Since 1918, 17-year-olds have been treated as adults by the courts in Texas. It’s a policy that may be living on borrowed time amid moves to raise the juvenile criminal age to include 17-year-olds.
Earlier this year, legislators pushed a law to increase the age at which offenders automatically enter the adult legal system to 18. While the legislation made it through the Texas House, it ultimately failed to become law.
We can expect to see more bills about the juvenile criminal age next year, given the scale of support for the change.
Legislators heard calls for change in April. Teens have been imprisoned in adult facilities designed to punish criminals rather than rehabilitate young people for almost a century.
In recent years, a number of factors combined to make this approach less tenable.
1 Texas is in the Minority
Just nine states treat 17-year-olds as adults and many of these are coming under pressure to change their laws.
2 It Penalizes Teens
Juvenile criminal records are usually sealed but adult records are not. Young people held in adult jails can face numerous problems including securing jobs and finding a place to live. If they fail to integrate into society, they are more likely to end up incarcerated again.
3 It Could Cost Less
It costs more to treat offenders in the juvenile system. However, supporters of the bill argue it would cost Texas less in terms of reoffending rates because programs for teenagers in juvenile facilities are aimed at preventing reoffending.
4 New Regulations in Jails
The 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act stated youths must be kept away from adult inmates by October 2017. If Texas keeps 17-year-olds in adult jails it faces spending millions of dollars to adapt jails or the state stands to lose $2.78 million in federal funding.
Recent moves to raise the juvenile criminal age failed in the Texas legislature. But the climate is changing. It appears to be only a matter of time before the law changes.
If you are a young person who has been charged with a crime, it could affect you for the rest of your life. You could end up in an adult jail. The Medlin Law Firm has 49 years of combined experience in representing young people charged with crimes. Call us for a free consultation at (682) 204-4066.