After losing his seat on the bench to a Democrat in yesterday’s election, long time Harris County Juvenile Court Judge Glenn Devlin spent this morning releasing almost every juvenile over whose case he presided, asking them each only to promise to not kill anyone.
“He was releasing everybody,” public defender Steven Halpert, told the Houston Chronicle. “Apparently he was saying that’s what the voters wanted.”
Prosecutors, unsurprisingly, didn’t approve of the judge’s decision to stop doing his job, “We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “This could endanger the public.”
According to the Chronicle, seven underage defendants were released, including four charged with aggravated robbery. Devlin declined to comment. All of the cases are now reset for when Devlin’s replacement, Democrat Natalia Oakes, takes the bench.
From the Chronicle:
The longtime Republican jurist — whose seat was among 59 swept by Democrats in Tuesday’s election — is one of two juvenile court judges in Harris County whose track records favoring incarceration contributed heavily to doubling the number of kids Harris County sent to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in recent years, even as those figures fell in the rest of the state.
A Houston Chronicle investigation last month found that Devlin and Judge John Phillips accounted for more than one-fifth of all children sent to the state’s juvenile prisons last year. The two jurists not only sent more teens to juvenile prison, but they also sent them younger and for less-serious offenses than the county’s third juvenile court, where Judge Mike Schneider presides.
All three juvenile court judges in Harris County, who were all Republicans, lost their seats yesterday, according to the Chronicle.
Halpert told the Chronicle that Devlin’s overnight change of heart was unexpected. “He’s not one of those that never releases a kid charged with an aggravated robbery,” he said. “But nobody has seen this before.”
Local criminal justice advocates were critical of Devlin.
“Judge Devlin appears to be abdicating the basic responsibility of any sitting juvenile judge,” Elizabeth Henneke of the Lone Star Justice Alliance, who work to get juveniles into treatment programs, told the Chronicle. She added that his actions were “disappointing and shocking.”
It’s understandable that Henneke and others disapproved of Devlin’s sudden incompetence, but it seems strange that they’d be outright hostile to his decision to let young people charged with crimes off the hook. After all—it’s their mission to reduce youth incarceration.
The county’s chief public defender, Alex Bunin, told the Chronicle he was confused by Devlin’s decisions.
“I’m not sure that I can wrap my arms around what he’s actually doing,” Bunin said. “It’s a huge change and the only thing that has happened is that he was not elected so I don’t know what to attribute it to other than that.”
“The voters of Harris County clearly wanted a change in the juvenile courts and Judge Devlin today is showing us why the voters may have wanted change,” Texas Criminal Justice Coalition lawyer Jay Jenkins told the Chronicle . “We’re hoping now the juvenile courts can be a much fairer and more equitable place.”