Legislators and Juvenile Justice Stakeholders Disappointed that Texas did not Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction; Commit to Continue Efforts Over the Interim
[AUSTIN, TX]— Representative Gene Wu (Houston) expressed disappointment this afternoon that a provision which would have raised the age at which youth are considered adults in Texas' criminal justice system from 17 to 18 was stripped from a juvenile justice reform bill. A bi-partisan coalition of policy advocates joined Wu and other legislators to affirm their ongoing commitment to moving 17-year-olds out of adult criminal courts, jails, and prisons.
Last week, the House voted to include the 'raise the age' proposal as an amendment to Senator Whitmire’s Senate Bill 1630, but the provision was removed from the bill in a conference committee compromise to ensure the original bill’s passage.
“I commend Senator Whitmire for his tireless commitment to juvenile justice issues in Texas, and for his tremendous work on SB 1630, which will greatly reform our juvenile justice system,” Wu said. “While, we are disappointed that 'raise the age' was not included in the final version of the bill, we look forward to working with Senator Whitmire and Governor Abbott over the interim so that we can get this done next session. It’s what is best for our youth, counties, and the state; and it's the right thing to do.”
The Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence unanimously recommended moving 17-year-olds into the juvenile system in an in-depth interim study last year. The House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues also unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Dutton to 'raise the age.' Rep. Wu’s amendment to SB 1630 was a last effort to see the measure pass this session.
Texas is one of only 9 remaining states that charge 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, regardless of the crime or the teen's personal experiences. In 2013, 96% of 17-year-olds who were arrested were charged with nonviolent offenses, including: possession of marijuana, schoolyard fights, and liquor law violations.
But prosecution in adult courts will leaves 17-year-olds with criminal records that create lifelong barriers to jobs, housing, and educational. "Research has conclusively shown that youth prosecuted in the adult rather than juvenile system are more likely to re-offend and serve prison time," Wu said. "Experts note that youth that receive age-specific rehabilitation have much better outcomes."
Raising the age of jurisdiction would help Texas comply with federal confinement standards designed to keep inmates safe from violence. "Governor Greg Abbott has already made a commitment that Texas will come into compliance with the national Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)," said Wu. "Without raising the age, many county jails will have to retrofit their facilities in order to comply, or risk expensive lawsuits." Wu adds, "It is costing Dallas County $80,000 a week to separate 17-year-olds from adults in its jail."
The Sheriffs' Association of Texas, along with Texas Association of Business, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texans Care for Children, and the ACLU of Texas have all vocally supported the 'raise the age' measure.
“The research is clear: 17 year-olds handled in the juvenile justice system do roundly better than those who are not and pose a far lesser threat to public safety upon release.” The Smart-On-Crime Coalition, a nonpartisan group of policy advocates, said in a statement yesterday affirming its support for raising the age in Texas. “Further, the current system exposes counties and the state to unnecessary civil liability, while leading to an inefficient allocation of resources. We welcome the legislature’s interest in examining – and ultimately correcting – this important matter.”
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