No More Juveniles Isolated in Harris County Jail?

Two years ago we wrote about how Harris County incarcerates juveniles who have been certified as adults for trial while they are waiting their day in court.

It wasn't pretty -- they were kept in the county jail, but left in isolation for 23 hours a day.

Legislators, particularly State Senator John Whitmire, took notice and this year passed a bill allowing counties to have the relevant juveniles held in the county's Juvenile Probation Department's facilities instead of the county jail.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia didn't lobby for the change but was glad to hear it. The law takes effect September 1, though, and the county still hasn't decided what to do.

There have been some grumblings that the Juvenile Probation Department wants no part of the inmates, some of whom are accused murderers. It does have facilities that could be used, but, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett tells Hair Balls, "It may be that everyone would be more comfortable with sheriff's deputies guarding [these juveniles] instead of Juvenile Detention Center staffers."

The new law says counties have to develop a policy on where to house juveniles certified as adults, but although its meaning is clear -- do it anywhere but the adult-filled county jail -- it doesn't mandate such a change.

"If we made it a mandate, that would have cost money, and we don't have money," says Larance Coleman, Whitmire's spokesperson, who adds, "Harris County is one of the reasons" his boss introduced the bill.

Three juveniles are currently in the Harris County Jail -- two accused murderers and one charged with aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. All are 16.

Alan Bernstein, Garcia's spokesperson, says the jail has held as many as 12 such juveniles. They have to be isolated from the adult population, which increases costs.

"Of course we'd rather they be housed somewhere else," he says.

Emmett -- who is chair of the county's Juvenile Board, which will decide what to do -- says the juveniles will be taken out of the county jail, and perhaps a deal can be worked out to have deputies guard them.

"Senator Whitmire and the legislature passed the law for a purpose," he says. "It makes more sense for [the juveniles] to be in the Juvenile Detention Center."

It could turn out to be a plus -- the Juvenile Detention Center is underused since the implementation of increased diversion programs. It has a capacity of 250 beds and typically houses only about 160 juveniles, Emmett says, while the jail is overcrowded.

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