In the past decade, Texas has undergone a massive decriminalization of juvenile life, reducing juvenile incarceration and an array of lesser penalties. But juvenile crime dropped the whole while. There was no resulting rampage of criminality sparking a backlash.
When our pal Nate Blakeslee broke the story of sex scandals involving staff and youth at the old Texas Youth Commission back in 2007, the Texas Lege enacted a series of reforms to whittle away the size of the juvie prison population, which dropped like a stone from more than 4,000 when the scandal broke to just more than 1,000 now.
Meanwhile, three years ago the Legislature, led by state Sen. John Whitmire, eliminated ticketing in Texas schools for a host of offenses, a move which reduced the number of Class C misdemeanor tickets issued to students annually by almost 400,000 fewer tickets per year - prompting Huffington Post to declare that, "Texas is doing something genuinely progressive."
Then last year, the Lege moved in a bipartisan fashion to decriminalize truancy. According to this source:
Officials from the Texas Office of Court Administration testified last month on the effects of the truancy reform legislation and the results are dramatic: Decriminalizing certain truancy offenses, the expunction of 1.5 million prior cases, removal of jail as an option for truancy, and changes to fines. Comparisons of the first four months of 2015 with the same period this year show truancy filings have dropped from 60,000 to 5,000, and parent contributing to non-attendance filings have dropped from 45,000 to 8,200.So that's 55k fewer truancy filings per year, 37k fewer parent contributing filings, nearly 400k fewer Class C tickets in schools, expulsions down 28% since ticketing reduced, and less than 30 percent as many youth locked up behind bars.
Texas has successfully reduced juvenile incarceration and the overall criminal-justice footprint affecting juvenile life, with juvenile crime continuing to decline the whole time. That's a far bigger deal than the paltry "Texas model" being touted on adult decarceration (based on Texas 2007 adult probation/parole reforms).
How is this transformation of the Texas juvie system not a massive success story that's being trumpeted from the rooftops? And why aren't we talking more about replicating those successes with large-scale decarceration and a reduced justice-system footprint on the adult side?