Saturday, February 11, 2017

More detail on raise-the-age proposal

An Austin Statesman story by Phillip Jankowski yesterday gave some details on Texas' 17-year old population which would be affected by "raise the age" legislation. Grits wanted to highlight and annotate a few fact bites from the story for future reference:
Texas is one of only seven states that continue to prosecute 17-year-olds as adults despite a Supreme Court ruling that marks the age of adulthood at 18. In 2015, that meant that about 22,000 teenagers who would have been prosecuted as juveniles in the majority of the United States. were instead tried as adults in Texas, according to data compiled by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
The 22,000 number for 17-year olds arrested statewide (not "tried") is down from more than 46,000 in 2008, so crime by 17-year olds is already rapidly diminishing. Moreover, "About 87 percent of those arrests are for nonviolent offenses, including misdemeanor theft and possession of marijuana, which respectively were the top two most common charges filed against 17-year-olds, the data showed." So the volume which would be added to the system overall would be fairly small.

Jankowski included this discussion of how the bill would affect the juvenile system:
Upping the age of adult prosecution from 17 to 18 would no doubt have a large effect on Texas’ juvenile justice system because it would increase the number of juvenile arrests by 40 percent, from nearly 53,000 to about 75,000, according to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety.  (Ed. note: don't forget 87 percent of these new defendants are charged with nonviolent misdemeanors.)
Wu said the cost involved in increasing the capacity of local and state programs to accommodate more juveniles would be offset over time by reducing the amount of people in Texas’ prison system and by rehabilitating 17-year-olds who might reoffend under the current system because they lack of access to rehabilitation programs. 
“In the juvenile system, they would be eligible for more programs, like counseling and tutoring,” Wu said. “What we’re just saying is: Let’s give these kids a second chance,”
Economic analyses from other states confirms Wu's contention that making this shift saves money for the justice system long term, despite extra short-term expense.

On the flip side, doing nothing shifts costs of housing 17-year old defendants to Sheriffs and adult county jails. Smaller jails, in particular, have trouble meeting restrictions under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act on housing 17-year olds within "sight and sound" of older inmates.

As a result, for example, Hays County spends about $150,000 extra per year to house 17-year olds. In Williamson County, they assign "a single corrections officer to a small amount of 17-year-old inmates while every other corrections officer oversees 48 adults, Sheriff Robert Chody said. When Chody spoke to the Statesman, they had four 17-year-old inmates in the jail."

In Travis County, where extra bed space allows them to more easily accommodate 17-year olds than smaller jails, "In 2016, 17-year-olds were booked into the jail 787 times, accounting for 11,520 “bed days” at a cost of roughly $725,000, according to the sheriff’s office." So 17-year olds were spending on average two weeks in jail per arrest.

There's a tendency in the press to focus on issues of fairness, or as the Randall County DA put it, on the fact that "17-year-olds can’t do anything as an adult except be tried as one." But as Grits frequently reminds my granddaughter, "fair is a place they judge pigs." The pragmatic arguments surrounding this proposal continue to be the best reason to do it.

See prior, related Grits posts:

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