Too Many Dallas Teens are Getting Locked Up in Adult Jails, Study Says. And That Ain't Good.

Categories: Crime

prisoner in jail.jpg
Image via Flickr
An exhaustive new study has found alarming conditions for Texas teenagers housed in adult jails while awaiting trial, a practice that Dallas and Harris counties use more than anywhere else in the state.

In essence, the study found that there's really no good way to keep teens and adults safely in the same jail: Teenagers who share showers, toilets, day-rooms or other common areas with adult inmates are at severe risk for physical and especially sexual abuse.

Yet placing them in solitary confinement, as some jails do for their protection, increases these teenagers' chances of depression, paranoia and other serious mental health issues. At many of these jails, teens are only let out of their cells for an hour a day. Researchers also found a lack of educational opportunities for those teens in adult facilities, which they say increases their chances of offending again when they're released.

"I don't think children should be in adult jail," one jail official told the researchers. "Adults jails are not equipped to handle children. Even those who have committed serious crimes, like capital murder, should be housed in juvenile facilities." Another jail official said that the idea "was wrong from its infancy."

The study, conducted by the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT Austin in collaboration with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, asked jail administrators about the provisions in place for teens who have been "certified" to appear in adult criminal court. A teenager can only be certified if they're at least 14 at the time of the alleged offense, which must be a capital felony, a first-degree felony or an aggravated controlled substance felony. Teens between 15 and 17 can also be certified for second- or third-degree or state jail felonies.

In Harris and Dallas counties, the researchers found "exponentially more juveniles than any other counties." Between 2006 and 2010, Dallas County had 156 certified teens. Harris had 359. The third-highest, Bexar, trailed with only 75. The study rejects the argument that population size accounts for the higher number of certifications: "The data indicates that the 15 counties that certify the largest numbers of youth are not the 15 largest counties in the state." Small numbers of counties certify large numbers of teens, they found, while 90 percent of counties certify less than one per year.

In almost 75 percent of the jails surveyed, teenagers are kept in their own cells near adult prisoners. But they're not "isolated by sight and sound" from adult inmates, the study found, and in many of the jails, teens and adults may mingle in other parts of the jail: showers, recreation areas, chapel and educational classes.

One effort to keep adult and juvenile prisoners separate is to simply keep the younger prisoners in their cells, and that, it appears, is what many of the jails are doing. Twenty-five jails, or 61 percent of those surveyed, allowed teens an hour or less out-of-cell time each day.

"When jail staff decide to house a juvenile in isolation, although there is a great reduction in the risk of physical or sexual assault, the risk of mental health problems increases," the researchers say. Even a few days of solitary confinement can cause "stupor or delirium," and "prolonged or permanent psychiatric disability may occur," including problems that reduce the teen's ability to reintegrate into society when released. (Our sister paper in Houston published a story in 2009 detailing the many problems with teens in solitary confinement.)

"But they're in jail!" you might say. But this study only tracks pretrial prisoners, and the researchers found that many of the certified teens were released either immediately after trial or "after relatively short periods of incarceration." The data indicates that the majority of them won't serve time in prison, instead receiving community supervision, short county jails sentences, or having their cases dismissed, no-billed, or being found innocent.

Adult county jails also can't provide teens with adequate educational opportunities; 48 percent of the jails surveyed had no formal education programs of any kind. Jails that do provide GED classes often lump in teens and adults together. So when a teen is released from jail, they're usually badly behind their peers, making it harder for them to stay in school. And that's no small detail: A study in the American Economic Review found that each one-year increase in school time decreases the likelihood that someone will commit a violent crime by 30 percent.

Finally, holding teens in adult jails can be expensive. Adult jails often need extra staff members to supervise teens or transport them. A few jails use an entire wing of their building in order to hold one teenage prisoner in isolation from adults, wasting bed space. One jail they studied had four teens in a pod built to hold 22 people. "During this time, the jail could have saved $66 per day by transferring these four youths to the juvenile detention center, which would have resulted in annual cost savings of nearly $24,090 for the jail."

Jail officials and other experts have been warning for years that holding teens in adult facilities is a bad idea. Before last year, though, certified teens in Texas were required to be held in adult county jails while awaiting trial. But a 2011 state law, S.B. 1209, now allows certified teens to be held in juvenile facilities. The study recommends that Texas counties do just that. In cases where it's not possible, they say, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards should come up with clear guidelines for how jail officials should house teenagers, since many had little or no idea what they were supposed to do.

But the ACLU of Texas says that's not enough. In a press release responding to the study, the civil rights group wrote, "The lesson here is that kids simply don't belong and can't be kept safe in adult facilities. ... Now that we have the concrete data from researchers at LBJ, it's clear that S.B. 1209 does not provide enough protection for youth confined in Texas jails. It's time for Texas to fill this gap and work to ensure that teenage offenders are kept in the juvenile justice system where they have a better chance of staying safe, returning home and becoming productive citizens."

My Voice Nation Help
33 comments
Alfredo
Alfredo

Now that we have the concrete data from researchers at LBJ, it's clear that S.B. 1209 does not provide enough protection for youth confined in Texas jails. It's time for Texas to fill this gap and work to ensure that teenage offenders are kept in the juvenile justice system where they have a better chance of staying safe, returning home and becoming productive citizens."  Sure, like the juveniles who pushed the man into the side of a DART train at the MLK station or the juveniles who beat a man to death in Rockwall, 

Dijon9054
Dijon9054

Yes, they should be kept separately from adults.  But at the same time, they chose to commit a crime, fully aware that there would be consequences for it. So they can't expect a cushy ride.

http://www.understanding-depre... 

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Elect Betty Culbreath County Commissioner District 3 and I will work with Dallas County Juvenile Board to change this.My opponent John Price sat on Juvenile board in fact he's Vice Chair and has done nothing about this issue. Trials could be held faster or kids out on some kind of surity or more needs to be done to stop crime or put grand jury system in place for Juvenile's. .

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

So today we suspend a young thug.

He struts out, holding his pants up with one hand, next to his mother.  His mother has given up any semblance of care for her own appearance.  Although she is petite, her clothes are too small and tight for her weight range, her hair is not neatly arranged, etc.  She is probably a good 10 years younger than she actually looks.  I would bet cash that she has worked hard and sacrificed much to benefit this undeserving child.

My class was outside when the mother pulled up in a big, new SUV.  I hardly took note of its arrival.

When they left, however, the Young Thug made sure that the windows were rolled down and the bass was pumping as they rolled off so he could show off to the one class of kids outside (mine).  Any audience is better than no audience, I guess.

But what amazed me was that the mother allowed this to happen.  She did not pull up with the windows down and the bass thumping.  I can only infer from the contrast that the show-off, windows down/music blaring was the kid's idea.

And that right there--whatever "that" is--is your teen crime problem.  Passive mother, teen crying out for boundaries.  You get kicked out of school, but I let you blast music as we drive off bc I just don't know better.

Luckily, we also have moms who Run The Show.  Their kids are generally well-behaved and successful.  Regardless of race, income, language, this group of moms Does Not Play.  If they are--God Forbid--called to the school, they will lay into their child (in any language, it all sounds the same), drag the kid out literally by the ear, yelling and humiliating the child the entire way, and there will NOT be music on the ride home.

The difference is so striking, so fundamental.  Jail is not going to help, but what else can be done once the child is 15+?

If I ever win the lottery, I will start a nonprofit to target mothers with young children so they can learn to become a mom who Does Not Play; a mom who Runs The Show.  I am convinced by years of observation that it is simply the type of mother who takes you home that makes all the difference.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

What does Dallas County do?

RTGolden
RTGolden

Hold them at North Park Mall.

Sinceyougiveashit
Sinceyougiveashit

Let the lil' rapists and murderers come live at your house, Anna Merlan!

ObserverFan
ObserverFan

I defer to the wise Dave Chapelle on this matter : "how old is 15 really?"

Sick of Libtards
Sick of Libtards

Maybe these po' oppressed teen youfs should stop committing so many adult crimes, you naive, bleeding-heart, "progressive" Pollyanna libtard apologist propagandist for criminal scum!!!!!

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

Alfredo,Please reread -- carefully and with attention -- Anna Merlan's comment, above. 

mattyq
mattyq

DISD Teacher...you just said a cotton-pickin' mouthful...and I agree with every word of it. Your frankness and candor is saluted!

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

With the right mothers, DISD can do anything. Without them it can do nothing.

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

I'm going to find out. It may take a little while. 

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Sigh.

"[T]his study only tracks pretrial prisoners, and the researchers found that many of the certified teens were released either immediately after trial or "after relatively short periods of incarceration." The data indicates that the majority of them won't serve time in prison, instead receiving community supervision, short county jails sentences, or having their cases dismissed, no-billed, or being found innocent." 

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

Hey, why didn't you call me last night? I had the lube, butt beads, and that Boy George album you love SO much, just waiting for ya. Next time let me know....okay.

veritasspiritus
veritasspiritus

 Why that did sound rude. My goodness. I think this means we'd never be friends, still I must confess you do evidence a certain peculiar passion for the topic.In particular "criminal scum" does not denote a faith in any notion of rehabilitation.

According to your "logic" we might as well kill them, ... kill them all.

Clay Starling
Clay Starling

 You're right. Good thing that everyone who is arrested and charged with a crime actually committed one. It would truly be a shame if  innocent youths were being abused in an adult jail.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Yeah, sorry it was long.But it was such a perfect example and it happened that same day, so I had to share it.Thanks for your nice words.

StillDontGiveAShit
StillDontGiveAShit

That is sooooo neato! Too bad I still don't give a shit about the criminal scum.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

That they "were released either immediately after trial or "after relatively short periods of incarceration" and that many cases were dismissed, no-billed, or found innocent suggests that these teens perhaps weren't the "lil' rapists and murderers" that have Sinceyou, above, quaking in his boots.But what the hell. They're teens.We all love to hate teens.  

FaithIsForFools
FaithIsForFools

You are correct, I have no "faith" in rehabilitation. Faith is for suckers like Christians and white-guilt libtards.

Diana Powe
Diana Powe

Exactly so, Clay. I spent over 30 years with Dallas PD and Richardson PD and while we always did our best to not erroneously connect someone to a crime, it does happen. Also, pre-trial, everyone, even people that persons like "Sick of Libtards" assume must be guilty because the government has accused them, are actually innocent and presumed to be so. It's very easy to "tuff on crime" which is why the United States incarcerates more people numerically and per capita than any other nation on Earth including Communist China and North Korea.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

It's interesting that those who view government with suspicion, who resent regulation and "interference" as authoritarian, who believe public servants are layabouts and ne'er-do-wells, slopping at the public trough, suddenly about-face when it comes to that government  locking up presumed crooks.How is it that a government viewed as corrupt, inefficient, potentially a violator of our various rights, is suddenly invested with wisdom when it jails a teen or a member of some minority? Could this be the same government that wants to take away our guns, tax us out of our homes, show deference to minorities?Perhaps there are two governments, one Good and one Bad. The Good one does stuff we approve of. The other is socialist and draws its orders from Washington, of Kenya, or wherever they plot these things.           

Diana Powe
Diana Powe

Because, as every good authoritarian knows, the government is incapable of error when it accuses people of a crime unless, of course, it's you who's being accused.

Shove It
Shove It

Shove your condescending prayer up your elderly white-guilt libtard ass.

Bill Marvel
Bill Marvel

Fools,I'm fairly certain there is hope for even the gravest sinner. I'll be praying for you tonight.

trannyntraining
trannyntraining

To be fair, though, the whole country of North Korea is on lockdown. I agree with everything else you said.

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...