Saturday, November 10, 2007

Youngest inmates tend to serve longer terms in juvenile prisons

I question if communities really are giving up on these youths, or if those communities are left with little, if any, support or means to devise solutions. Sometimes the solution at the local level is to increase policing in these communities, creating yet another layer of problems often left unaddressed. I'm sure those who are members of these communities are familiar with this. -Patricia

The Associated Press | The Houston Chronicle
Nov. 1, 2007

MART, Texas — Juvenile felons sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission at ages 10 to 13 tend to serve longer terms than their older counterparts, according to a newspaper review of agency records.

For the past three years, offenders who start their sentences at ages 10 to 13 have served an average of 34 months. That's 15 months longer than the average term for inmates sentenced at ages 14 to 17, according to the review by the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle.

Inmates arriving at ages 16 and 17 served terms averaging no more than 18 months. Those who started at age 10, the youngest possible, served an average of five years, according to the records. Some of the older offenders were released because they turned 21, the former mandatory age of release.

Critics blame the longer terms on the difficulty for younger children of completing the system's resocialization program required for release.

"It's so difficult for the smaller kids," said Will Harrell, TYC's youth advocate. "They're supposed to come up with a life story. How much of a life story can you articulate at 11 years of age? They don't have the cognitive abilities."

Commission officials said new reforms will make it easier for inmates to secure their release after serving their minimum sentence.

"The burden of proof is now on us to show why this offender should remain in custody," spokesman Tim Savoy said.

Also, the commission is changing its treatment approach in a way that will distinguish between younger and older offenders. A new program aimed at 10- to 13-year-olds is part of an agency overhaul mandated by state leaders in response to a sex abuse scandal.

The agency plans to confine the younger boys, who make up a relatively small part of the overall inmate population, in a single facility, away from the older inmates. The agency is taking bids from private contractors for "a safe residential setting" for boys ages 10 to 13.

Robert E. Morris, a pediatrics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said young offenders shouldn't be separated from their families, almost regardless of the crime.

"You do need your folks more at such a young age," said Morris, a leading national expert on adolescent offenders. "Most kids would do better to just go home and perhaps be monitored by a probation officer," with services provided to their families.

Forrest Novy, TYC's director of special education, said it would be good to place the youngest offenders in community-based programs close to home, but those communities have often given up on the offenders. And the correctional system needs to centralize services.

"The downside is they're so far from home," Novy said.

Novy said it will take months to implement the new treatment program for young offenders.

The agency will start rolling out a new resocialization program for all offenders, called CoNEXTions, in December.

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