HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The Harris County District Attorney's Office addressed the state of youth crime Friday.
Juvenile Justice Division Chief John Jordan noted a surge in homicides.
"Three years ago, there were 14 homicides committed by juveniles. Last year, there were 21. This year already, there are 24," Jordan said.
However, youth referrals overall - which are misdemeanor and felony cases presented to the district attorney's office - are down. But, the number of people ages 10 to 16 years old placed in rehabilitative programs as an alternative to incarceration is up.
Harris County has six such programs, most of them are under 3 years old. According to the district attorney's office, nearly two-thirds of juveniles referred to the Harris County District Attorney's Office were diverted last year. That is more than 3,000 people.
When most of the diversion programs were rolled out in 2020, fewer than 2,000 juveniles were being placed in them.
"So encouraging. So enlightening that there has been this cultural shift within the DA's office to look at alternatives to incarceration," Marguerite Williams, who helms the Center for Urban Transformation, said.
The center facilitates one of the county-affiliated youth diversion programs and operates in the Fifth Ward, where Williams grew up.
"(Diversion programs) give that young person another pathway forward," she said.
There's also been a shift in what cases are tackled. Data from the district attorney's office shows that in 2017, most juvenile cases filed were misdemeanors. Now, they're felonies.
ABC13 asked District Attorney Kim Ogg what she believes needs to be done to combat the surge in youth homicides.
"I think earlier intervention in a person's criminal life - the sooner we catch them making bad decisions and trying to get them help and hold them accountable, the fewer serious career-minded criminals we will produce from the juvenile population," Ogg said.
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