When minor children in Texas aged 10 to 17 are charged with criminal offenses they are prosecuted in the juvenile justice system. In 2011, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) was formed to combine the rehabilitation services of two formerly separate agencies, the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission. The goal of the Texas legislature and the TJJD is to manage a unified state juvenile justice agency with effective comprehensive programs and services for offenders from the point of first contact through the termination of probation and supervision.
A TJJD board of directors is appointed by the governor to better serve and rehabilitate minor offenders with the hope that they learn from their mistakes and do not reoffend and return to the justice system as adults. As many believe, all kids are good and some make mistakes, they are all worth the time and effort of the TJJD and the professionals who play important roles in the process of rehabilitating minors in trouble.
An overview of juvenile prosecution:
When law enforcement arrests and detains a minor with the suspicion for criminal offenses, the juvenile prosecuting attorney reviews the arresting officer statements and evidence and determines if an individual should be prosecuted. In the juvenile system, the official charging document is called a petition. An assistant district or county attorney may also serve as a juvenile prosecuting attorney.
Depending on the nature of the offense and circumstances, a minor may be referred to juvenile court to be informally admonished and sent home, or the juvenile prosecuting attorney files a petition to charge the minor.
The petition is a charge of delinquent conduct which includes offenses that when committed by adults could be punished by confinement to a jail or prison. Conduct that only applies to youth, such as truancy or conduct that would only result in a fine for an adult, such as speeding, is referred to as conduct in need of supervision (CINS) in the juvenile system. If the juvenile court makes a finding, called an adjudication that a minor engaged in delinquent or CINS conduct, the same is like a conviction in adult court.
If a minor receives a petition for an adjudication there is a formal court procedure like that in adult criminal courts. Minors have rights and hire attorneys to represent them during the juvenile justice process. It is important to obtain a skilled juvenile law attorney to defend a juvenile facing a criminal record which could significantly affect their future.
If adjudicated, there are several possible outcomes:
The court weighs the circumstances of cases and the evidence presented by the attorneys to determine an appropriate sentence for the juvenile offender. In many cases where the juvenile is does not have a record and simply made a mistake, they may be released and placed on probation, which must be discharged by the time the juvenile turns 18 years of age.
In more serious matters which may also involve repeat offenders the juvenile may be sent to the TJJD to serve their sentence which may be a determined amount of time or it could also be an indeterminate sentence. Like juvenile probation, those juveniles sent to a TJJD facility on a determined sentence are discharged when they turn 19 years of age. Juveniles given indeterminate sentences, however, may be transferred to an adult prison, which depends on the individual’s behavior and progress in the TJJD programs.
Even if a juvenile must serve time at TJJD, the focus remains on making sure that juvenile stays out of the court system as an adult and does not become a recurring offender.
The purpose of TJJD programs focused on the growth and maturity of juvenile offenders is to help minors in the juvenile system learn that they have an option to control their behavior and conduct to prevent themselves from reoffending and eventually becoming institutionalized. The overseeing TJJD state board of directors develops policies and programs to best attend to the needs of juveniles who need extra assistance and support in developing their mental and emotional maturity.
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