Experts: Juveniles dumped into Harris Co. adult justice system | Front page | Chron.com – Houston Chronicle
As many as 900 Harris County teens, some as young as 14 and most of them minorities from broken homes and mean streets, have been certified as dangerous enough to be charged and jailed as adults over the last decade, at times facing prison sentences as long as a life.
In 2007 and 2008 alone, Harris County juvenile judges transferred 160 teens’ cases to the adult system — more than nine of the largest urban counties in Texas combined, according to a Chronicle analysis of statewide certifications by county.
The certifications are based on allegations they committed felonies, including robbery, murder, car theft and drug possession.
But such rulings are so common here — and so nearly identical — that they have prompted a legal attack from local attorneys and juvenile justice experts who call them “rubber-stamped” and “assembly line” injustices that violate children’s rights.
The result: “virtual destruction” of dozens of juveniles who are dumped and damaged in adult prisons and “could otherwise turn their lives around,” claims nonprofit Texas Appleseed, according to documents filed in the case. The nonprofit is part of a pending legal challenge of the 2008 certification of a Houston teen charged with murder.
Attorney Christene Wood, a family friend of that teen, said that during his hearing last year the juvenile judge surfed the Internet, laughed and never once made eye contact with the boy. “The certification process here is an absolute joke,” Wood said.
That boy and at least seven others — including two girls — were certified on capital murder charges last year. All faced potential automatic sentences of life without parole, the toughest punishment Texas offers short of execution.