According to the report by the Ombudsman's office (pdf), which was requested by state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, "today’s higher adult certification rates are a serious, unintended consequence of an otherwise well-intentioned legislative change that reduced the maximum age of TYC jurisdiction and control from 21 to 19."
The new trend is especially pronounced among defendants who commit crimes at age 16 but don't make it into court until after their 17th birthday:
Although 17-year-olds are ordinarily not eligible for commitment to TYC because of their age, the numbers above represent those children who committed crimes while under the age of 17, but appeared in court after their 17th birthdays. Under the pre-SB 103 rules, the youngest of these children could have spent nearly four years in TYC if sentenced under determinate sentencing scheme. Today, this time-frame has been effectively reduced by more than half, making determinate sentencing a much less attractive option for judges and prosecutors.The argument in 2007 for lowering TYC's maximum age for youth with determinate sentences was essentially twofold: It reduced the inmate population at a time when the agency was significantly understaffed, and it was supposed to reduce the chance that other youth at TYC would be victimized by the most serious offenders.
However, "Children serving sentences in adult prisons, as compared to children in the juvenile justice system, are five times more likely to be sexually victimized, eight times more likely to commit suicide, and twice as likely to be attacked with a weapon or beaten by corrections officers," said the Ombudsman.
What do you think: Should the Lege reauthorize TYC to house 19-20 year olds? I'm inclined to agree with the Ombudsman's recommendation, but am especially interested to see readers from juvenile justice fields discuss the pros and cons.
See this one-page summary (pdf) if you don't want to read the full report.
UPDATE/SUGGESTION: In the comments, juvenile justice historian Bill Bush makes the following, salient observation:
this is an area where we could learn something from the past.
In the 1940s, California and Texas both created state agencies (CYA and TYC, respectively) based on something called the Model Youth Authority Act, which was promulgated by a legal reform organization called the American Law Institute.
Ironically, though, both CYA and TYC ignored the key feature of the Model Act, whose original intent was to create a separate judicial and institutional system for "youthful offenders" between the ages of 17-21. Victimizers in the juvenile system, this age group became victims in the adult system. And rehabilitation proved nearly impossible in either system.
For a variety of reasons, states ignored this provision when they adapted the Model Act to their own situations in the 1940s, but it may be an idea deserving of reconsideration.