For almost 100 years, Texas has classified 17-year-olds who are charged with crimes as adults. That may be about to change as lawmakers consider redefining who is classified as an adult in the criminal justice system.
The state’s politicians are now considering increasing the juvenile age to 18, reported CBS. That would mean those under 18 would not enter adult prison but would go into the juvenile system that has considerably more treatment programs intended to help them.
Lawmakers are yet to reach a consensus but even many of those who don’t agree with raising the juvenile age think the current system needs to be changed.
Texas has classified 17-year-olds who are charged with offenses as adults since 1918. The Legislative Budget Board says 514 teens under 18 were admitted to adult correctional facilities in 2014.
According to reports, Ray Allen of the Texas Probation Association led calls for changes at a state committee hearing in July.
Just nine states treat 17-year-olds as adults. Although juvenile criminal records are usually sealed, adult records aren’t, making it difficult for these young people to find employment and housing after their release.
CBS reported efforts to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the Texas House of Representatives are likely to come undone in the Senate at the hands of Sen. John Whitmire who oversees criminal justice issues in that chamber.
Whitmire’s committee recently supported a proposal that makes Texas’ juvenile justice system less harsh by stipulating that youths should be incarcerated close to their homes.
However, Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., one of the authors of the House bill, warned of dire consequences unless the juvenile criminal justice system is changed soon in Texas.
Although it’s more expensive to house young inmates in the juvenile system, supporters of the bill say it will cost the state less in terms of reoffending rates because intensive programs in juvenile facilities are aimed at preventing recidivism.
There’s another cost implication. If the law isn’t changed millions of dollars in renovations would have to be spent at county jails to comply with the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. It stipulates that youths must be kept away from inmates 18 and older by October 2017. The Legislative Budget Board warns the state faces losing $2.78 million in federal funding in 2016-2017 if it fails to comply with the rules.
In the wake of a series of physical and sexual abuse scandals, Texas cut the number of youths locked up in its juvenile justice system. If it changes the age of classification, this would be a major break from the past.