•	 Significantly more juveniles are transferred to adult criminal court than receive determinate
sentences with placement in TYC. In 2010, for example, there were 229 certifications to adult criminal court and only 108 determinate sentences with TYC placement.
Oddly, under Texas law the certification option is not limited to worst-case scenarios, since many non-violent felonies qualify a juvenile for transfer to adult criminal court. In contrast, the determinate sentencing
option is limited to the 30 most serious offenses.
(3) Most certified youth have never had the opportunity to benefit from effective rehabilitative programs in the juvenile justice system.
Nine out of ten youth transferred to adult criminal court have had no prior commitments to TYC, completely bypassing the most serious option the juvenile system has to offer. And 44% have had either no prior
involvement with the local juvenile justice system or only one prior referral. In certifying them as adults, the
justice system prematurely concluded that “nothing works” with these juveniles, when the reality in a great
many cases is that “nothing has been tried,” either through programs available at the local juvenile probation
level or through rehabilitative programs available at TYC.
The Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program at the Giddings facility in TYC is nationally renowned
for working with juveniles who have committed homicide and other violent crimes. Its success rate is a
remarkable 95% when it comes to re-arrests for violent offenses within 3 years. But certified youth cannot
participate in this program because it is only available to juveniles who stay in the juvenile system.
(4) Adult prisons and jails are a poor fit for juveniles under age 17, regardless of their offense or the
court in which they are prosecuted, and cannot meet their specialized needs.
Housing juveniles in adult prisons and jails compromises both public safety and the personal safety of the
youth. A Task Force of the Centers for Disease Control, reviewing all available scientific research, concluded
that the transfer of youth to the adult system not only has no deterrent value but typically increases rather
than decreases their rates of violence and recidivism. One nationally-reported study found that transferred
juveniles who served at least a year in prison had a 100% greater risk of violent recidivism.
Moreover, juveniles housed in adult prisons and jails face vastly higher risks of suicide, sexual assault, physical assault, and mental illness.

x

Executive Summary
To a large degree, these poorer outcomes occur because juveniles in adult prisons and jails usually do not
have access to effective therapeutic interventions, education programs, staff with specialized training, and
services designed to meet their unique and age-appropriate needs. Even more disturbing, many are co-mingled with adults, placing them at physical risk, or are placed in isolation for long periods of time. Research
has shown that even after very short periods of segregation, juveniles can experience symptoms of paranoia,
anxiety, and depression.
Though many states have addressed this concern by allowing transferred juveniles to be housed in juvenile
facilities both pre-trial and post-conviction, Texas is not among them. In Texas, juveniles transferred to adult
criminal court await trial in adult county jails, and those convicted are sent to adult prison, as young as age
14. Most county jails have no option for these juveniles but to house them in isolation for their own safety.
As for convicted juveniles, though TDCJ has established a Youthful Offender Program for offenders age 17
and under to keep these juveniles separate from adults and provide them with some limited programming,
the YOP holds only 68% of the age-eligible population. The remainder of the 17-and-under population in
TDCJ is held in state jails, transfer facilities, administrative segregation, or medical or mental health facilities. In all those other prison settings, the youth lack specialized programming and may be mixed in with the
adult offender population. Juveniles in state jails can remain in that setting for up to two years with no specialized housing or services; those in warehouse-like transfer facilities can remain in that setting for a month
or more; and those in administrative segregation can remain in that status indefinitely.
While youth in the prison system’s Youthful Offender Program have access to some therapeutic programming, the curriculum has been severely compressed over the last few years. Vocational training and recreational opportunities are inadequate, according to TDCJ’s internal reports. Only 38% of juveniles in TDCJ
are enrolled in educational classes, compared to 96% of juveniles in TYC. And there are so few females in
the YOP that opportunities for this population are especially lacking.
TDCJ has clearly made an effort to offer special protections for this juvenile population, but any services
provided are at best an overlay to the agency’s primary security mission. Juvenile facilities, in contrast, offer
specialized and intensive therapeutic programming with impressive results, an education-focused curriculum, and a staff trained to work exclusively with this population of juvenile offenders.
Recognizing that juveniles have distinct physical, emotional, social, and safety needs from adult prisoners, all of
the leading professional associations in the field, including the American Bar Association, the American Correctional Association, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, have adopted guidelines calling
for juveniles transferred to adult courts to be housed in different settings than adult prisoners.
More than 16 states of the 35 for which information was available hold certified youth in juvenile facilities
rather than in adult prisons until at least age 18. Six states hold them until age 21 or longer. And a significant
number of states have policies either mandating or allowing certified youth to be held in local juvenile detention facilities rather than adult jails while they are awaiting trial. Virginia and Pennsylvania passed such laws
in 2010, and Virginia’s Legislature passed this bill unanimously.

Policy Recommendations
This report clearly indicates that the certification process in Texas is not working in conjunction with the
determinate sentencing process as was intended to limit transfer to adult criminal court to the most heinous
crimes and circumstances in which the juvenile has exhausted available options in the juvenile system. The
report also highlights the important benefits that come from keeping these youth in the juvenile justice
system and in juvenile facilities where they can get access to age-appropriate services and rehabilitative programs. The determinate sentencing system provides juvenile judges with tremendous flexibility in ensuring
that offenders are held accountable for their crimes, that public safety is protected, and that youth have the
opportunity to become rehabilitated and turn their lives around.

xi

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
As legislators continue to evaluate major structural changes for the Texas juvenile justice system, the following recommendations should be taken into account in order to better serve the needs of serious juvenile
offenders in Texas and to protect public safety through improved outcomes.
(1)	 Limit eligibility for certification of a juvenile as an adult to the most serious, violent offenses, in order to restore certification to its place as a strategy for dealing with the worst juvenile offenders.
(2)	 No juvenile should be eligible for transfer to adult court unless that juvenile has previously been
committed to TYC (or its successor agency).
(3)	 Require all certified juveniles age 14 – 17 convicted in adult court to be confined in TYC (or
its successor agency) until age 19, alongside determinate sentence juveniles, when they could be
transferred to TDCJ to complete their sentence.
(4)	 Juveniles age 14 – 17 who are certified as adults and awaiting trial in adult court should be confined in local juvenile detention facilities rather than in adult jails.
(5)	 TDCJ should adopt policies mandating streamlined transfer of certified youth to the Youthful Offender Program upon conviction, thereby bypassing warehouse-like transfer facilities where they
are housed with adult offenders.
(6)	 Juvenile court judges should be allowed to order a 19-year old determinate sentence youth to
complete rehabilitative programming in TYC (or its successor agency), in order to better protect
public safety and to avoid unnecessary transfers to TDCJ.
(7)	 Improve data collection for juveniles who are certified as adults.

xii

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Purpose of Report
Most people would naturally assume that juveniles who commit criminal offenses—even very serious offenses—are handled through the state’s juvenile justice system. But Texas, like most states, has a process by
which juveniles can be transferred from juvenile court to adult criminal court. The process and the circumstances under which such transfer can occur varies from state to state, as does the frequency of such transfer.
In Texas, that process is known as “certification,” and juvenile court judges have the option of sending children as young as age 14 to the adult criminal justice system. A substantial number of juveniles each year fall
into this uncharted space where the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems intersect.
There are also common assumptions held about juveniles who are transferred to the adult criminal justice
system in Texas. They are often described as the “worst of the worst”: youth who have committed heinous
crimes, who have a violent past, and who are beyond the rehabilitation offered by the juvenile justice system.
But is this in fact true?
Moreover, little is known about what happens to those juveniles who are tried and convicted as adults in
Texas. Few are aware that they are housed in adult county jails while awaiting trial, and that they are sent to
adult prison if they are convicted and given a prison sentence.
Recognizing the need to fill these gaps in information and the importance of this public policy issue in
Texas, our graduate seminar in “Applied Research in Juvenile and Criminal Justice” at the University of Texas
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs took on this subject as an intensive research project in the Fall of
2010. The project was managed by Professor Michele Deitch, an expert in both juvenile and criminal justice
policy who has written extensively on the topic of juveniles tried as adults. An earlier project she led resulted
in the report From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System (LBJ School of
Public Affairs, 2009), which examined these topics from a national perspective.
The current report is intended to paint a fuller picture of juveniles in the adult criminal justice system in
Texas. For the first time in well over a decade, we have gathered all available data with respect to this population in order to better understand the process of certification of juveniles as adults, to examine who these
youth are and how they compare to juveniles who remain in the juvenile justice system, and to determine
what happens to them upon conviction. By discussing the applicable laws and administrative policies and
providing this data, we hope to bridge the gap between assumptions that are made about this population
and the reality of actual practice. This will allow practitioners, policy-makers, and advocates alike to develop
data-informed policies that better protect public safety and that more effectively serve the youth involved.
We seek to answer the following questions:
1.	 How often are juveniles certified to be tried as adults in Texas?
2.	 What is the profile of these juveniles certified to be tried as adults, in terms of demographics, criminal
offense, and criminal history?
3.	 What characteristics distinguish certified juveniles from determinate sentenced juveniles who remain in
the juvenile system and who are confined in Texas Youth Commission facilities?
4.	 How do these two populations of juveniles compare with respect to their sentencing outcomes and institutional placements?
5.	 How do these two populations of juveniles compare with respect to the programs and services they receive after sentencing?

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
The need for this information about serious juvenile offenders is especially important at a time when the
juvenile justice system in Texas is undergoing significant restructuring and is subject to intensive legislative
oversight.

B. Methodology
To gather our qualitative data and as background for this report, we reviewed relevant literature on juvenile
justice, with a particular focus on laws and policies relevant to juveniles tried as adults in Texas. We observed
certification hearings in juvenile court, and interviewed juvenile judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys
about their practices with regard to certification cases. We also spoke with officials at the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, the Texas Youth Commission, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Finally,
we toured TYC’s Giddings State School, which houses the Capital & Serious Violent Offenders Program, as
well as TDCJ’s female Youthful Offender Program at the Hilltop Unit.
Through Open Records requests to TJPC, TYC, and TDCJ, we obtained aggregate data about juveniles
certified as adults in Texas, about juveniles who receive determinate sentences, and about juveniles incarcerated in TDCJ. We also obtained and reviewed information about the programs and services available to
these populations.

C. Structure of the Report
Part II of this report (“Overview”) provides some historical background on the issue of juveniles in adult
court. This section further summarizes the current laws and policies governing the transfer of juveniles to
adult criminal court in Texas, and the relevant sentencing structure. Part II also reviews current national
research with regard to this issue, and highlights the major concerns about trying juveniles in adult criminal
court and confining them in adult prisons and jails.
The most substantial portion of the report is Part III, the “Findings” section, which presents all of the data
we found to answer our research questions.
Part IV is a “Discussion” section that synthesizes our findings and discusses the policy implications of this
information.
Finally, Part V presents our Recommendations.

2

II. OVERVIEW
A. Historical Background
The practice of treating juveniles as adults for criminal justice purposes represents a sharp break with the
long-established principles of the juvenile justice system in the United States, and a return to a much-criticized policy that existed in the 1800s. Beginning in 1899, juvenile courts were established to handle cases
of juveniles who commit criminal offenses. Prior to this time, all juveniles were prosecuted in adult court.
By 1925, 46 states including Texas had created separate juvenile systems that allowed for individualized
responses to delinquent behavior, emphasized treatment and rehabilitation above punishment, and barred
the confinement of juveniles with adults.1
After almost a century of preserving the distinction between juvenile and adult offenders, the tide began
to shift backwards in the 1980s and 90s, when rising youth crime rates and a media focus on the imagined
notion of “juvenile super-predators” took hold.2 Most states passed new laws permitting more children to be
transferred to adult criminal court, and created more sentencing options for juvenile judges to respond to
serious and violent youth crime.3 Though the threat of a wave of serious juvenile crime never materialized,4
the policies put in place during this time of fear have lasted to the current day.
As part of this national trend to hold youth accountable for criminal behavior, the laws in Texas pertaining to certification of juveniles as adults changed during this time frame. The original certification law was
enacted in 1973 and permitted juveniles between the ages of 15 and 17 who are charged with felonies to be
transferred to adult criminal court.5 But in 1996, legislators lowered the minimum age for certification from
15 to 14 years of age for certain crimes.6
Also, Texas passed a strong determinate sentencing law in 1987.7 Under this blended sentencing option, a
juvenile as young as age 10 adjudicated for certain serious offenses can be committed to the Texas Youth
Commission until he becomes an adult and can then be transferred to the adult prison system—the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice—to complete the sentence. Depending on the offense, a juvenile judge can
impose a sentence of up to 40 years. This law greatly expanded the court’s authority to deal with serious juvenile offenders, since the state’s indeterminate sentencing law for juveniles in general would not allow them
to be confined beyond their 21st birthdays. In 1995, the Legislature expanded the determinate sentencing
statute to cover a far greater range of offenses—from the 5 original serious offenses to about 30, including
some 2nd and 3rd degree felonies, some felony drug offenses, and habitual felony conduct.8 Determinate
sentencing provided juvenile judges with a very tough sentencing option that nevertheless recognized the
potential of juveniles to benefit from rehabilitative programs.
1.	

Michele Deitch, et.al., From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System,
Special Project Report.(Austin: The University of Texas at Austin, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public
Affairs, 2009) p. 6.

2.	

Deitch, p. 7.

3.	

Ibid.

4.	

Shay Bilchik, “Challenging the Myths,” 1999 National Report Series, Juvenile Justice Bulletin, United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, February 2000, p. 2.

5.	

Acts 1973, 63rd Tex. Leg., Ch. 544, Sec. 1.

6.	

Acts 1995, 74th Tex. Leg., Ch. 262, Sec. 34.

7.	

“The Texas Juvenile Justice System,” Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, accessed March 7, 2011, www.tjpc.
state.tx.us/aboutus/juv_justice_overview.htm.

8.	

Robert Dawson, Texas Juvenile Law, 7th Edition (Austin: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, August 2008),
p. 509.

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Because these changes to the law were enacted during a time of fear when the entire foundation of the juvenile justice system was being challenged, lawmakers never considered the ways in which the certification
statute and the determinate sentencing law overlay each other. But with the passage of time, we can see the
ways in which these statutes have played out and the degree to which there is some irrationality and inconsistency in the structure and application of these laws. The current re-evaluation of the structure of the Texas
juvenile justice system provides an ideal time to ask whether there is a better way to handle our state’s serious
and violent juvenile offenders than our current approach.

B. Sentencing and Transfer Options for Serious Juvenile Offenders
Under Texas Law
Texas law pertaining to determinate sentencing and certification is complex, and warrants a fuller explanation. Juvenile judges have three options for handling juveniles who commit serious crimes.
First, most juvenile offenders in Texas are handled under the state’s delinquency laws, which provide for
indeterminate sentences that can last up until the juvenile turns age 19.9 Juveniles adjudicated as delinquents
may be placed on probation or they may be sent to the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). Any offense, including serious and violent felonies, may be handled as a delinquency case.10
Second, Texas law provides a determinate sentencing statute that allows for significantly longer sentences
than are allowed under the delinquency laws.11 Determinate sentencing allows a youth to stay in the juvenile justice system for purposes of trial and initial confinement, but also provides the juvenile judge with a
vehicle for imposing a long sentence on a serious juvenile offender that might require his or her eventual
transfer to the adult prison system. Determinate sentencing, under some circumstances, also provides juvenile judges with the opportunity to take a “second look” at the youth when he or she reaches adult age, so
that the judge can re-evaluate the youth’s risk to public safety at that point.12
There are two types of determinate sentences: determinate sentences with a placement in the Texas Youth
Commission (TYC), and determinate sentence probation. Youth who are in the determinate sentence probation population are ordered by the juvenile judge to be on probation for a term of up to 10 years, which
may extend beyond the time that they reach adulthood.13 They are initially retained at the county level for
supervision by the local juvenile probation department, including the possibility of placement in a county’s
post-adjudication facility. When the youth turns 18 and ages out of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, the
probation automatically expires, unless the local prosecutor requests a transfer hearing. In such an event, the
youth goes back before the juvenile judge who decides whether to transfer the youth to the custody of an
adult criminal court. If transferred, the county’s adult probation department (the CSCD) would supervise
the youth for the remainder of the term of probation.
Determinate sentences with a placement in TYC are of more direct relevance for this report since they
provide a comparison population for those youth who are transferred to the adult criminal justice system.
Juveniles who receive this kind of determinate sentence are committed to TYC with a possible transfer to
the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).14 The juvenile judge imposes a sentence of a set number
of years, which may extend past the age of adulthood. The maximum length of a determinate sentence is
9.	

Texas Family Code, Title 3: Juvenile Justice Code, §54.04(d)(2).

10.	

Ibid.

11.	

Texas Family Code §54.04(d)(3).

12.	

Texas Family Code §54.11.

13.	

Texas Family Code §54.04(q).

14.	

Texas Family Code §54.04(d)(3).

4

Overview
40 years for a capital felony, 1st degree felony, or an aggravated controlled substance felony; 20 years for a
2nd degree felony; and 10 years for a 3rd degree felony.15 The sentence begins in TYC, where the juvenile
participates in the entire range of programming available, including rehabilitative programs and education.
No later than just before the youth turns 19, if the youth has completed his or her minimum required length
of stay in TYC, the agency can decide to parole the youth. But if the youth has either not completed the
minimum length of stay or done poorly in the program, TYC seeks a ruling from the juvenile court judge.16
The juvenile judge must hold a hearing to evaluate whether the youth should be transferred to adult prison
to complete the sentence or whether the youth can be safely released on parole without putting public safety
at risk.17
A determinate sentence youth in TYC who consistently refuses to participate in programming or whose
misbehavior present a safety risk to staff or other juveniles in the facility can be referred to the court for a
decision about early transfer to TDCJ.18 Thus, TYC has leverage over these youth to encourage them to take
full advantage of TYC’s programs and services. Indeed, TYC can offer these determinate sentence juveniles
both a “carrot” and a “stick,” since meaningful participation in programs can result in either parole or a recommendation for release without transfer to adult prison whereas refusal to work the program can result in
an early transfer to TDCJ.
Because determinate sentencing involves potentially long sentences with ultimate incarceration in prison,
it is a sanction available only for the most serious offenses. Lawmakers have identified roughly 30 offenses
in the Penal Code that qualify for determinate sentencing, including all of the most violent crimes.19 The
category of offenses eligible for determinate sentencing is much more restrictive than the list qualifying
for certification of a juvenile as an adult. A prosecutor must petition the court to try a case as a determinate
sentencing matter. The juvenile judge can impose this determinate sentencing sanction on any youth within
the court’s jurisdiction who is charged with one of those designated offenses, from age 10 up until age 17
(the maximum age can be extended to 18 under certain circumstances).20
Finally, there is the last option a juvenile judge has for handling these cases: a juvenile judge may waive
jurisdiction and transfer a youth to adult criminal court through a process known as certification.21 A child
who was at least 14 years old at the time an offense was alleged to have been committed may be certified for
a capital felony, 1st degree felony, or an aggravated controlled substance felony.22 A 15-, 16-, or 17-year old
may be certified for a second degree felony, third degree felony, or a state jail felony.23
The same statute also allows the court to transfer the case of an individual charged with specified felony
offenses committed between the ages of 10 and 17 if that person is now 18 or older and there were valid
reasons why the case could not have been tried prior to age 18.24
The decision to transfer a juvenile to adult criminal court must come after a full investigation and hearing
that gives the court probable cause to believe (1) that the youth committed the alleged offense, and (2) that
15.	

Texas Family Code §54.04(d)(3)(A-C).

16.	

Texas Human Resources Code, Chapter 61: Texas Youth Council, §61.079.

17.	

Texas Family Code §54.11.

18.	

Human Resources Code, §61.079.

19.	

Texas Family Code §53.045(a).

20.	

Texas Family Code §51.02(2).

21.	

Texas Family Code §54.02

22.	

Texas Family Code §54.02 (a)(2)(A).

23.	

Texas Family Code §54.02(a)(2)(B).

24.	

Texas Family Code §54.02(j).

5

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
the transfer is necessary to protect the welfare of the community due to either the seriousness of the offense
or the juvenile’s background.25 Courts vary tremendously in the extent to which this is a meaningful hearing. Some judges hold lengthy hearings complete with a wide range of witnesses in a trial-like environment,
while others appear to rubber stamp the certification request from the prosecutor with quick hearings and
only rare refusals to certify.26
There is an exception to the discretionary judicial transfer decision: the law provides that any juvenile who
has previously been certified as an adult must subsequently be tried as an adult for any felony offense, unless
the previous case was dismissed or no-billed, or the child was found not guilty.27 This statutory provision is
colloquially known as “once an adult, always an adult.”
Juveniles who are certified as adults in Texas are eligible to receive almost the entire range of sanctions
available to adult offenders under the Penal Code. There are two exceptions: they cannot receive the death
penalty (per the United States Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)), and they
are no longer eligible for a life without parole sentence for a capital offense.28 Juveniles who receive a life
sentence are eligible for parole consideration after they have served 40 years of their sentence; they need not
be released, but they can have their case reviewed by the Parole Board in that time frame.29 Thus, juveniles
tried as adults can receive sentences ranging from probation to up to 99 years or life, depending upon the
felony level.
Under Texas law, juveniles eligible for a determinate sentence, as well as those charged with delinquent
conduct, who need to be confined during the pre-adjudication period will be held in a juvenile detention
facility.30 After adjudication and sentencing, if they are committed rather than placed on probation, they
are confined in TYC up until age 19, unless their institutional behavior requires an early transfer to adult
prison.31 In contrast, those youth who are certified as adults, if not released on bond, are held pre-trial in
adult county jails.32 Once convicted and sentenced, they are confined in adult prisons.33 There is no provision under current Texas law that would allow a juvenile certified as an adult to serve time in a juvenile facility either pre-trial or post-conviction.

C. Problems with confining juveniles in adult prisons and jails
Housing juveniles in adult jails and prisons compromises both public safety and the personal safety of the
youth. In 2007, a Task Force appointed by the Centers for Disease Control reviewed all the available scientific research and reached a stark conclusion: “[T]ransfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice systems
generally results in increased rather than decreased subsequent violence, compared with violence among
juveniles retained in the juvenile justice system. . . . [Transferring juveniles to the adult system] is counter-

25.	

Texas Family Code §54.02(a)(3).

26.	

Chris Vogel, “For Their Own Good,” Houston Press, May 28, 2009, http.://www.houstonpress.com/content/
printVersion/1274177.

27.	

Texas Family Code §54.02 (m)(1).

28.	

Texas Penal Code, Chapter 12: Punishments, §12.31(a)(1).

29.	

Texas Government Code, Chapter 508: Parole and Mandatory Supervision, § 508.145(b).

30.	

Texas Family Code §51.12(a).

31.	

Texas Family Code §54.04(d)(3), and Texas Human Resources Code §61.079.

32.	

Texas Family Code §51.12(h)(1).

33.	

Texas Family Code §54.02(h).

6

Overview
productive for the purpose of reducing juvenile violence and enhancing public safety.”34 The CDC conclusion was consistent with findings of prior researchers, who determined that “juveniles prosecuted as adults
reoffend more quickly and at rates equal to or higher than comparable youths retained in the juvenile system.”35 The evidence supporting this finding was so clear that the CDC Task Force took the highly unusual
step of recommending that legislators repeal laws and policies that facilitate the transfer of youth from the
juvenile to the adult system.36 The CDC group specifically highlighted safety concerns about the placement
of juveniles under the age of 18 in adult prisons and jails.37
To a very large degree, the increase in recidivism seen among juveniles who were transferred to the adult
criminal justice system stems from the lack of services and programming available to them in adult facilities,
as opposed to what they could have received in juvenile institutions.38 Youth in adult facilities have limited
access to either educational programs or specialized therapy and treatment.39 Moreover, staff in adult jails
and prisons do not have specialized training to work with this age population or to meet their unique needs
as very young prisoners.
Juveniles housed in adult prison and jail facilities are also at increased physical risk, often due to their small size.
The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission found that “[m]ore than any other group of incarcerated
persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”40 They are also 50 percent more likely to be subjected to physical assault with a weapon by other inmates.41 Although there are federal
laws that generally require the separation of youth from adults in correctional settings, those laws do not apply to
juveniles who have been transferred to the adult system.42 Thus, some jails and prisons will mix the certified youth
population in with the adult offender population. As one adult correctional officer interviewed for an article in
The New Republic observed, young inmates in adult facilities have little hope of avoiding rape: “He’ll get raped
within the first twenty-five to forty-eight hours. That’s almost standard.”43
Youth confined in adult jails and prisons are also at high risk for mental health problems. They are 36 times
more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in juvenile facilities.44 Many suffer post-traumatic

34.	

Angela McGowan, et. al., Centers for Disease Control Task Force on Community Preventive Services, “Effects
on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Juveniles from the Juvenile Justice System to the
Adult Justice System: A Report on Recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services,” 32
(4S) American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2007), p. S20, [hereinafter, CDC, “Effects on Violence”], http://
www.thecommunityguide.org/violence/mcgowanarticle4.pdf.

35.	

Donna M. Bishop, “Juvenile Offenders in the Adult Criminal Justice System,” Crime and Justice, vol. 27 (2000), p.86.

36.	

Centers for Disease Control Task Force on Community Preventive Services, “Recommendation Against Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Juveniles from Juvenile to Adult Justice Systems for the Purpose of Reducing
Violence,” 32 (4S) American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2007), p. S5, http://www.thecommunityguide.org/
violence/taskforcearticle3.pdf.

37.	

CDC, “Effects on Violence,” pp. S17 – S18.

38.	

Deitch, From Time Out to Hard Time, pp. 59-60.

39.	

Ibid, p. 59.

40.	

National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, Report ( June 2009) p. 18, [hereinafter “NPREC Report”]
http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/226680.pdf.

41.	

Jeffrey Fagan, Martin Forst and T. Scott Vivona, “Youth in Prisons and Training Schools: Perceptions and Consequences of Treatment-Custody Dichotomy,” Juvenile and Family Court, no.2 (1989), p.10.

42.	

Campaign for Youth Justice, Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America, Washington, D.C., November 2007, p. 22.

43.	

Cited in Vincent Schiraldi and Jason Zeidenberg, “The Risks Juveniles Face When They Are Incarcerated With
Adults,” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice ( July 1997), p. 3.

44.	

Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America, p. 10.

7

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
stress and depression following incidents of sexual violence.45 Furthermore, many youth are held in isolation
while they are awaiting trial, in large measure to keep them apart from adults. Such isolation can last to up
to 23 hours a day over a period of a year or more, in what amounts to long-term solitary confinement. While
it is a worthy goal to keep the juveniles separate from the adult offenders, such intense isolation over long
periods of time can cause significant deterioration of the youths’ mental state. Research has shown that even
after very short periods of segregation, juveniles can experience symptoms of paranoia, anxiety, and depression.46 An investigation by the Houston Press in 2009 found that certified juveniles aged 14 to 16 in the
Harris County Jail—an average of 89 youth per year—are held in 23-hour a day lock-up for months on end,
isolated not only from adult inmates but from each other.47 Many of the juveniles profiled in the Houston
Press article expressed concerns about the mental agony and depression this isolation caused them.48
The evidence thus shows that transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal justice system and the confinement
of youth in adult facilities put public safety at risk. These practices have a harmful impact both on the juveniles who end up in the adult system and on the communities to which they will return after their release.
It is critical, therefore, that we develop a clear profile of the youth who get transferred to the adult criminal
justice system in Texas, and that we re-evaluate the wisdom of our current practices and strategies for dealing
with the serious juvenile offender population in light of this body of research.

45.	

NPREC Report, p. 153.

46.	

Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America, p. 10.

47.	

Vogel, “For Their Own Good,” Houston Press.

48.	

Ibid.

8

III. Findings
A. Numbers of adult certification cases vs. juvenile determinate
sentencing
The number of juveniles in Texas who are certified as adults is 49% greater than the number kept in the
juvenile justice system and given determinate sentences resulting in a TYC placement. From FY 2005 to
the end of FY 2010, there were 1,292 certifications.49 In this same time period, there were a total of 865
juveniles given a determinate sentence and a TYC placement.50 Figure 1 below provides a breakdown of
these numbers by fiscal year.
Figure 1 shows that in the most recent year, FY 2010, 229 juveniles were certified, while 108 juveniles were
given a determinate sentence with placement in TYC, a difference of more than 100%. FY 2008 saw the
greatest number of adult certifications, 245, and the greatest discrepancy between the number of certifications and determinate sentences (139 more certified juveniles than determinate sentence juveniles who

Figure 1
Number of Adult Certifications vs. Determinate Sentences with TYC Placement, FY 2005 – 10
Cer tifie d
De ter m ina te Se nten ce

2 45

250

22 9

22 9

2 27
20 2

200

1 85
1 60

1 57

16 2
14 7

150
1 06

1 08

100
50
0
FY 2005

FY 2006

FY 2007

FY 2008

FY 2009

FY 2010

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010

49.	

Vicki Spriggs, “Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, Report to the Texas House of Representatives Committee
on Corrections,” September 29, 2010.

50.	

It is important to note that determinate sentence probation is also available as an option for a youth adjudicated for one of the designated felony offenses. However, for purposes of our analysis, we believe the appropriate
comparison group for certified youth is the universe of determinate sentenced juveniles who receive a TYC
placement, since this would be the most severe sanction that could be imposed on these juveniles and would
presumably be the alternative to certification in most cases. Throughout this report, when we refer to the determinate sentence population, we are referring to those juveniles who are confined in TYC under a determinate
sentence.

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
receive TYC placements). Whereas prior to FY 2008, the numbers of certifications and determinate sentences were relatively close, in the years since, there has been a marked increase in certifications relative to
determinate sentences involving TYC placements.51

B. Characteristics of certified and determinate sentence
populations
To determine how the population of juveniles who received juvenile determinate sentences with placement
in TYC compares to the population of juveniles who were certified as adults, we examined a variety of characteristics about each population, including: demographic data including age, gender, ethnicity, and county
of conviction; offense; and criminal history.
(1) Demographic Characteristics
Age
As noted earlier, to be certified as an adult or to be given a determinate sentence in Texas, an offender must
have been below the age of 17 at the time of the offense. Juveniles become eligible for certification at age
14 for capital felonies, aggravated controlled substance felonies, and first-degree felonies. Starting at the age
of 15, a juvenile may be certified for any felony under the Penal Code, including second- and third-degree
felonies as well as state jail felonies. Determinate sentences are available for juveniles beginning at age 10,
and may not be given, due to lack of juvenile court jurisdiction, if the petition for the determinate sentence
is not filed before the youth turns 18 years old.
It is important to note the impact that age limits for juvenile court jurisdiction, and limits on the maximum
age at which a juvenile may be housed at the Texas Youth Commission, can have on the certification of juveniles. The juvenile court’s jurisdiction ends once a defendant turns 17,52 and a juvenile can only be housed at
the Texas Youth Commission until the age of 19; therefore, a juvenile given a determinate sentence may be
housed at the Texas Youth Commission only until age 19. Sometimes, offenders who were under 17 at the
time they committed an offense age out of the juvenile justice system and eligibility for placement in TYC
before their cases can be adjudicated. As a result, these offenders must be certified as adults in order to hold
them accountable for the offense, since they can no longer be placed in TYC. Since these individuals are now
of “adult” age, they are not part of the population that is the focus of this report, even though they have been
formally “certified” as adults as a matter of procedure. The focus here remains on those juveniles age 17 and
under who are still within the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and who are still eligible to receive determinate
sentences and placement in TYC.
Figures 2 and 3 indicate the age at which juveniles were either certified or given a determinate sentence with
TYC placement. Note that their ages at the time of their offenses are not readily available.

51.	

At least some of the reduction in use of determinate sentences with TYC placement relative to certifications may
have to do with reluctance on the part of some judges to send youth to TYC in the wake of the highly publicized
problems with the agency in 2007.

52.	

Note, however, that under the Texas Family Code, §51.0412, the juvenile court retains jurisdiction over juveniles
even after their 18th birthday if the proceeding, begun earlier, is incomplete. This explains how it is possible for
some juveniles to receive determinate sentences after age 18.

10

Findings
Figure 2
Age of Certified Juveniles
FY 2005 – FY 2009

Figure 3
Age of Determinate Sentence
Juveniles with Placement in TYC,
FY 2005 – FY 2009
18 + y.o. 13 - y.o.
4%
2%

14 y.o.
2%

15 y.o.
11%

18+ y.o.
15 %

14 y.o.
9%

1 7 y.o.
2 4%

1 5 y.o.
2 2%
17 y.o.
31%

16 y.o.
41%

1 6 y.o.
3 9%

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010

As Figures 2 and 3 indicate, 16-year olds represent the largest percentage within both populations of certified juveniles and determinate sentenced juveniles. Moreover, they represent roughly similar proportions of
each population. The next most prevalent group in each population is 17-year olds. A substantial percentage
of 15-year olds is also represented in each population. Thus, the data suggests that these two populations of
juveniles include youth of roughly the same age. Of course, at both age extremes (14 and under and 18 and
over), we see different breakdowns in representation due to different applicable eligibility rules.
Gender
The overwhelming majority of juveniles who are either certified or given a determinate sentence with placement in TYC are male. Table 1 presents the number and percentage of juveniles of each gender for both
the certified and determinate sentence populations. It indicates that the two populations of certified and
determinate sentence juveniles are similar in terms of gender breakdown.

Table 1
Gender of Certified and Determinate Sentence Juveniles – FY 2005–09
	

	

Female	

# Certified	
Juveniles	

% of Certified	
# Determinate	
Juveniles	
Sentence Juveniles	

% of Determinate
Sentence Juveniles

50	

4.7%	

35	

4.6%

Male	

1013	

95.3%	

722	

95.4%

Total	

1063	

100.0%	

757	

100.0%

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010

11

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Ethnicity
Figure 4 presents the ethnic breakdown of both the certified and determinate sentence population as compared to the total population of juveniles in Texas.
The vast majority of both certified and determinate sentence juveniles are minorities, and their representation in these categories is highly disproportionate to their representation in the general population of the
state. Figure 4 reflects that minorities make up roughly 57% of the juvenile population in Texas, yet they
comprise 80% of all certifications and determinate sentences. Virtually all of that disproportionality is accounted for by African Americans, who make up only 13% of the state’s overall juvenile population, yet they
are roughly 40% of the certified and determinate sentence populations.
Comparing the certified and determinate sentence populations, we see that the ethnic breakdowns of the
two groups are virtually identical.
Figure 4
Percent of Certified and Determinate Sentence Juveniles by Ethnicity,
FY 2005 – 09, as a percentage of the total juvenile population in Texas, 2009

50

Cer tified
Certified

45

4 2%

40

4 4%
40 %

Determinate
D ete r m ina te

3 8%

40 %

39 %

Total
T otaJuvenile
l P opuPopulation
la tion (2(2009)
00 9)

35
30
25
1 9% 19 %

20
15

13 %

10
4%

5

1%

1%

0
	

Hispanic	
Hispanic

African
African American	
American

Caucasian	
Caucasion

Other

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and the Texas State Data Center, 2010

County of Conviction
Figure 5 compares the number of certifications and determinate sentences with placement in TYC in the
10 counties responsible for the largest number of certifications. It reveals that more than twice as many
certification cases have arisen in Harris County over a four-year period than in any other county. Indeed,
Harris County has more certification cases than the next six counties combined. Figure 5 also indicates an
extremely large discrepancy between use of certifications and use of determinate sentences in six of these
counties (Harris, Jefferson, Hidalgo, Nueces, Lubbock, and Potter), suggesting possible disproportionate efforts in these counties to try juveniles as adults. Also of interest is the fact that Travis County, the 5th largest
county in the state, and El Paso, the 7th largest, do not appear in this Figure, suggesting that judges in those
counties are not granting certifications (or that prosecutors are not seeking them) in many cases.

12

Findings
The information here suggests that county of conviction plays a large role in determining whether a
juvenile offender will receive a determinate sentence in juvenile court or whether that youth will be
tried as an adult.
Figure 5
Number of Certifications and Determinate Sentences with TYC Placement by County, FY 2006–09

350
3 01

300
Cer tifica tio ns

250

De ter m ina te Se nte n ce s

200
1 41

150

13 4

11 4

100

80
62

50

43

33

22
5

20
3

20 15

19

19
2

10

17

15

4

0

r
te
Po
t

k
Lu

bb

oc

ith
Sm

s
N

ue

ce

b
W
eb

t
ra
n
Ta
r

go
al
id

rs
ffe
Je

H

on

r
xa
Be

s
la
al
D

H

ar

ris

0

Source: data from the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and Texas Youth Commission, 2010

(2) Criminal Offense
As noted earlier, the law allows certification for a wider array of offenses than it allows for determinate sentencing. All felonies qualify for certification, but only the most serious felony offenses are eligible for determinate sentencing. Nevertheless, juveniles who are tried as adults are thought to be the most serious
juvenile offenders, so it is worth comparing the two populations on this offense criteria.
Table 2 and Table 3 show the offenses that tend to yield the most certifications and determinate sentences
with placement in TYC, respectively. These tables rank-order the offenses that result in either a certification
or determinate sentence, respectively, from most prevalent to least prevalent. Table 4 combines elements
from both charts to enable easy comparison of the top 5 offenses for both populations.
A comparison of Tables 2 and 3 shows that juveniles who are being certified and juveniles who are being
given a determinate sentence do not differ greatly in their instant offenses or the level of violence involved
in their offense. Aggravated robbery and sexual assault together account for more than half the cases in each
category, and aggravated robbery cases dominate both populations. Notably—and contrary to common
perception—homicide is only the third-ranking offense for certification cases, accounting for 17% of the
cases. While there are clearly more homicide cases handled as certifications than as determinate sentence
cases, youth who have been charged with homicide appear in both populations.

13

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
The data also shows that a very high percentage of the determinate sentence population—at least 93%—has
committed a serious violent felony. Thus, it is clear that a substantial number of serious and violent juvenile
offenders do remain in the juvenile justice system, and that certification is not an automatic response to
these offenses on the part of most juvenile judges.
Tables 2 and 3 also highlight certain offenses for which certification but not determinate sentencing is available. Thus, we see some certifications for both burglary and robbery, neither of which offense is eligible for
determinate sentencing, presumably because neither was considered serious enough to warrant determinate
sentencing. Burglary represents almost 6% of certifications.
There are also a striking number of juveniles charged with non-violent offenses who are certified as adults.
While the data is not precise enough to allow for an exact breakdown, the number of non-violent certifications appears to be between 10% and 15% of the total.
Together, Tables 2 and 3 indicate that the two populations of determinate sentence juveniles and certified
juveniles are relatively comparable when it comes to their criminal offense. Contrary to popular assumptions, certified youth who are tried as adults as a whole are not demonstrably more violent than the population of serious juvenile offenders who are retained by the juvenile court and given determinate sentences
with placement in TYC.

Table 2
Certifcations by Most Frequent Offense, FY 2005–09
Offense	
FY 2005	 FY 2006	 FY 2007	 FY 2008	 FY 2009	 Total	 % of Total
							 Certifications
Aggravated Robbery	 58	

74	

76	

90	

76	

374	

35.2%

Sexual Assault	

28	

39	

38	

48	

49	

202	

19.0%

Homicide*	

23	

47	

31	

39	

41	

181	

17.0%

Aggravated Assault	

20	

17	

24	

18	

30	

109	

10.3%

6	

18	

8	

14	

13	

59	

5.6%

13	

11	

8	

13	

8	

53	

5.0%

Felony Drug Offense	

7	

10	

2	

9	

2	

30	

2.8%

Robbery	

4	

7	

4	

6	

5	

26	

2.4%

Att. Homicide*	

0	

2	

8	

2	

0	

12	

1.1%

Felony Weapons	

0	

0	

2	

4	

2	

8	

0.8%

Motor Vehicle Theft	

1	

4	

0	

0	

0	

5	

0.5%

Felony Theft	

0	

0	

1	

2	

1	

4	

0.4%

160	

229	

202	

245	

227	

1063	

100.0%

Burglary	
All Other Felonies	

Total	

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010
* “Homicide” includes Capital Murder, Murder, Felony Murder, Manslaughter, Involuntary
Manslaughter, and Criminally Negligent Homicide.

14

Findings
Table 3
Determinate Sentences with Placement in TYC
by Most Frequent Offense, FY 2005 – 09
Offense	
FY	
FY	
FY	
FY	
FY	 Total 	 % of Total
	
2005	 2006	
2007	 2008	 2009		
Determinate
							
Sentences
Aggravated Robbery	

63	

51	

84	

42	

68	

308	

40.7%

Sexual Assault	

26	

36	

24	

15	

24	

125	

16.5%

Aggravated Assault	

30	

23	

39	

16	

17	

125	

16.5%

Violation of Probation 	
for Sexual Assault

9	

13	

8	

9	

9	

48	

6.3%

Homicide*	

8	

9	

8	

4	

7	

36	

4.8%

Violation of Probation	
for Aggravated Robbery

4	

7	

9	

6	

4	

30	

4.0%

Violation of Probation	
for Aggravated Assault

6	

6	

4	

3	

6	

25	

3.3%

All Other Felonies	

5	

9	

4	

5	

3	

26	

3.4%

Felony Drug Offense	

2	

3	

4	

0	

3	

12	

1.6%

Felony Weapons	

1	

0	

0	

2	

4	

7	

0.9%

Unknown	

3	

1	

0	

1	

0	

5	

0.7%

Violation of Probation	
for Homicide

0	

1	

0	

1	

1	

3	

0.4%

Violation of Probation	
for Felony Drug Offense

0	

1	

0	

1	

1	

3	

0.4%

Violation of Probation	
for Felony Weapons

0	

1	

0	

1	

0	

2	

0.3%

Att. Homicide*	

0	

0	

1	

0	

0	

1	

0.1%

Violation of Probation	
for Unknown Offense

0	

1	

0	

0	

0	

1	

0.1%

157	

162	

185	

106	

147	

757	

100.0%

Total	

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010
* “Homicide” includes Capital Murder, Murder, Felony Murder, Manslaughter, Involuntary
Manslaughter, and Criminally Negligent Homicide.

15

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Table 4
Comparing Certified Juvenile and Determinate Sentence
Populations by Top 5 Offenses, FY 2005–09
	
CERTIFICATIONS	
		

DETERMINATE SENTENCES
WITH TYC PLACEMENT

Offense	
% of Total	
Offense	
	
Certifications		
			

% of Total
Determinate
Sentences

Aggravated Robbery	

35.2%	

Aggravated Robbery	

40.7%

Sexual Assault	

19.0%	

Sexual Assault	

16.5%

Homicide*	

17.0%	

Aggravated Assault	

16.5%

Aggravated Assault	
10.3%	
		

Violation of Probation	
for Sexual Assault

6.3%

Burglary	

Homicide*	

4.8%

5.6%	

Other	

13.0%	

TOTAL	

100.0%	

Other	

15.2%

TOTAL	

100.0%

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010
* “Homicide” includes Capital Murder, Murder, Felony Murder, Manslaughter, Involuntary
Manslaughter, and Criminally Negligent Homicide.

(3) Criminal history
To evaluate the prior criminal history of juveniles who were certified or who received determinate sentences
with placement in TYC, we gathered data about the number of prior referrals they had to juvenile court.
These referrals may have involved either misdemeanor or felony offenses. Moreover, they may or may not
have resulted in probation with local supervision and possibly an out-of-home placement in a post-adjudication facility, and may or may not have resulted in a prior commitment to TYC. Thus, the mere fact of prior
referral does not alone tell us how serious the prior criminal history actually was. Consequently, this data
was further analyzed to assess whether the juvenile had a prior referral for any violent offense and whether
the juvenile had any prior TYC commitment. The data presented below excludes the offense for which the
juvenile was certified or for which he or she received a determinate sentence.

16

Findings
Prior Referrals to Juvenile Court
Figures 6 and 7 present the number of prior referrals to juvenile court for each of the two populations.
A comparison of Figures 6 and 7 shows that certified juveniles and determinate sentence youth are similarly
situated when it comes to the number of prior referrals they have received. In each population, roughly
a quarter of the juveniles had never been referred to juvenile court before the instant offense. Moreover,
almost 45% of each group of juveniles had either no prior referrals or only one. Both groups have sizeable
numbers of youth (roughly one-third) with four or more prior referrals.
The finding that 44% of certified youth have either never been referred to juvenile court or have only one prior
referral dispels the popular rhetoric that these juveniles are repeat, chronic offenders. To be sure, some certified
youth do have a substantial number of previous contacts with juvenile court, but this is certainly not true across
the board. It is also important to analyze the nature of those prior court referrals, as we do below.
Figure 6
Prior Referrals for
Certified Juveniles, FY 2005–09

Figure 7
Prior Referrals for Determinate
Sentence Juveniles, FY 2005–09

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010

Prior Referrals to Juvenile Court for Violent Offenses
For analysis purposes, we considered a prior referral to be for a violent offense if the prior offense involved
any of the following felony-level offenses: homicide (which includes capital murder, murder, felony murder,
manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide), attempted homicide, felony
sexual assault, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, felony
weapons offenses, arson with injury or death, and felony terroristic threat. Figures 8 and 9 reflect the number
of prior referrals to juvenile court for violent offenses for each of the groups.

17

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Figure 9
Prior Violent Referral* for
Determinate Sentence Juveniles, FY 2005 – 09

Figure 8
Prior Violent Referral* for
Certified Juveniles, FY 2005 – 09

P r io r

P r io r

V io le n t
R e fe r r a l

V io le n t
R e fe r r a l

28%

35%

N o P r io r

N o P r io r

V io le n t
R e fe r r a l

V io len t
R e fe r r a l

72%

65%

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010
Note: “Prior violent referrals” excludes the instant offense. Note that the term “violent” includes any
of the following felony-level offenses: homicide (which includes capital murder, murder, felony murder,
manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide), attempted homicide, felony
sexual assault, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, robbery, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, felony
weapons offenses, arson with injury or death, and felony terroristic threat.

Figures 8 and 9 reveal that the overwhelming majority of both certified juveniles and determinate sentence
juveniles do not have a history of violence. Only a quarter of the certified juveniles and a third of the determinate sentence juveniles have any history of violence. While the lack of prior violence is notable for both
populations, between the two groups, the determinate sentence population appears to have a more violent
criminal history. Despite this intriguing difference, the population of certified juveniles and determinate sentenced juveniles appear very similar when it comes to prior violent criminal behavior, or the lack thereof.
Prior TYC Commitment
Figure 10 presents the percentage of the total certified population that has been committed to TYC prior to
being certified to stand trial as an adult.
Despite the commonly held belief that certified juveniles are beyond the help of the juvenile justice system,
Figure 10 shows that, in fact, the vast majority of certified juveniles have had no prior TYC commitment.
Nearly 9 out of 10 juveniles who are certified to stand trial as adults have never been through TYC.
This information also helps us further interpret Figure 6, which presented the number of prior referrals to juvenile
court for certified juveniles. Although Figure 6 indicated that 34% of juveniles who were certified in FY 2005 – 09
had four or more referrals, it is now clear that only a very small percentage of these referrals had resulted in a commitment to TYC. Thus, those prior offenses were most likely for less serious delinquent behavior.
When it comes to criminal history, then, the data indicates that certified youth and determinate sentence
youth are relatively similar. Moreover, the majority of youth in both groups have relatively minor and nonviolent criminal histories, if any. And perhaps most strikingly, certified youth have overwhelmingly had no
chance to be served by TYC.

18

Findings
Figure 10
Prior TYC Commitment for Certified Juveniles, FY 2005 – 09

Prior
Commitment
11%

No Prior TYC
Commitment
89%

Source: data provided by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2010

C. Disposition and sentencing outcomes for certified and
determinate sentenced juveniles
Once the decision is made by a judge to certify a juvenile as an adult and to send him or her to criminal
court for trial, what becomes of the youth? In the section that follows, we present data on: (1) disposition
outcomes for certified youth (e.g., whether they are placed on probation or are sent to prison), and (2) the
length of the sentences given to those certified juveniles who are sent to adult prison.
As for youth who receive determinate sentences and a placement in TYC, we gathered data on: (1) what
happens to them once they complete their time in TYC, when they are considered for transfer to TDCJ or
for release on parole before age 19; and (2) the length of sentences given to those youth who receive determinate sentences and who are committed to TYC.
(1) Disposition outcomes for certified youth
As noted earlier in this report, ascertaining the outcomes for youth who were certified as adults was extremely difficult due to the lack of available data on this population. The most recent report analyzing disposition outcomes for certified youth is from 1999, and was produced by the now-defunct Texas Criminal
Justice Policy Council. Figure 11 below displays the Criminal Justice Policy’s Council’s findings with regard
to disposition outcomes for juveniles certified in 1996.53
53.	

The Criminal Justice Policy Council report analyzed records of juvenile dispositions from 12 counties in Texas,
a total of 315 cases that collectively accounted for 74% of all certifications in 1996.

19

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
While it is unclear the extent to which disposition trends have changed in the past decade and a half, there
are some indications that a sizeable portion of the certified youth population still does not end up serving time in prison. For example, only about 59 of the 103 juveniles in TDCJ’s Youthful Offender Program
(YOP) on October 31, 2010 were certified as adults (the vast remainder of those in the program were 17year olds who are automatically tried in adult court).54 Yet in FY 2010, Texas had a total of 225 certified
youth. While it is possible that some of those certified may be older than age 18 at the time of their arrival in
TDCJ and thus ineligible for placement in the YOP, and some might be housed in TDCJ facilities other than
the YOP, there is nevertheless a noticeable discrepancy between these figures, suggesting that a large portion of certified youth have disposition outcomes resulting in community supervision, jail time, dismissal
of charges, or a not guilty finding. Clearly, there is a need for improved reporting and data collection on the
sentencing outcomes for youth who are certified as adults.
Figure 11
Sentencing Outcomes for Certified Youth, FY 1996
(N=315 certification cases)
State or County Jail 4%
Dismissed
Not Guilty
No Billed
11%

Community
Supervision:

Community
Supervision
27%

Prison Sentence 58%

Deferred
Adjudication
20%

Probation 5%
State Jail
Probation
2%

Source: Criminal Justice Policy Council, 1999

(2) Outcomes for determinate sentence youth who are placed in TYC
For youth who receive a determinate sentence, there are several different outcome possibilities after their placement in TYC. They may eventually be discharged from TYC’s jurisdiction for a variety of reasons, including:
•	 transfer to TDCJ to serve the remainder of their sentence in prison
•	 release from TYC and placement on adult parole through TDCJ
•	 placement on TYC parole

54.	

Data provided by TDCJ Executive Services, December 29, 2010.

20

Findings
•	 completion of their entire sentence and release from TYC with no parole
•	 discharge under a statutory provision that allows for release of certain mentally ill juveniles
We reviewed data on offenders serving determinate sentences at TYC who were received during FY 2006–
10 in order to identify how frequently each of these different outcomes occur. However, it is important to
take into account the fact that during that time, TYC underwent many substantial changes that affected the
distribution of these outcomes. Most notably, the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007 passed Senate Bill 103,
which, among other changes, reduced the maximum age of TYC’s jurisdiction from 21 to 19. Thus, juveniles who entered TYC in FY 2006 and FY 2007 were able to remain in TYC for up to two years longer than
the youth who entered TYC in the following years. For this reason, it is important to consider separately
the outcomes of those youth who received determinate sentences in the years pre-Senate Bill 103. Also, it is
important to recognize that the data for the most recent years is less probative because the vast majority of
youth have not yet served their minimum length of stay. We simply do not yet know the ultimate outcome
for many of the youth in this more recent time frame. Consequently, the data from these two time frames
cannot be directly compared to determine changes in outcomes over time.
Table 5 sets forth the current status for those youth who were received at TYC with determinate sentences
during the period from FY 2006–07, while Table 6 gives the current status for youth who were received at
TYC with determinate sentences from FY 2007–10.
With the caveats noted above about interpreting and comparing the data in these figures, Tables 5 and 6
tell us that a relatively small proportion of determinate sentenced juveniles overall get transferred to TDCJ.
Most serve their time in TYC and then get released on parole.

Table 5
Current status of determinate sentence youth in TYC,
received FY 2006–07
STATUS	
Placed on Adult Parole	

# of Juveniles	

% of Juveniles

128	

35.1%

TYC Residential Custody	

67	

18.4%

Transferred to TDCJ	

63	

17.3%

Sentence Expired	

57	

15.6%

Placed on TYC Parole	

47	

12.9%

Other	
Total	

3	
365	

<1%
100.0%

Source: data provided by the Texas Youth Commission, 2010

21

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas

Table 6
Current status of determinate sentence youth in TYC,
received FY 2008–10
STATUS	
TYC Residential Custody	

# of Juveniles	

% of Juveniles

271	

71.3%

Placed on Adult Parole	

46	

12.1%

Transferred to TDCJ	

33	

8.7%

Sentence Expired	

18	

4.7%

9	

2.4%

Placed on TYC Parole	
Other	
TOTAL	

3	
380	

<1%
100.0%

Source: data provided by the Texas Youth Commission, 2010

(3) Length of sentences given to certified youth
Identifying the length of sentences received by juveniles who were certified as adults and who received a
prison sentence was again a difficult task given the lack of comprehensive statewide data about this population. As a proxy for this information, we examined sentencing data for the population of all juveniles in
TDCJ’s custody aged 19 and under who were received by the agency prior to age 17.55 Thus, the sample
includes all those who were certified as adults and placed in the Youthful Offender Program, as well as those
certified youth who are recent graduates of that program, plus those youth who are or were recently confined
in other parts of TDCJ such as state jails, administrative segregation, substance abuse facilities, and medical
or mental health units.56 Examining these teenagers who were received at TDCJ prior to age 17 provides a
current snapshot of this population and the length of sentences they are serving, though there is clearly a
need for more thorough and precise collection of statewide data on this population.
For those offenders in TDCJ who were received prior to age 17 and who are now age 19 or under (a total
of 94 offenders), the length of their sentences was found to range from 6 months to life. As seen in Table
7 below, a majority of offenders (58.5%) are serving sentences of 10 years or less, including 6.4% who are
serving terms of 3 years or less.

55.	

TDCJ was only able to provide data based on the date the youth was received by TDCJ, and not their age at the
time of the offense.

56.	

A very small number in the sample may represent teenagers who received determinate sentences and were transferred early from TYC. But the number appears to be small enough to discount for purposes of this analysis. For
example, on October 31, 2010, only 2 of the youth currently in the YOP were received from TYC, and there is no
reason to think that number was significantly larger in previous recent years.

22

Findings
Table 7
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	

Less than 4 years	

% Youthful
Offenders

6	

6.4%

4-10 yrs	

49	

52.1%

11-30 yrs	

25	

26.6%

31-40 yrs	

5	

5.3%

41-59 yrs	

3	

3.2%

60+/LIFE	

6	

6.4%

94	

100.0%

TOTAL	

Source: data provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,
2010

(4) Length of sentences given to determinate sentence youth
To identify the length of sentences received by juveniles who were retained in the juvenile justice system and
given determinate sentences with commitments to TYC, we analyzed data from the current population of
youth in TYC facilities. As seen in Table 8 below, a large majority of determinate sentence offenders (77.2%)
are serving sentences of 10 years or less, including 15.4% who are serving terms of 3 years or less.
A comparison of the sentencing outcomes between certified youth and youth who receive determinate sentences finds that the two populations receive fairly similar sentences. For both certified and determinate sentence youth, the majority of offenders receive sentences lasting between four and ten years. Fewer than 10%
of certified juveniles—a total of only 9 youth—received sentences longer than those sentences imposed on
determinate sentence youth. This suggests that sentences for most certified youth easily fall within the allowable determinate sentence ranges.

Table 8: Length of sentences for
determinate sentence youth in TYC, FY 2010
Sentence length	
Less than 4 years	

# Juveniles	
115	

% Juveniles
15.4%

4-10 yrs	

461	

61.8%

11-30 yrs	

156	

20.9%

31-40 yrs	

14	

1.9%

746	

100.0%

TOTAL	

Source: data provided by the Texas Youth Commission, 2010

23

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
D. Placements and programming for certified youth and

determinate sentence juveniles

As noted previously, there is a lack of data regarding the seemingly large percentage of youth who are certified but not sent to prison. This section of the report examines what happens to those certified youth who
are sent to prison. Where are they housed within the prison system and what services do they receive? This
population is then compared with those determinate sentence youth in TYC on matters of housing and
programming.
(1) Housing of certified youth in TDCJ
Those certified juveniles who are found guilty and committed to the custody of TDCJ are typically housed
in the agency’s Youthful Offender Program (YOP). This program provides separate housing and some
limited programming for this sub-population. There is a YOP for boys aged 14-17 at the Clemens Unit in
Brazoria, and a YOP for girls aged 14-17 at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville. Placement in these programs is
limited to certified juveniles and those determinate sentenced juveniles who are transferred from TYC due
to misbehavior, as well as other TDCJ offenders who are below age 18.
However, some exceptions exist to this practice, and consequently not all juveniles younger than 18 are
placed in the YOPs. Most notably, any juvenile who is certified for a state jail felony must be housed in a
state jail. Typically, all youth under age 18 in state jails are housed in the front of a dormitory housing adult
prisoners for their safety, but there is no access to a Youthful Offender Program.57 Also, some small number
of juveniles is held in medical or mental health units alongside adult prisoners in TDCJ. Some juveniles are
also held in administrative segregation in TDCJ, under isolated conditions where they are locked in a cell
for up to 23 hours per day for an indefinite period. Also, during the time frame between transfer from the
county jail and placement in the YOP, certified juveniles are sent to transfer facilities in the same manner as
any adult prison inmate. They can remain in this transfer facility without any special programming or separate housing for a period of up to several weeks. On average, that transfer period is 17 days, but a significant
portion of the youths remains in transfer status for over a month.58 They are also transported on buses with
adult prisoners without regard to their youthful offender status.
Table 9 below provides a breakdown of where juveniles aged 17 and under are currently housed within
TDCJ. These figures include certified youth as well as determinate sentence youth transferred early from
TYC and 17-year olds automatically tried in adult courts. The table indicates that only 68% of the ageeligible population is in a Youthful Offender Program.
While we cannot provide a precise breakdown of the numbers in the chart below to get at the exact number
of certified juveniles in TDCJ on that date, we were also provided with data from October 31, 2010, indicating that 59 of the 103 juveniles in the YOP had been juveniles transferred to adult court, and that 5 state jail
offenders were certified youth.59

57.	

Geralyn Engman, Clinical Manager, TDCJ Rehabilitation Divisions Program, e-mail message to Emily Ling,
December 12, 2010.

58.	

TDCJ Internal Audit Division, A Report on Rehabilitation Programs Division’s COURAGE Program for Youthful
Offenders, Audit 0921, October 26, 2009, pp. 6-7.

59.	

Data provided by TDCJ Executive Services, December 29, 2010.

24

Findings
Table 9
Current juvenile population (under age 18) at TDCJ by units, on August 31, 2010
UNIT	

TYPE	

Clemens	

Male Youthful Offender Program	

Clemens	

Administrative Segregation	

Hilltop	

Female Youthful Offender Program	

# OF JUVENILES
105
9
5

Bartlett, Bradshaw, Dominguez, 	
State Jails	
Formby, Hutchings, Lindsey, Lychner60

18

Byrd and Holliday	

Male transfer facilities	

20

Woodman	

Female transfer facility	

0

Other	
	

Substance abuse, medical health, 	
or mental health units

3

TOTAL		

160

Source: data provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 2010

(2) Programming for certified youth in TDCJ
As previously stated, there is no specialized programming available for those certified youth who are placed in
state jails.61 Any programming in which they participate, such as educational or vocational courses, would be programming that is similarly provided to the general population of offenders in that facility. Consequently, certified
youth could serve up to two years in a state jail with access only to programming designed for adult, not juvenile,
offenders. That same lack of specialized programming is true for juveniles housed in transfer facilities, substance
abuse treatment facilities, medical or mental health units, or administrative segregation.62
Those offenders who are placed in a Youthful Offender Program at either the Clemens or Hilltop units partake in the “COURAGE”63 program until they reach the age of 18. COURAGE consists of targeted, therapeutic programming for the juvenile population that is intended to “provide education, employment skills,
and social development in a highly structured environment.”64 While it was beyond the scope of this project
to evaluate the quality or extent of the programming and services offered to juveniles in the YOP, we reviewed a number of reports about the program prepared over the last three years. We also toured the female
YOP at the Hilltop Unit. Information derived from those reports and our observations is provided below.
Education: Juveniles in YOPs do not have access to specialized educational programs for youth. They have access
to the same educational programming that is available to the adult general population of TDCJ, and juveniles who
do go to school attend classes with adults. A 2008 review of the YOP at Clemens found that only 38% of youthful offenders were currently attending classes.65 Of the 62% of juveniles not currently in school, 4.3% had already
earned a high school diploma or GED. Additionally, 26.5% were enrolled in school but not allowed to attend class
due to disciplinary sanctions.66 No explanation was available for why the remaining 31.2% of YOP juveniles were
60.	

All state jails housing youth on August 31, 2010, were male units. When females receive state jail sentences, they
are placed at either the Woodman or Plano female state jail units. Geralyn Engman, TDCJ, December 12, 2010.

61.	

Ibid.

62.	

See TDCJ Internal Audit Division report, pp. 1-2.

63.	

“COURAGE” stands for Challenge Opportunity Understanding Respect Acceptance Growth Education.

64.	

TDCJ Internal Audit Division report, p. 18.

65.	

Terry Schuster, “Managing the Special Needs of TDCJ’s Youthful Offenders,” May 27, 2008 (unpublished paper
on file with the author), p. 28 (citing data provided by TDCJ Executive Services, April 7, 2008).

66.	

Schuster, pp. 16-17 (citing data provided by TDCJ Executive Services, 2008).

25

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
not in school. That 2008 study also found a striking contrast between YOP juveniles and TYC youth on this educational front, with 96% of TYC youth in school during that same time frame.67
Vocational training and recreation: A 2007 evaluation of the YOP by TDCJ’s Research, Evaluation, and
Development Unit (RED Unit) found that “youthful offenders were not provided with adequate vocational
and recreational opportunities.”68 The evaluation concluded that, because the younger population was “required to be separated by sight and sound from adult offenders, vocational and recreational programming
was nearly impossible to schedule.”69
Therapeutic programming: Included in the COURAGE program is a short component of therapeutic
interventions designed to meet the developmental needs of juvenile offenders. Between 2000 and 2007,
this program was designed as a therapeutic community model and the youth (or some subset of them)
participated for one to two years. But in 2007, TDCJ condensed the program into a 6-month abridged version due to the fact that most youthful offenders reach the age of 18 less than a year after their arrival in the
program.70 This limitation of time resulted in what the then-director of the YOP described as “a much less
effective intervention than [for] those previously placed in the Therapeutic Community.”71 Although the
program is designed to last 6 months, the curriculum is flexible and can be expanded to provide additional
material for those youth whose stay in the YOP is longer than 6 months, and can be compressed for those
who are only there for a few weeks.72
Female youthful offenders: Until mid-2008, girls in the Hilltop YOP received extremely limited programming. Although there was one staff member specifically assigned to work with these girls since 2000, the
number of female youthful offenders was too small to justify separate programming, and so they were simply
physically separated from the adult prisoner population for purposes of housing. In the last couple of years,
the female YOP has held as few as one girl at a time, and as many as 12. The 16-year old girl who was the sole
participant in the program lived in what amounted to isolation for a period of many months until she was
joined by another female juvenile. Recognizing concerns about the limited services provided to this population, in 2008, TDCJ implemented the COURAGE 6-month curriculum for the girls. The exact structure of
the program changes, though, when there are too few participants to offer them community activities.73 In
2010, the agency introduced some additional counseling services and therapeutic interventions. The population of females remains low, however, and there were a total of 5 juveniles in the program at the time the
authors toured the facility. One of those 5 girls was being held in administrative segregation, apart from the
other four and with no opportunity for group contact.74
Upon turning 18, youthful offenders in the YOPs are placed in the regular adult prison population.

67.	

Schuster, p. 29.

68.	

RED Group, Youthful Offender Program, Austin: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 2007 (as described by
Schuster, p. 19).

69.	

Ibid.

70.	

Prior to 2007, youthful offenders were defined by TDCJ as offenders between the ages of 14 and 19. The numbers of juveniles who fit that criteria was too great for the program to handle, however, and in 2007, the definition
was altered to include only those offenders younger than age 18. Schuster, p. 13.

71.	

Schuster, p. 16. (citing interview Schuster conducted with Herum Edwards, Director of the Youthful Offender
Program, Clemens Unit, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, on April 1, 2008).

72.	

Geralyn Engman, Clinical Manager, TDCJ Rehabilitation Divisions Program, e-mail message to Michele Deitch,
March 7, 2011.

73.	

Ibid.

74.	

Visit to the Hilltop Unit Youthful Offender Program, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, October 11, 2011.

26

Findings
(3) Housing of determinate sentence youth in TYC
For offenders who receive a determinate sentence and are placed in TYC, they will first be housed at one
of two assessment centers. The McLennan Unit (Mart 1) is the orientation center for male offenders, while
the Ron Jackson Unit serves as the orientation center for females. After undergoing thorough assessments,
offenders are then transferred to housing at one of several TYC institutional facilities. Unless there is a need
for intensive psychological treatment at the Corsicana Unit or pre-natal services, the majority of girls will remain at the Ron Jackson Unit for treatment specialized for female offenders. The majority of male offenders
are transferred to Giddings State School, but many other units also house determinate sentence youth. Table
10 below provides the current housing breakdown for juveniles with determinate sentences at TYC.
Table 10 indicates that TYC distributes the population of determinate sentence offenders among various units,
though there is a heavy concentration of these youth at the Giddings facility. The placement for each youth is influenced by a range of factors such as age, educational and treatment needs, and proximity to home.

Table 10
Determinate sentence population at TYC by units, on December 6, 2010
UNIT	

TYPE	

McLennan O & A (Mart I), 	
Ron Jackson O & A

# OF JUVENILES

Orientation and Assessment Centers	

Al Price SJCF	
Corsicana	
	
Crockett	

10

TYC Institution	

25

TYC Institution	
(Residential Treatment Center)

20

TYC Institution	

14

Evins Regional	

TYC Institution	

25

Gainesville	

TYC Institution	

45

Giddings	

TYC Institution	

168

McLennan II (Mart II)	

TYC Institution	

25

Ron Jackson SJCC, Units 1 & 2	

TYC Institution	

15

Ayres House, Beto House, 	
Cottrell House

Halfway Houses	

3

Medical	

2

National Mentor Healthcare, 	
Terrell State Hospital

TOTAL		

352

Source: data provided by the Texas Youth Commission, 2010

(4) Programming for determinate sentence youth in TYC
It was also beyond the scope of this report to evaluate the quality of the programming available to youth in
TYC. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of information publicly available about the programs and services
offered in TYC, which provides a clear sense of the daily regimen for determinate sentence youth confined
in these facilities.
All juveniles in TYC receive educational programming and have access to vocational programming as well.75
Teachers in TYC are equipped to deal with special education students, and those youth who complete their
75.	

“TYC Educational Program,” Texas Youth Commission, http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/programs/educ_intro.html,
and “TYC Workforce Development,” Texas Youth Commission, http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/programs/workforce/index.html, (last visited January 29, 2011).

27

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
GEDs have the opportunity to take college classes for credit.76 Education is at the center of TYC’s daily curriculum, and it takes precedence over other activities. As noted earlier, 96% of juveniles in TYC participated
in educational programs during 2008, in contrast with 38% of those in the Youthful Offender Program at
TDCJ.77
All youth committed to TYC receive basic treatment services consisting of programming designed to foster
both positive behavioral change in juveniles and educational achievement. Currently, TYC uses a program
entitled CoNEXTions© as its curriculum for basic treatment, which incorporates nationally recognized best
and promising practices.78 All youth are also assessed to identify their need for additional specialized treatment programs. The available specialized programming options for TYC youth are: 1) Capital and Serious
Violent Offender Treatment Program, 2) Sexual Behavior Treatment Program, 3) Chemical Dependency
Treatment Program, and 4) Mental Health Treatment Program.79
Given the seriousness of the offenses they have committed, many determinate sentence youth are likely to
be enrolled in the Capital and Serious Violent Offender Treatment Program (C&SVOP). Offered at TYC’s
Giddings State School (males) and the Ron Jackson facility (females), the C&SVOP is a 24-week intensely
structured program that has earned worldwide acclaim for its effective treatment of some of the most violent young offenders. It is “designed to help youth understand the emotional and cognitive contributors to
criminal behavior, to hold youth accountable for their criminal behavior and to promote individual responsibility, to foster victim empathy, and to teach youth to interrupt negative behavior cycles to reduce future
offending.”80 The C&SVOP has been lauded in a highly-regarded book,81 and has been profiled in numerous
research reports and national journal articles. The program has been found to significantly reduce recidivism
rates among serious offenders, as shown in Tables 11 and 12 .
Table 11 indicates one-year recidivism results from 2009, while Table 12, which includes three-year data the
agency gathered in 2007, provides a longer-term look at the program’s success.
Table 11
Capital & Serious Violent Offenders Program
1-Year Effectiveness Results, 2009
	
	

Not Enrolled 	
in C&SVOP	

Arrest for Any Offense,	
1 year after release date

Enrolled
in C&SVOP

27.9%	

20.4%

Arrest for Violent Offense,	
1 year after release date

7.7%	

2.0%

Incarceration for Any Offense,	
1 year after release date

4.6%	

3.1%

Source: TYC 2009 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness

76.	

See generally, “TYC Education Plan,” May 2009, Texas Youth Commission, http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/programs/educ_action_plan.pdf (last visited January 29, 2011).

77.	

Schuster, p. 28.

78.	

“CoNEXTions© Program Brochure,” Texas Youth Commission, http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/programs/conextions_bro/index.html (last visited January 29, 2011).

79.	

“Specialized Correctional Treatment,” Texas Youth Commission, http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/programs/special_
treat.html (last visited January 29, 2011).

80.	

“Giddings State School Specialized Treatment Programs,” Texas Youth Commission, http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/
programs/giddings/treatment.html (last visited January 29, 2011).

81.	

John Hubner, Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth, New York: Random House, 2005.

28

Findings
Table 12
Capital & Serious Violent Offenders Program
3-Year Effectiveness Results, 2007
	
	

Not Enrolled 	
in C&SVOP 	

Enrolled
in C&SVOP

Arrest for Any Offense,	
3 years after release date

77.8%	

40%

Arrest for Violent Offense,	
3 years after release date

23.7%	

5.0%

Incarceration for Any Offense,	
3 years after release date

40.6%	

15.0%

Source: TYC 2007 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness
(as cited in Schuster, p. 31)

Notable among these results is the low recidivism rate of violent offenses by youth who have completed the
C&SVOP. Three years after being released from TYC, only 5% of youth who had received the C&SVOP had
been re-arrested for a violent crime, compared to almost 24% of youth who had not been enrolled in the program. The agency’s 2010 data are similarly impressive, reflecting that juveniles who complete the C&SVOP
are 73.6% less likely to be re-arrested after release than youth who did not participate in the program.82
Many determinate sentence youth are also likely to be in the Sexual Behavior Treatment Program (SBTP).
The SBTP is a 12-18-month structured program designed especially for youth identified as high risk for
committing a new sexual offense. The programming incorporates intensive psychotherapeutic groups and
techniques to facilitate changed behavior. The SBTP has been found to reduce recidivism rates among serious offenders, as shown in Tables 13 and 14 below.

Table 13
Sexual Behavior Treatment Program
1-Year Effectiveness Results, 2009
	
	

Not Enrolled in Sexual 	 Enrolled in Sexual
Behavior Treatment	 Behavior Treatment

Arrest for Any Offense,	
1 yr after release date
Arrest for Violent Offense,	
1 year after release date
Incarceration for Any Offense,	
1 year after release date

32.9%	

24.3%

4.9%	

2.9%

15.9%	

11.9%

Source: TYC 2009 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness

82.	

Texas Youth Commission, 2010 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness, p. 34 (Austin: December 31, 2010), http://
www.tyc.state.tx.us/about/Annual_Treatment_Effectiveness_Review2010.pdf (last visited January 29, 2011).

29

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas

Table 14
Sexual Behavior Treatment Program
3-Year Effectiveness Results, 2007
	
	

Not Enrolled in Sexual 	 Enrolled in Sexual
Behavior Treatment	 Behavior Treatment

Arrest for Any Offense,	
3 yr after release date

71.1%	

51.2%

Arrest for Violent Offense,	
3 year after release date

16.3%	

6%

Incarceration for Any Offense,	 41.1%	
3 year after release date

29.8%

Source: TYC 2007 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness
(as cited in Schuster, p. 32)

As with the C&SVOP, it is important to note the low recidivism rates of violent offenses by youth who have
completed the SBTP. Three years after being released from TYC, only 6% of youth who had received the
SBTP treatment had been re-arrested for a violent crime, compared to 16% of youth who had not completed
the program.
The agency’s 2010 data support these earlier findings. Youth identified as “high-need” who complete the
sexual behavior treatment program were found to be almost 50% less likely to be arrested than similar youth
who did not receive such services. Program completers identified as “medium-need” were almost 80% less
likely to be rearrested than their counterparts who did not participate in the program.83

83.	

Ibid., p. 31.

30

IV. Discussion
This section of the report synthesizes our findings above and discusses the implications of the data we presented regarding the profile of juveniles tried as adults in Texas.

A. There are minimal differences between juveniles who
are certified as adults and those who receive a determinate
sentence with placement in TYC.
There is a common assumption that juveniles tried as adults are substantially different from those juveniles who
are retained in the juvenile justice system and given determinate sentences with placement in TYC. Our analysis,
however, shows little to distinguish these two groups of juvenile offenders. On all critical measures, with the notable exception of the county of conviction, these two groups of juveniles look remarkably similar.
The data reveals that the two groups are essentially the same when it comes to demographic factors, such
as age, gender, and ethnicity. Both groups are overwhelmingly male and minority, and disproportionately
African-American. In terms of age, 16-year-olds are the most prevalent in each population, followed by 17year olds.
On the two key factors that most would assume distinguish the two populations—criminal offense and
criminal history—the juveniles present similar levels of criminality. Both populations are comprised primarily of juveniles who have committed instant offenses that are violent in nature, with the crimes of aggravated
robbery and sexual assault being the most prevalent offense for each group. Their criminal backgrounds are
also similar, with the majority of both certified juveniles and determinate sentenced juveniles having either
one or no prior referrals to juvenile court. Even in cases where there were three or four prior referrals, very
few of those prior referrals were for violent offenses.
In terms of their sentence length, these groups are also similar. Most juveniles who are certified as
adults receive sentences of less than 10 years, which is also the case for juveniles who receive determinate sentences.
The one significant distinction between certified juveniles and determinate sentence juveniles is their county of conviction. Counties vary widely in terms of the extent to which they certify juveniles, and Harris
County stands out demonstrably in this regard. Of course, Harris County has the largest number of juvenile
offenders in the state, so we would expect it to have the largest certified population as well. But the enormous discrepancy in the size of the certified population between Harris County and all other counties is
disproportionate to the difference in county size.84 A number of other counties also certify a disproportionate number of youth compared to their use of the determinate sentencing option. In contrast, certain large
counties—Travis and El Paso, in particular—certify almost no juveniles, while other counties appear to
depend more heavily on determinate sentencing. This data suggests that the decision to certify a juvenile as
an adult turns far more heavily on the county involved than on the youth’s offense or background.
The fact that the two populations of certified juveniles and determinate sentence juveniles are so similar
leads to the conclusion that they need similar treatment and responses to their criminal behavior. Both
groups would benefit from the rehabilitative services provided to youth in the juvenile justice system, and
there is little justification for confining the two groups under significantly different conditions.

84.	

Notably, the disproportionate use of certification in Harris County has been a long-term issue. Back in 1999, the
Criminal Justice Policy Council reported its finding that Harris County accounted for more than 52% of certifications in the top 12 counties. Criminal Justice Policy Council, An Overview of Juvenile Certification in Texas,
1999, p. 16.

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
B. Certified juveniles do not represent “the worst of the worst.”
A prevailing assumption exists among practitioners and policy-makers that those juveniles who are certified
to stand trial as adults represent the “worst of the worst” among juvenile offenders. The data show that this
assumption is false. This group is neither more violent nor more persistent in their criminal behavior than
the determinate sentence juveniles, as discussed above.
Moreover, while the large majority of certified juveniles have indeed committed violent offenses, only 17%
have committed homicide. And about 15% of juveniles transferred to adult court are charged with nonviolent offenses, including state jail felonies.
The vast majority of certified juveniles do not have a prior violent criminal history, and many do not have
any prior referrals to juvenile court at all. For more than one-quarter of the certified population, the instant
offense was the first time they were ever in trouble with the justice system. Thus, it is a fallacy to assume that
certified youth are repeat, chronic offenders. Strikingly, 89% of certified juveniles had never before even
been in TYC, suggesting that few of them have a serious history of delinquency of any kind. This is especially
significant considering that the time period covered by the data includes years when juveniles could be sent
to TYC for misdemeanor conduct.
Another indicator that certified cases are not limited to the worst situations is that there are so many more
certified juveniles than determinate sentence youth with placements in TYC. Despite the opportunity that
the determinate sentencing statute presents to offer serious juvenile offenders an appropriate blend of accountability, toughness, and rehabilitation, that statute is under-utilized in certain counties when compared
to the law permitting transfer of juveniles to adult court.
Also worth noting is that by the terms of the law, the certification option is not limited to “worst-case scenarios.” Any felony offense in the Penal Code, including a state jail offense, renders a juvenile eligible to be
tried as an adult. There are many non-violent offenses that are considered felonies. In contrast, only about 30
felonies qualify a juvenile for determinate sentencing, and these include only the most serious and violent
felonies. Thus, the determinate sentencing option—not the certification option—has come to look like it is
designed for the most serious juvenile offenders.

C. TYC has not been given a prior opportunity to treat those
juveniles who are certified as adults.
Juveniles who are certified to be tried as adults are often considered unredeemable and as beyond the help of the
juvenile justice system. But that assumption is belied by the fact that 9 out of 10 certified youth have had no prior
commitments to TYC. The vast majority of certified juveniles have never had the opportunity to benefit from the
rehabilitative programs that the juvenile system has to offer before entering the adult system. The justice system
prematurely concluded that “nothing works” with these juveniles, when the reality in many cases is that “nothing
has been tried.” Certified youth miss out on the specialized programmatic opportunities in TYC, especially the
highly successful Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program discussed below.

D. The programming in TYC, especially the Capital and Serious
Violent Offenders Program, is far more successful in meeting
the specialized needs of juveniles than the Youthful Offender
Program in TDCJ.
The programming available to juveniles at TYC is specially designed to offer therapy and interventions that
are proven to reduce the likelihood of offenders committing additional violent crimes. The Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program (C&SVOP) in particular is nationally renowned as a model program for
rehabilitating juveniles who have committed some of the worst possible offenses. C&VSOP, based at the

32

Discussion
Giddings State School, has a three-year success rate of 95% in ensuring that its graduates are not re-arrested
for violent offenses (in contrast, those juveniles without this specialized treatment have a success rate of only
76%). The Sexual Behavior Treatment Program has also demonstrated significant success in working with
its target population, reducing the risk of re-arrest by up to 80%.
In addition to offering specialized rehabilitative programming, TYC offers all youth educational opportunities, including special education programs for youth with demonstrated needs.
Beyond the rehabilitative programming it provides, TYC is obviously designed to meet other unique needs
of juveniles, including adolescent dietary needs, recreational programming to ensure appropriate muscle
development, programming to promote social development, and family visitation. Moreover, the staffing
ratios at TYC and the specialized training received by staff are age-appropriate for this population and contribute to youth safety.
In comparison to the program designed to work with juveniles at TYC, TDCJ is ill-equipped to meet the
specialized needs of the population of juveniles certified as adults. While TDCJ has done an admirable job
of seeking to develop a housing option to keep these juveniles as safe as possible, the fact remains that these
are adult prisons focused much more on the agency’s security mission than on rehabilitation. Any services
provided to these youths are considered an add-on to the primary program objective of providing housing
that separates youth from adults.
Also, staffing ratios in TDCJ are significantly higher than in juvenile facilities, and correctional staff assigned to
work with this population receive only limited specialized training (36 hours to meet basic ACA requirements).85
Juveniles who are housed in TDCJ’s Youthful Offender Program receive minimal specialized programming,
especially compared to those in TYC. Also, the majority of these youth are not in school. Due to a lack of
resources and the minimal time frame in which most offenders are able to participate in programming, the
YOPs are unable to provide the necessary rehabilitative programming that young offenders need to successfully foster positive reform in their lives prior to their release and return back into their communities.
Moreover, those juveniles who are in TDCJ but who are not in the YOPs, including those who are in state
jails, administrative segregation, transfer facilities, or medical or mental health facilities, do not have access
even to this minimal programming.
The data presented in this report show that the majority of certified juveniles are serving sentences of 10
years or less, meaning that most of them will be back in our communities while they are still young, but they
will not have received the services they need to be successful and productive citizens. This lack of rehabilitative programming thus has a significant public safety risk.
National research shows that juveniles housed in adult prisons and jails rather than in juvenile facilities face significantly higher risks of suicide, sexual assault, and physical assault.86 Moreover, they present a much higher risk of
recidivism than their counterparts housed in juvenile facilities.87 One nationally-reported study found that transferred juveniles who served at least a year in prison had a 100% greater risk of violent recidivism.88

85.	

Geralyn Engman, March 7, 2011.

86.	

See Deitch, From Time Out to Hard Time, pp. 55-56. See also, Richard Redding, “Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency?,” OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Justice Programs, US Department
of Justice, June 2010, p. 7.

87.	

CDC, “Effects on Violence,” pp. S7-S21.

88.	

CDC, “Effects on Violence,” p. S13 (citing Jeffrey Fagan, “The comparative impacts of juvenile and criminal court
sanctions on adolescent felony offenders,” 18 Law and Policy 77- 119 (1996)).

33

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
This report has shown how similar the populations are in Texas of juveniles tried as adults and housed in
prison and those given determinate sentences and confined in juvenile facilities. Knowing this, it should give
us pause to consider the vast differences in the services and programs they receive—and their chances of
successful rehabilitation—once they are sent to their respective institutions.

34

V. Recommendations
Our findings have very clear policy implications, and this section details some of the most critical recommendations for policy-makers and practitioners seeking to address the issues highlighted in this report.

1. Limit eligibility for certification of a juvenile as an adult to
the most serious, violent offenses.
In order to rightfully restore certification’s place as a strategy for dealing with the most serious, violent juvenile offenders, the range of offenses eligible for transfer to the adult system should be narrowed significantly.
Currently, any felony offense can render a juvenile eligible for transfer to the adult criminal justice system,
including state jail felonies and other non-violent crimes. Such offenses are readily handled in the juvenile
justice system, and should not subject a youth to the adult system. Moreover, the operational difficulties and
special costs of dealing with these youth in adult prisons and jails are significant enough that more minor
offenses should be kept out of the adult system.
At the very least, it makes sense to match the offenses qualifying for determinate sentencing, already assessed to be the 30 most serious criminal offenses in the Texas Penal Code. Even better would be to limit
certification to those crimes that are considered “3g” offenses, the most serious offenses of all under Texas
law, such as capital murder, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, and felonies involving a deadly weapon.89
Similarly, the “once an adult, always an adult” provision in the law should be changed so that only felony
offenses at the most serious and violent level should qualify a youth for transfer to adult court, regardless of
whether he or she has been previously certified as an adult.
2. No juvenile should be eligible for transfer to adult court

unless that juvenile has previously been committed to TYC.
When a juvenile is transferred to the adult criminal justice system, it suggests that there is nothing left for
the juvenile justice system to try with that youth. The transfer is in large part a statement that the juvenile
is beyond the possibility of rehabilitation. But as discussed earlier, 89% of those youths who are certified as
adults have no prior commitment to TYC. These juveniles have not had the opportunity to take advantage
of programs such as the Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program and the Sexual Behavior Treatment
Program, both of which have impressive outcomes for participants.
Determinate sentencing affords the court the opportunity to protect public safety while ensuring that these
juveniles have the opportunity to participate in rehabilitative programming. Since determinate sentencing
remains an option for the most serious juvenile offenders, those juveniles who have not previously been in
TYC should not be candidates for transfer to the adult criminal justice system. Those youth who receive a
determinate sentence and are unsuccessful in TYC’s programming can still be transferred to adult prison at
the age of 19 (or earlier, if necessary).

89.	

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 42.12, §3g.

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
3. Require all certified juveniles convicted in adult court to be

confined in TYC until age 19, when they could be transferred to
TDCJ.
Those juveniles who are transferred to adult court for prosecution and sentencing should not be confined
in an adult prison that is ill-suited to meet their needs upon conviction. During the years while they are still
teenagers, they should be confined in TYC facilities, which are far better equipped to deal with youth. TYC
facilities can offer these youth intensive therapeutic programming, educational programs, a rehabilitative
culture, staff with appropriate training, facilities designed for a younger population, an appropriate diet, and
programs that involve family members. At the same time, confinement in a TYC facility provides public
safety and accountability, even for the most serious offenders. What’s more, those juveniles who participate
in TYC programs such as the Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program stand a much better chance of
being rehabilitated than if they are sent to TDCJ. Since the majority of these juveniles are serving sentences
of less than 10 years, every effort should be made to reduce the risk of recidivism for these youth. The best
way to accomplish this is to confine certified juveniles in TYC rather than in TDCJ.
Both federal law and state law recognize the risks of housing juveniles with adult offenders in correctional facilities and prohibit such commingling. While there is a loophole in federal law that allows certified juveniles
to be held in adult prisons, more recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention clarifies that such certified juveniles may also be held in juvenile facilities without violating federal law.90 All the rationales for separating children and adults are equally applicable
when dealing with those juveniles who have been transferred to adult court—they continue to have special
needs regardless of whether they are prosecuted in the juvenile or adult system.91 Recognizing that juvenile offenders have distinct physical, emotional, social, and safety needs from adult prisoners—regardless
of whether the justice system has deemed them to be adults for prosecution purposes—all of the leading
professional associations in the field, including the American Bar Association, the American Correctional
Association, and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, have adopted guidelines recommending that youthful offenders be housed in different settings than adult prisoners.92
There is plenty of national precedent for confining certified youth in juvenile facilities where they can receive specialized treatment, rather than in adult prisons. A review of state practices conducted in 2010 found
that of the 35 states for which information was available, 16 states hold certified youth in juvenile facilities
until at least age 18. Six of those states hold them until the age of 21 or older.93
As this report has shown, there are few meaningful distinctions between the certified population and the
determinate sentence population in Texas. Thus, these two groups of juveniles should be able to be housed
safely on the same campuses and to participate effectively in the same programs while at TYC, as happens in

90.	

Robert J. Flores, Memorandum from U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention: Compliance with Section 223(a)(12) of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Act of 2002, August 18, 2008.

91.	

Deitch, From Time Out to Hard Time, p. 85.

92.	

Task Force on Youth in the Criminal Justice System, Youth in the Criminal Justice System: Guidelines for Policymakers and Practitioners (Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, 2001); American
Correctional Association, “Position Statement: Public Correctional Policy on Youthful Offenders Transferred
to Adult Criminal Jurisdiction,” Delegate Assembly, Congress of Correction, New Orleans, Louisiana, January
14, 2004; National Commission on Correctional Health Care, “Health Services to Adolescents in Adult Correctional Facilities,” Adopted by the NCCHC Board of Directors, May 17, 1998.

93.	

Lindsey Stuart, “Alternatives to Housing Youthful Offenders in Adult Prisons and Jails,” p. 11, May 2010 (unpublished paper on file with the author). The 16 states and the ages until which certified youth can be held in juvenile
facilities include: California (18), Connecticut (21), Florida (18), Illinois (18), Kansas (23), Kentucky (18),
Maine (18), Missouri (21), Montana (18), Mississippi (22), Nebraska (22), North Dakota (18), Oregon (18),
South Carolina (18), Washington (21), and West Virginia (18).

36

Recommendations
other states.94 There is no need to develop specialized services and programs for these certified youth. Just as
is done with the determinate sentence population, if a certified youth consistently refuses to participate in
programming or continues to engage in institutional misbehavior, provisions can be made for early transfer
to TDCJ to complete the remainder of the sentence imposed by the criminal court.
As a way to ensure that TYC has the leverage to work with these youth effectively, it would be wise to provide these
certified juveniles with some hope that they can be released if they demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated.
The criminal judges who sentenced these youth should provide a “second look” at them once they reach age 19
to determine if it is still necessary for them to be transferred to the adult prison system to complete service of
their sentence. This opportunity for a review of a juvenile’s progress at age 19 would save money by ensuring that
rehabilitated juveniles are not unnecessarily transferred to adult prison for potentially long periods, would protect
public safety by ensuring that the juveniles have incentive to turn their lives around, and would create a safer environment at TYC. The proposed review process can mirror the transfer hearing provided to determinate sentence
juveniles at age 19, only it would be held in the adult criminal court.
4.Juveniles certified as adults and awaiting proceedings in adult

criminal court should be confined in local juvenile detention
facilities rather than in adult jails.

For all the reasons discussed above, and because the research shows the extreme safety risks and mental health
challenges faced by youth in adult jails, juveniles certified to stand trial as adults should not be confined in adult
jails. As the Houston Press article from 2009 so clearly demonstrated, such youth are often held in isolation, resulting in deteriorating mental health, depression, and suicidal tendencies.95 The fact is that county jails are illequipped to hold youthful offenders. Moreover, most of these youth are unable to bond out of jail due to the fact
that they rarely have means of financial support; thus, they spend long periods of time in these isolated conditions,
where they have minimal access to educational opportunities or programs. It is also important to remember that
these juveniles are still presumed innocent while living in these harsh conditions. Indeed, the data suggests that a
substantial number will eventually be found not guilty or will have their cases dismissed. That makes their confinement under harsh conditions in adult jails even more disturbing.
The far more sensible strategy is to confine these youth in county-run juvenile detention facilities. These
facilities are already equipped for dealing with a youthful population, and they are already familiar with
handling juveniles charged with serious and violent offenses. Juveniles held in these facilities can continue
to stay enrolled in school, and can participate in whatever programs are offered. Staff are trained to respond
to their special needs, and staffing ratios are far more appropriate for this vulnerable a population.
A significant number of states have policies mandating, or at least allowing, the placement of certified youth in
juvenile detention facilities while they await trial. For example, Kentucky requires that a youthful offender under
age 18 must be detained in a juvenile facility unless able to make bail or meet the conditions for release.96 And Virginia and California both have presumptions in place that a minor offender will be confined in a juvenile detention
facility rather than a jail; only if the judge makes a finding of very specific and limited circumstances can the judge

94.	

A juvenile correctional administrator in Kentucky, which does not distinguish in any way between the population of
certified youth and the general population of the juvenile facilities, stated that “if you visited a facility, you would not be
able to tell the youthful offenders from the public offenders [general population of juvenile offenders].” She reported
that the youthful offenders do not pose any additional burden to the juvenile facility staff, nor are they any more involved in disciplinary actions than other youth.” Stuart, p. 14 (citing Karen King Jones, Classification Branch Manager,
Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, e-mail message to Lindsey Stuart, April 8, 2010).

95.	

Vogel, “For Their Own Good,” Houston Press.

96.	

Ky. Rev. Stat. §640.020.

37

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
direct that the youth be held in an adult jail pre-trial.97 Pennsylvania also passed a law in 2010 that allows juveniles
charged with adult offenses to be housed in juvenile facilities rather than jails.98
Since confining these juveniles in juvenile detention facilities for potentially lengthy periods of time will
presumably have cost implications for the juvenile probation departments that operate these facilities, some
provision should be made for the adult jail to compensate the juvenile probation departments for holding
these youth. Cases involving certified youth should also be prioritized for speedy trials in adult criminal
court to avoid any potentially lengthy and costly stays in detention.
5.TDCJ should adopt policies mandating streamlined transfer

of certified youth to the Youthful Offender Program upon
conviction.

Certified juveniles awaiting transfer to TDCJ upon conviction in criminal court should be transported directly from the jail or local juvenile facility where they are being housed to a TDCJ intake facility and then
to TDCJ’s Youthful Offender Program. Certified juveniles should never be sent to transfer facilities where
they would be housed with adult offenders. Currently, it takes an average of 17 days to place these youth in
the YOP unit with its separate housing areas.
There is a streamlined process in place to ensure that youth under age 18 coming directly from TYC are
placed on the YOP unit within 4 working days of arrival in TDCJ’s custody. A similar process should be
developed for these certified youth. TDCJ’s own Internal Audit Division similarly recommended a strict
timeframe and improved processes for assigning certified juveniles received from county jails to the YOP.98

6. Allow juvenile court judges to order 19-year-olds to
complete programming in TYC.
Some juveniles who are sent to TYC on determinate sentences cannot complete a course of programming or treatment in the time before they turn 19, the maximum age of TYC jurisdiction. Thus, they
are likely to be transferred to adult prison at age 19. Yet if the juvenile were to complete this programming, he may be a good candidate for release from TYC, rather than for transfer to TDCJ. At a transfer
hearing, a juvenile court judge should be allowed to order that juvenile to remain in TYC to complete
therapeutic programming. However, judges should only employ this option in the case of a youth
whom the judge believes will be paroled rather than transferred to adult prison following completion of the programming. This would add to the judge’s toolkit for dealing with determinate sentence
youth, would promote public safety by ensuring that these juveniles complete rehabilitative programming, and would help avoid unnecessary transfers to TDCJ.

7. Improve data collection for juveniles who are certified as
adults.
While the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission is an excellent source of data on juveniles who are certified
to be tried as adults, there is no agency that collects data on these youth once they are in the adult system.
Statistics on sentencing outcomes for these juveniles are not maintained in any way that distinguishes them
from adult offenders. There is also little communication between the adult and juvenile court systems at
the county level, so local juvenile system stakeholders do not know what happens in adult court once the
juvenile court waives jurisdiction over a particular youth. Thus, it is extraordinarily difficult for researchers,
97.	

Va. Code Ann. §16.1-249(D) (2010); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code §207.1(b) (2010). Virginia’s Legislature passed
this law unanimously in 2010.

98.	

Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6327(c.1) (2010).

38

Recommendations
practitioners, and policy-makers to gather aggregate information about what happens to these youth after
they are transferred. We do not have current information on the number who receive community supervision, who are acquitted, whose cases are dismissed, or who are sent to prison, for example. Nor is precise
data available about sentence lengths in these cases.
Adult courts collect extensive data for submission to the Office of Court Administration (OCA). We recommend that the OCA require adult criminal courts to also report on disposition outcomes for cases involving certified juveniles. In this way, the OCA can become a repository for this data and can provide a fuller
picture of what happens to juveniles who are transferred to adult criminal court. Such information would be
helpful not only for policy-makers but for the juvenile judges and prosecutors who certify these youth.

39

Bibliography
Articles, Books, Papers, Policies, and Reports
American Correctional Association. “Public Correctional Policy on Youthful Offenders Transferred to
Adult Criminal Jurisdiction.” Delegate Assembly, Congress of Correction, New Orleans, Louisiana.
January 14, 2004. http://www.aca.org/government/policyresolution/view.asp?ID=51 (last visited
March 12, 2011).
Bilchik, Shay. “Challenging the Myths.” 1999 National Report Series, Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, February
2000.
Bishop, Donna M. “Juvenile Offenders in the Adult Criminal Justice System.” Crime and Justice, vol. 27, 81167. 2000.
Campaign for Youth Justice. Jailing Juveniles: The Dangers of Incarcerating Youth in Adult Jails in America.
Washington, D.C.: November 2007.
Campaign for Youth Justice. State Trends: Legislative Victories From 2005 to 2010 Removing Youth from the
Adult Criminal Justice System. Washington, D.C.: March 2011.
Centers for Disease Control Task Force on Community Preventive Services. “Recommendation Against
Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Juveniles from Juvenile to Adult Justice Systems for the Purpose of
Reducing Violence.” 32 (4S) American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2007, S5. http://www.thecommunityguide.org/violence/taskforcearticle3.pdf.
Criminal Justice Policy Council. An Overview of Juvenile Certification in Texas. Austin: 1999.
Dawson, Robert. Texas Juvenile Law. 7th Edition. Austin: Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, August
2008.
Deitch, Michele, et.al. From Time Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System.
Special Project Report. Austin: The University of Texas at Austin, LBJ School of Public Affairs,
2009. http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/archive/news/images/file/From%20Time%20Out%20to%20
Hard%20Time-revised%20final.pdf
Fagan, Jeffrey. “The comparative impacts of juvenile and criminal court sanctions on adolescent felony offenders.” 18 Law and Policy 77-119 (1996).
Fagan, Jeffrey, Martin Forst, and T. Scott Vivona. “Youth in Prisons and Training Schools: Perceptions and
Consequences of Treatment-Custody Dichotomy.” Juvenile and Family Court 2:10 (1989).
Hubner, John. Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth. New York: Random House, 2005.
McGowan, Angela, et. al. Centers for Disease Control Task Force on Community Preventive Services. “Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Juveniles from the Juvenile Justice
System to the Adult Justice System: A Report on Recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services.” 32 (4S) American Journal of Preventive Medicine, April 2007, S7 – S28. http://
www.thecommunityguide.org/violence/mcgowanarticle4.pdf.
National Commission on Correctional Health Care. “Position Statement: Health Services to Adolescents
in Adult Correctional Facilities.” Adopted by the NCCHC Board of Directors, May 17, 1998. http://
www.ncchc.org/resources/statements/adolescents.html (last visited March 12, 2011).
National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. Report. June 2009. http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/226680.
pdf
RED Group. Youthful Offender Program. Austin: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 2007.

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Redding, Richard. “Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective Deterrent to Delinquency?” OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, June 2010.
Schiraldi, Vincent and Jason Zeidenberg. “The Risks Juveniles Face When They Are Incarcerated With
Adults.” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. June 1997.
Schuster, Terry. “Managing the Special Needs of TDCJ’s Youthful Offenders,” May 27, 2008 (unpublished
paper on file with the author).
Spriggs, Vicki. “Texas Juvenile Probation Commission: Report to the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Corrections.” Austin: September 29, 2010.
Stuart, Lindsey. “Alternatives to Housing Youthful Offenders in Adult Prisons and Jails.” May 2010 (unpublished paper on file with the author).
Task Force on Youth in the Criminal Justice System. Youth in the Criminal Justice System: Guidelines for Policymakers and Practitioners. Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section,
2001.
TDCJ Internal Audit Division. A Report on Rehabilitation Programs Division’s COURAGE Program for Youthful Offenders. Audit 0921. Austin: October 26, 2009.
Texas Youth Commission. 2009 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness. Austin, December 31,
2010. http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/about/Annual_Treatment_Effectiveness_Review2009.pdf (last
visited January 29, 2011).
Texas Youth Commission. 2010 Annual Review of Agency Treatment Effectiveness. Austin, December 31,
2010. http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/about/Annual_Treatment_Effectiveness_Review2010.pdf (last
visited January 29, 2011).
Vogel, Chris. “For Their Own Good.” Houston Press, May 28, 2009.  http://www.houstonpress.com/content/printVersion/1274177.

Data
Data provided by Texas Juvenile Probation Commission to author, various dates, 2010-11.
Data provided by Texas Youth Commission to author, various dates, 2010-11.
Data provided by TDCJ Executive Services to Terry Schuster, April 7, 2008.
Data provided by TDCJ Executive Services to author, December 29, 2010.
Texas State Data Center and Office of the State Demographer. Population Projections for 2009.

E-mail Communications, Interviews, and On-Site Observations
Herum Edwards, Director of the Youthful Offender Program, Clemens Unit, Texas Department of Criminal
Justice. Telephone interview conducted by Terry Schuster. April 1, 2008.
Geralyn Engman, Clinical Manager, TDCJ Rehabilitation Divisions Program. E-mail message to Emily
Ling, December 12, 2010.
Geralyn Engman, Clinical Manager, TDCJ Rehabilitation Divisions Program. E-mail message to Michele
Deitch, March 7, 2010.

42

Bibliography
Karen King Jones, Classification Branch Manager of the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice. E-mail
message to Lindsey Stuart, April 8, 2010.
Visit to the Giddings State School, Texas Youth Commission. November 5, 2010.
Visit to the Hilltop Unit Youthful Offender Program, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. October 11,
2010.

Legal Case
Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005).

Legislative Sources
Federal
Flores, Robert J. Memorandum from U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention: Compliance with Section 223(a)(12) of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2002. August 18, 2008.
State
Acts 1973, 63rd Tex. Leg., Ch. 544, Sec. 1.
Acts 1995, 74th Tex. Leg., Ch. 262, Sec. 34.
California Welfare and Institutions Code, Chapter 2: Juvenile Court Law. §207.1(b).
Kentucky Revised Statutes, Chapter 640: Youthful Offenders. §640.020 (Detention of youthful offender if
unable to meet conditions of release or bail).
Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 42: Judiciary and Judicial Procedure), § 6327(c.1) (Detention of
Child).
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 42: Judgment and Sentence. Art. 42.12, §3g (Limitation on
Judge Ordered Community Supervision).
Texas Family Code, Title 3: Juvenile Justice Code.
	

Chapter 51: General Provisions

		

§51.02(2) (Definitions)

		

§51.12(a) (Place and Conditions of Detention)

		

§51.0412 ( Jurisdiction Over Incomplete Proceedings)

	

Chapter 53: Proceedings Prior to Judicial Proceedings

		
	

§53.045 (Violent or Habitual Offenders)

Chapter 54: Judicial Proceedings

		

§54.02 (Waiver of Jurisdiction and Discretionary Transfer to Criminal Court)

		

§54.11 (Release or Transfer Hearing)

43

Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas
Texas Government Code, Chapter 508: Parole and Mandatory Supervision. § 508.145(b) (Eligibility for
Release on Parole; Computation of Parole Eligibility Date).
Texas Human Resources Code §61.079 (Referral of Violent and Habitual Offenders for Transfer).
Texas Penal Code, Subchapter C: Ordinary Felony Punishments. §12.31 (Capital Felony).
Virginia Code Annotated. §16.1-249(D) (Places of confinement for juveniles).

Websites
“CoNEXTions© Program Brochure.” Texas Youth Commission. Accessed January 29, 2011. http://www.
tyc.state.tx.us/programs/conextions_bro/index.html.
“Giddings State School Specialized Treatment Programs.” Texas Youth Commission. Accessed January 29,
2011. http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/programs/giddings/treatment.html.
“Specialized Correctional Treatment.” Texas Youth Commission. Accessed January 29, 2011. http://www.
tyc.state.tx.us/programs/special_treat.html.
“TYC Education Plan,” May 2009. Texas Youth Commission. Accessed January 29, 2011. http://www.tyc.
state.tx.us/programs/educ_action_plan.pdf
“TYC Educational Program.” Texas Youth Commission. Accessed January 29, 2011. http://www.tyc.state.
tx.us/programs/educ_intro.html.
“TYC Workforce Development.” Texas Youth Commission. Accessed January 29, 2011. http://www.tyc.
state.tx.us/programs/workforce/index.html.
“The Texas Juvenile Justice System.” Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. Accessed March 12, 2011.
http://www.tjpc.state.tx.us/aboutus/juvjusticeoverview.aspx.

44

 

 

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