Students, educators, advocates, and legislators descended on the Texas State Capitol earlier this week to rally in favor of raising the age of criminal responsibility in Texas.
The issue at hand is how the state’s criminal justice system deals with 17-year-old defendants. Whether it’s school fighting or forgery, 17-year-olds are considered adults and are processed through the system as such.
This can have a major adverse impact.
Similar to the argument that throwing non-violent and low-level offenders in prison – especially first time offenders – teaches them how to be a criminal, throwing people who by most standards are considered kids into the adult criminal justice system can do the same to a developing mind.
Research has shown that 18-year-olds and younger who are processed through the juvenile system are provided better future economic opportunities, versus if they were processed under the adult system.
Additionally, through research we have learned that kids admitted to the adult system have a 34 percent chance of reoffending, and being rearrested, than those sent to a juvenile system. The same study showed that compared to 419 juveniles retained in that system, 138 juveniles that were transferred to the adult system had a 77 percent greater chance of violent felony arrests following the completion of their sentences.
Juveniles in adult facilities are reportedly 36 times more likely to commit suicide when compared to their juvenile facility counterparts. Just last Thursday, 17-year-old Emmanuel Akueir was found to have committed suicide in the Fort Bend County Jail.
Treating juveniles in the juvenile system would also be more cost effective as it is a less expensive alternative to the adult correctional facilities.
To comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, adult correctional facilities must segregate 17-year-olds from adults housed in the same facility. This leads to facilities having to make additional accommodations for juvenile inmates rather than just having them in separate facilities altogether.
And there is the issue of parental rights. If admitted to the adult system, parents are not notified upon arrest and they have no right to be present during interrogation.
The issue of raising the age gained some steam in the 84th legislative session, where it passed as an amendment to a bill, but ended up being stripped from the bill towards the end of the session. At the time, it had support from Texas Sheriffs, the Texas Home School Coalition, the Texas Association of Business, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice.
This time around, advocates are hoping to see some change.
State Rep. Harold Dutton (D- Houston), Chair of the House Juvenile Justice and Families Issues Committee, has filed H.B. 1015 to raise the age, while a similar bill, H.B. 676, was recently filed by State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston).