Sentenced Offenders

Background

"Determinate sentencing" for juvenile offenders was approved by the Texas legislature in 1987 as an alternative approach to lowering the age at which a juvenile may be certified to stand trial as an adult.

The original law provided that juveniles adjudicated for certain serious, violent offenses may receive a determinate sentence of as long as 30 years. The legislature cautiously selected only those Penal Code offenses against persons that would constitute capital or first degree felony offenses.

As the law originally was written, the first portion of the sentence was to be served in a Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facility. Prior to the youth's 18th birthday, a hearing would be held before the committing court to determine what would happen next for the youth.

There were three options. The first option was to be released on parole and continue under TJJD's custody until age 21. The second option was for the youth to be discharged from TJJD's jurisdiction. The third option was transfer to the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) for the balance of the sentence.


Subsequent Revisions

In 1995, the legislature added 11 offenses or categories of offenses eligible for a determinate sentence. Other amendments also specified that sentences could now range from a maximum of 10 years (for third-degree felonies) to a maximum of 40 years (for capital and first-degree felonies). Court hearings were eliminated for sentenced offenders unless TJJD asked for:

  • Transfer of a youth to prison (between age 16 and 21); or
  • Release on parole before completion of the minimum length of confinement (which is ten years for a capital felony, three years for a first-degree felony, two years for a second-degree felony, and one year for a third-degree felony).

In 2001, two other offenses were added to those eligible for a determinate sentence. The list of offenses currently includes:

  • Murder
  • Attempted murder
  • Capital murder
  • Attempted capital murder
  • Manslaughter
  • Intoxication manslaughter
  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Attempted aggravated kidnapping
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Attempted sexual assault
  • Aggravated assault
  • Aggravated robbery
  • Attempted aggravated robbery
  • Felony injury to a child, elderly, or disabled person
  • Felony deadly conduct
  • Aggravated or first-degree controlled substance felony
  • Criminal solicitation of a capital or first-degree felony
  • Second-degree felony indecency with a child
  • Criminal solicitation of a minor
  • First degree felony arson
  • Habitual felony conduct (three consecutive felony adjudications)

In 2007, the law was changed again and sentenced offenders must be discharged from TJJD supervision by their 19th birthday. If they have not completed their sentence prior to their 19th birthday or have not been transferred to TDCJ –ID by their 19th birthday, they are transferred to adult parole supervision to complete the remainder of their sentence.


Summary

The increase in the number of offenses for which youth can receive a determinate sentence resulted in an increase in the number of sentenced offenders that are committed to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Approximately seven percent of all youth committed to TJJD have received a determinate sentence.

Their sentences are usually longer than those of youth with indeterminate sentences. These sentenced offenders occupy approximately 20% of the agency's beds in high restriction facilities.

To ensure that these cases receive the oversight and attention required, TJJD established the Department of Sentenced Offender Disposition in July 1999. The Department represents TJJD at transfer hearings, approves release proceedings, and coordinates youth movement between TJJD and the TDCJ.