Back to top

Lost Causes

Lost Causes
Blended Sentencing, Second Chances, and the Texas Youth Commission

The first longitudinal study of more than 3,000 juveniles convicted of serious and violent crimes, Lost Causes investigates whether blended (juvenile and adult) sentencing programs actually deter delinquent minors from becoming hardened adult criminals

March 2016
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
220 pages | 6 x 9 | 23 b&w photos |

What should be done with minors who kill, maim, defile, and destroy the lives of others? The state of Texas deals with some of its most serious and violent youthful offenders through “determinate sentencing,” a unique sentencing structure that blends parts of the juvenile and adult justice systems. Once adjudicated via determinate sentencing, offenders are first incarcerated in the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). As they approach age eighteen, they are either transferred to the Texas prison system to serve the remainder of their original determinate sentence or released from TYC into Texas’s communities.

The first long-term study of determinate sentencing in Texas, Lost Causes examines the social and delinquent histories, institutionalization experiences, and release and recidivism outcomes of more than 3,000 serious and violent juvenile offenders who received such sentences between 1987 and 2011. The authors seek to understand the process, outcomes, and consequences of determinate sentencing, which gave serious and violent juvenile offenders one more chance to redeem themselves or to solidify their place as the next generation of adult prisoners in Texas. The book’s findings—that about 70 percent of offenders are released to the community during their most crime-prone years instead of being transferred to the Texas prison system and that about half of those released continue to reoffend for serious crimes—make Lost Causes crucial reading for all students and practitioners of juvenile and criminal justice.

  • Foreword by James W. Marquart
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Determinate Sentencing and the Texas Youth Commission: A Timeline
  • 1. Origins and Discoveries
  • 2. The Determinate Sentencing Act in Texas
  • 3. The Sheep That Got Lost
  • 4. Doing Time in the Texas Youth Commission
  • 5. Another Second Chance
  • 6. The Burden of Second Chances
  • 7. Three Decades Later
  • 8. The Last Word
  • Notes
  • Index

From the book

Texas has a long and awkward history when it comes to managing or “parenting” juvenile offenders who have meandered from the straight and narrow. . . . In the pages of this book you will read about shifting sentencing policies, court cases, giant personalities, moral wrestling, institutional instability and brutality, horrific crimes, chances for redemption, and continuity in delinquent and criminal behavior. . . . The authors, who rely on their rich practical experience within the juvenile justice system and their equally rich academic careers, illustrate with important longitudinal data that what to do about our most errant of children, our riskiest commodities, is a never-ending story with few easy answers. Today, as a benevolent parent, Texas still lacks an answer to the question: how many second chances do we give?

—James W. Marquart, from the foreword



In Iowa, it was Eldora. In Illinois, it was St. Charles. In Florida, it was Marianna. In California, it was Lancaster. In Massachusetts, it was Westborough. In Louisiana, it was Monroe.

In Texas, it was Gatesville.

Every state has that place—the place parents and teachers and priests and old-timers warn the young about. The place where some go, and when they come back, they don’t talk about it. These are the places apart that have existed for more than one hundred years, and they are reserved for those youth so far off the straight-and-narrow that they are unfit to be in free society. Although they have been called many other names in the past, these places are today called juvenile correctional institutions.

The Lyman School for Boys in Westborough, Massachusetts (originally known as the State Reform School for Boys at Westborough) is recognized as the first reform school in the nation for delinquent youths. While other places of confinement existed for wayward juveniles before Lyman, such as New York’s House of Refuge or Boston’s House of Reformation, it was Lyman that ushered in an era in which juvenile institutions were meant to reform the juvenile of his wicked ways and to train him to adopt a life of moral behavior.

In the first several decades it was often the sons of Irish and Italian immigrant Catholics who found their way to the rooms and hallways and work fields of this early American reform school. As the boys were ushered for transport to Lyman, the faithful Catholic mothers would say their final good-byes and sometimes pass on to their sons a medallion of St. Jude Thaddeus—the patron saint of lost causes and hopeless souls. As the wayward youths got farther from home and closer to Lyman, their mothers were already on their way to St. Patrick’s or St. Paul’s or Our Lady of Sorrows to offer a prayer to St. Jude. At the church a candle would be lit to extend the prayer, as is the tradition among Catholics. At Lyman the lost causes could either mend their ways or confirm their spot on the list of people apart.

More than a century later, the lost causes are still saying their goodbyes as they shuffle in their shackles to the transport vans and buses en route to state juvenile correctional facilities in rural backwaters or at the outer edges of cities. What also remains today, just as it did back then, are efforts to deal with the problem of serious juvenile delinquency, and hopes that intervening in the lives of troubled youths might save them from a life course of crime and failure. And while the lost causes of today have changed considerably from the time of the early Lyman schoolboys—many of the early Lyman schoolboys would not merit a second glance compared to state institutionalized juvenile delinquents of today—what has not changed is that state juvenile institutionalization still functions as a last-ditch place and a last-ditch effort to change the life trajectories of society’s delinquent outliers before all hope is lost. This last-ditch effort to change the serious and violent delinquent is especially notable in the state of Texas.

In 1987, roughly a decade after the Gatesville State School for Boys and the high–security, 1960s-era Mountain View State School for Boys had been shut down and then transferred to the Texas prison system, Texas passed a unique sentencing law focused exclusively on serious and violent juvenile offenders. This law, which came exactly one hundred years after construction of Gatesville was authorized by the Texas Legislature, was originally called determinate sentencing. Instead of further expanding 1970s-era adult court certification mechanisms by which serious and violent juvenile offenders could face the adult justice system and end up in a Texas prison cell, determinate sentencing afforded serious and violent juvenile offenders one last chance to change while still remaining under the more protective and rehabilitationcentered umbrella of Texas’s juvenile courts and the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).

Procedurally, serious and violent offenders prosecuted and adjudicated in juvenile court under determinate sentencing received an institutional sentence that started first at a tyC state school. If the “sentenced offender” demonstrated change and progress in TYC—as determined by TYC staff, psychologists, counselors, judges, prosecutors, and other juvenile justice decision makers—the offender had a chance to reenter free society and get on with his or her life. If change and progress was not demonstrated, the offender was transferred directly to a Texas prison unit by age eighteen to serve the remainder of his or her original determinate sentence—a sentence that could extend to a maximum of forty years. This last-chance opportunity created by determinate sentencing and the juvenile offenders processed through this law are the focus of this book.

In the pages to come, we bring historical records, youthful offender data, personal observations, institutional data, and official rearrest records to bear on the outcomes of every juvenile offender who received a determinate sentence in Texas from 1987 through 2011. This book tells the story of the offenders’ institutional behavior while confined in Texas’s state juvenile facilities. It tells of the decisions to release the offenders to the streets or to transfer them to the Texas prison system following their time in TYC. It tells of the recidivism outcomes of those offenders who were given another chance at redemption by being released back into the free world after only a few short years in TYC. This book, then, provides a window into what happened to the serious and violent delinquents in Texas who were given another chance to reclaim their freedom and avoid becoming part of the next generation of convicts in the Texas prison system.


“A major contribution to the scholarly field of juvenile justice. I am simply unaware of any other book that combines sound empirical analyses with rich scholarship on juvenile justice.”
Michael G. Vaughn, Professor, School of Social Work, Saint Louis University, and author of Conducting Research in Juvenile and Criminal Justice Settings and Human Behavior: A Cell to Society Approach

“This book will make a timely and important contribution to an ongoing statewide and national conversation about juvenile justice. It provides the first in-depth study of determinate sentencing (DS) outcomes in the juvenile court in one of the states that has made the greatest use of DS, Texas.”
William S. Bush, Associate Professor of History, Texas A&M University–San Antonio, and author of Who Gets a Childhood? Race and Juvenile Justice in Twentieth-Century Texas


Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca