Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Should Texas increase age at which justice system charges youth as adults?

Grits hasn't gotten a chance yet to watch yesterday's Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing on potentially raising the age at which youth are prosecuted as adults from 17 to 18, which would bring Texas in line with the feds and most other states. But here's the MSM coverage that I've seen so far:
According to the Statesman, "Only eight states, including Texas, automatically direct every 17-year-old into the adult criminal justice system, while two others include 16-year-olds. In 40 states, adulthood begins at age 18." Notably, that number may soon rise to 41 as New Hampshire is considering changing it in their current legislative session, AP reported last week.

It's worth noting, as the Statesman report did, that "Even if the law were to consider 17-year-olds to be juveniles, the worst offenders could still be certified as adults and tried in the adult system." LBJ School instructor Michele Deitch told that committee that, "In Texas, any felony committed at age 15 and older can lead to adult certification; the eligible age drops to 14 for capital murder and other serious crimes." Further:
According to Deitch:
  • Teens in the adult criminal justice system are 36 percent more likely to commit suicide and 34 percent more likely to be rearrested for a felony than those who stayed in the juvenile justice system.
  • Teens have needs that the adult system is not designed to meet. Most are in high school, many were victims of abuse and 70 percent of youth in custody have a mental illness.
  • In 2012, the vast majority of arrested 17-year-old Texans were charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes — theft, marijuana possession, nonaggravated assault and disorderly conduct were the top four — at rates that were little different from 16-year-olds.
I'm going to try to watch the lengthy hearing online soon and may have more to say on the subject after I've heard the whole thing. This was an "interim charge" given the committee by the Speaker of the House and the Lege won't consider legislation on the topic until 2015.

Let me know in the comments what you think are the potential benefits and drawbacks of changing the age at which youth are charged as adults.

MORE: See testimony (pdf) from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition's Elizabeth Henneke.


Anonymous said...

It was a very lengthy hearing but with some great testimony. Several key points to consider is 1) several witnesses asked the comittee to take their time in implementing a change to make sure we get it right the first time and main point is to arrange funding. 2) I believe at least one witness had a great idea of moving the lower age from 10 to 13 to keep younger kids from being criminalized. That makes great sense. The big impact will be on the juvenile departments and I hear philosophically the majority across the state agree 17 year olds should be in the juvenile system but dealing with the older population will require new programs such as life skills, independant living skills, vocational training etc which will cost money. Adequately funding juvenile probation departments to handle this new demographic population will be the key. I think I heard several state it could add an additionam 18,500 referrals to the juvenile probation departments across the state.

Anonymous said...

I believe I saw only 2 chief juvenile probation officers in that long line of testimony. Has anyone polled the 167 county departments to see what impact this would have on them? Especially ones with detention centers.

Anonymous said...

It would be a big win for 17 year old offenders but only if the juvenile departments are funded to handle the extra load. I would assume jurisdiction age would go from 18 to 19 also. A down side would be if this causes an encrease in TJJD committments or certifications. Any way you look at it money will be required to make it work.