You are here

County Officials must Rethink Juvenile Justice Policies

We recently posted that Harris County is searching for juvenile detention beds as a result of a restructuring of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). The County has authorized funding for leasing prison capacity from private lockups, and is considering buying a new prison over an hour away. This story once again emphasizes that local policies implemented by the District Attorney's office and law enforcement agencies are driving up incarceration numbers. As a result, county officials must rethink these policies and identify innovative solutions that don’t rely on adding new beds to the system.

I recently toured Harris County's Juvenile Detention Center in downtown Houston. The facility was at full capacity and was basically a prison for kids. County juvenile detention facilities are residential facilities that hold youths awaiting court decisions. The lockup held kids as young as 10 years old. That Harris County is considering obtaining additional capacity in a county more than an hour a way is seriously troubling.

As I walked the halls of the juvenile lockup, staff requested that I and the others on the tour volunteer to mentor kids in the lockup and show them the attention and care that many young people need and crave. As county officials consider placing these children in lockups away from their home communities they must also consider the impact on their behavior, their ability to undergo treatment, and their families.

In fact, during my tour, one of the young girls had been sentenced to a TYC facility a few hours away because of her behavior. According to guards this fourteen-year-old who had been previously placed in other residential facilities was acting out because her mother had not been able to visit her regularly during her detention stay. The guards emphasized that her original offense was not serious or violent, although they did not go into detail. She was sentenced to a TYC prison facility for a 9-month stay.

Residential facilities designed to incarcerate young prisoners in the juvenile system are either pre-dispositional or post-dispositional. Following adjudication, courts can set penalties such as probation, confinement, or community service for those found delinquent. Additionally, post-dispositional facilities accept youths placed with them by court order. These institutions vary in the degree of security, the length of stay, and the focus of programs they provide.

State law requires each county to have a juvenile board which consists of district and county judges and is responsible for overseeing the operations of the juvenile justice system in that county. The Harris County Juvenile Board sets policy for the county’s juvenile justice system and designates juvenile judges, appoints the chief juvenile probation officer, and manages the department’s budget.

According to Harris County officials, juvenile prisoners are serving shorter sentences. In 2004, the average stay was 58 days; this year length of stay decreased to 38 days.

Yet since the board continues to search for new beds, a lot of work could still be done to contain capacity and eliminate the need of Harris County to obtain new beds.

The board could work with law enforcement agencies and the district attorney’s office to rethink the way it deals with chronic misdemeanants who are being held for truancy and other nonviolent crimes. Rather than relying on incarceration, identifying ways to strengthen low-income communities in order to effectively structure the time of at-risk youth would reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Blogging Categories: 

Comments

Either people have no idea or those who find themselves involved with the juvenile “justice” system, and the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center more specifically, don’t understand their children do have some rights and there is recourse when they are violated. My 10 year old boy had to experience these abuses first hand and he hadn’t even been investigated, charged ,or convicted of a crime. He was kept at the LCJJC for 10 days before we could get a hearing to get him out. During his time there my little boy was given a shot without our consent or notification. He was deprived of his “promised” 10 minute phone call allowed each Wednesday. Despite their claim ( on their website and handout) to be a safe and secure environment my son was hazed and tormented multiple times by the probation officers and guards. The first night one guard took him out in front of all the older offenders and with a pair of electric clippers said he would be cutting our son's hair. When he began to cry the guard said “I always love hazing the new kids they always fall for it.” All the other kids laughed. The next day while my son was playing checkers the same guard told my boy to go to his pod and get on his knees with his hands against the wall for a drug/cavity search. Of course he did because he’s only 10 and believed he really was being checked. The guard came in , acted like he was patting my son down and then began laughing again. He told him that if he mentioned this to me, my husband, or his attorney that another 2 months would be added to his “sentence”. Luckily he chose to tell me regardless. On 2 separate occasions, after not “clasping his hands properly behind his back” he was confined to his pod alone with his electricity and water shut off and the door locked. One time he was left there for 2 hours, the other time 3 hours plus his bed was stripped and all personal items removed but his mattress. Apparently the employees don’t care that besides being a scared little child they were also violating the Texas Administrative Code (TAC 343.7 d) that specifically states a child may not be confined longer than 1 hour. They also failed to give us the legally required handout titled, “Texas Juvenile Probation Commission on abuse, neglect and exploitation of children and its grievance policy.” Despite multiple complaints to Director Les Brown he did not do anything, but he did make the following comment to me, “OK, I’ll investigate this but you won’t like my findings.” This is hardly the level of objectivity that should be demanded from someone entrusted with the responsibility of investigating allegations of abuse by his staff. When I continued to prod him about the abuses suffered by my son he had me banned from the facility permanently. I would hope that LCJJC wouldn’t condone such behaviors and abuses but the sheer number of humiliations and hazing against just my child makes me suspicious. I believe that this was not an isolated case, we just happen to be well educated and able to afford proper representation for our boy. Most kids (and by extension most parents) are ignorant of what remedies are available to them. Parents who complain are ignored since they obviously “cant fight city hall” and their kids suffer hazing by those in authority because what choice is there? Many are housed there for extremely long periods because their court appointed attorneys are too busy, uninterested or under funded. If they cause any disturbance or trouble they lose any remote activity that causes them pleasure. And you can forget about due process or innocent until proven guilty in juvenile justice. Those rights only apply to adults. The whole process is more frightening than a Steven King novel. My hope is someone with conviction and tenacity will help us expose this travesty. Apathy will only ensure other kids will continue to be mistreated and ignored. I contacted both my State Representative and State Senator who both seemed appalled.I hope you are too.I also wrote our Governor who wrote back stating he felt our son was violated and was going to have his case sent to The Department of Justice. We never heard from either again. I think we should be protecting our kids not locking them up like animals. We can do better. Thank you, Dionne Don't think you can fight city hall? Let me help you try!

Dear Dionne --

Thank you for your powerful comment. We at Texas Prison Bid'ness are indeed appalled about your son's experience at the facility.

I don't think your comment mentions a complaint filed wih the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. If not, please consider it. TJPC says to file a complaint you can call a toll-free number for reporting allegations or incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation of juveniles. The number, (877) 786-7263, is to be used only when the reporting party will be unable to complete the TJPC Incident Report Form within 24 hours of gaining knowledge of the allegation or incident. If a report is made using the toll-free number, a TJPC Incident Report Form shall be submitted within 24 hours of the call. Or you may e-mail the Commission at abuseneglect@tjpc.state.tx.us.

If that doesn't work, how about contacting the local newspaper in your area to shine attention on this allegation? Sometimes media scrutiny in these incidents can create a lot of momentum.

Keep us posted and good luck with your cause!

Best,

Nicole

 

I really enjoyed this!! What a good read. Jill xx

Good luck with your causes, I think that we just need to tighten things up more and more, stricter and more right wing although its not everyones opinion