Chief Justice Jefferson's State of the Judiciary - Juvenile Justice Issues
In his 2011 State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson emphasized action by the legislature on juvenile justice reform. The following details are provided to members of the legislature concerned with these issues. These proposals were developed in cooperation with Jeanne Meurer, Senior District Judge, Travis County, and a group of juvenile justice policy experts.
Of the various reforms proposed below, six related bills were enacted by the 82nd Texas Legislature regarding juvenile justice: Senate Bill 653 1, Senate Bill 1208 2, Senate Bill 1209 3, Senate Bill 1489 4, House Bill 359 5, and House Bill 961 6. Through collaboration and the hard work of people of good will, we continue to improve our treatment of children and youth.
On July 19th, the next chapter of this work will begin. Chief Justice Jefferson and Judge Meurer will host an event in the Supreme Court Courtroom, the presentation of a massive new report, by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The report uses data only available in Texas to track the school disciplinary treatment of almost 1 million Texas middle school children, delving deeper into the relationships between suspension, expulsion, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.
1 Abolishing the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and transferring the powers and duties of those agencies to the newly created Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
2 Permitting juvenile judges to retain probation jurisdiction over a determinate sentenced juvenile as long as the proceedings commenced before the child turned 19.
3 Requiring counties to establish a policy specifying whether a child who has been transferred for criminal prosecution, and is younger than 17 years of age, may be detained in a juvenile facility pending trial [as opposed to an adult facility].
4 Applying truancy prevention measures; minimizing referrals to juvenile, county, justice, and municipal courts; and maintaining confidentiality of related juvenile offender records.
5 Establishing guidelines—including parental consent requirements—as to the use of corporal punishment as a means of school discipline.
6 Relating to the sealing of and restricting access to juvenile records of adjudications of delinquent conduct, or conduct indicating a need for supervision, and to the confidentiality of records of certain misdemeanor convictions of a child.
Funding & Organization – support community-based probation programs
- Changing the structure of our juvenile justice system, alone, will not move us appreciably closer to the system we need. To ensure that our juvenile justice system truly reflects the needs of the public, and the youth and families it serves – and in order to wisely use the limited resources the state has to offer during these difficult economic times – the budget must also reflect the key lesson learned over the last four years: cost-effective, community-based programming for juvenile offenders works. In FY2010, this funding strategy diverted 470 juvenile felony offenders from state-run lockups to local probation programs and rehabilitative services. It is, by far, the best use of our limited State resources during these difficult economic times. Building on success in the 2012-2013 budget means:
- Taking cuts out of the budget for remote institutional facilities, rather than local juvenile probation programs;
- Reserving state-run institutional facilities for the most violent juvenile offenders and community-based probation, rehabilitation and treatment programs for the rest.
- Restoring probation funding to its GAA 2011 (81st Legislature) levels; and
- Increasing funding for the Commitment Reduction Programs that keep youthful offenders closer to home and in community-based rehabilitation programs.
School Misconduct - strike a better balance between school discipline and criminal court
- Anecdotal evidence and court case volume both suggest some overuse of criminal citations for disorderly conduct or disruption of class on school grounds. Prosecutors and judges are left with little or no information, other than the citation, when the child is adjudicated in court. To alleviate this problem, peace officers should be given an alternative to simply making full custodial arrests and filing criminal charges against school children. The legislature should specify that a peace officer may file a sworn complaint in the municipal or justice courts, which will reduce the number of juveniles entering the adult criminal system. Prosecutorial discretion will propel more thorough investigations of alleged illegality by law enforcement and more careful consideration by accusing witnesses. (SB 1116 by Whitmire, SB 1489 by Whitmire)
- Children who commit school misconduct can be charged criminally, or, instead, they can be treated as having demonstrated conduct in need of supervision. Those who happen to be treated in the first category have criminal records that can be used against them upon reaching majority. The laws and the system for criminal case file "nondisclosure" is simply not geared to accommodate the volume of juvenile cases adjudicated by municipal and justice courts and held locally. Abandon the nondisclosure construct and achieve the desired result more efficiently with the same construct used in juvenile courts: confidentiality. (HB 961 by Turner, SB 1489 by Whitmire, West)
Confinement Choices – use the most appropriate facilities for children whenever possible
- Require that children age 14-17 who are certified and sentenced as adults be confined in TYC rather than in TDCJ until age 19, consistent with the upper age limit for other youth housed there. This would enable educational classes and therapeutic programs with age-appropriate peers, and allow them to take advantage of the highly effective Capital and Serious Violent Offenders Program at TYC.
- Allow, at local option, for certified juveniles to be housed pre-trial in a juvenile detention facility, unless the adult criminal court judge orders the juvenile to be transferred to the adult jail. Under current law, these certified juveniles are required to be held in adult jail facilities, where they are typically held in isolation, for periods of up to a year or more, and have vastly higher rates of suicide, sexual assault, and physical assault than those who are housed in juvenile facilities. (SB 1209 by Whitmire)
- Tilt the choice for handling a serious offense more evenly between determinate sentencing, which is designed for youth, and certification as an adult. The offenses eligible for certification should match the 30 offenses eligible for determinate sentencing, those most serious offenses. (HB 3698 by Gallego and HB 3351 by S.Turner). Allow juvenile judges to retain probation jurisdiction over a determinate sentence youth until age 19, which matches TYC's jurisdiction and creates greater incentive for judges to keep these juveniles in the community. (SB 1208 by Whitmire)
- Allow the juvenile judge who reviews a determinate sentenced juvenile's case at age 19, prior to possible transfer to TDCJ, to order a longer stay at TYC (no older than 21) in order to complete specific programming prior to release and stay in the juvenile justice system. (HB 3350 by Turner)
Reports & Publications
- Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
- Breaking Schools Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement, Justice Center – Council of State Governments
- The Impact of Juvenile Transfer Laws on Juvenile Crime, by Jacob Cohn & Hugo M. Mialon, 2011
- Texas' School-to-Prison Pipeline, Ticketing, Arrest & Use of Force in Schools, Texas Appleseed, December 2010
- Texas' School-to-Prison Pipeline, School Expulsion, The Path from Lockout to Dropout, Texas Appleseed, April 2010
- Proposed ABA Policy on Collateral Consequences for Juvenile Offenders
- Protecting Texas' Most Precious Resource: a History of Juvenile Justice Policy in Texas. Part I: The Path to the Texas Youth Council: Creating a Protective Umbrella for Juvenile Offenders, 1887-1949, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, 2008
- Texas' School-to-Prison Pipeline, Dropout to Incarceration: The Impact of School Discipline and Zero Tolerance, Texas Appleseed, 2007
- Indigent Defense in the Texas Juvenile Justice System, A Joint Report by the Task Force on Indigent Defense and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2007
- Study of Minority Over-Representation in the Texas Juvenile Justice System, The Public Policy Research Institute, 2005
- Mental Health and Juvenile Justice in Texas, Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, 2003
- Forecasting Juvenile Correctional Populations in Texas, Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center: Program on Youth Justice, 2002
- Selling Justice Short: Juvenile Indigent Defense in Texas, Texas Appleseed, 2000
- Whitmire: Ticketing Students at School Teaches the Wrong Lesson, Austin-American Statesman, March 14, 2011
- States Prosecute Fewer Teenagers in Adult Courts, NY Times, March 5, 2011
- For Their Own Good: Harris County juveniles certified as adults are jailed in isolation 23 hours a day—without being convicted of a crime, Texas Observer, June 9, 2010
- School District Cops Ticket Thousands of Students, Texas Tribune, June 2, 2010
- Too Black for School? How race skews school discipline in Texas, Texas Observer, May 5, 2010
- Young Children in Adult Prisons, Letter to the Editor from the President of the ABA, August 1, 2009
- Experts: Juveniles dumped into adult justice system, Houston Chronicle, June 6, 2009
- More youths are tried as adults in Harris County, Houston Chronicle, October 29, 2007