Sunday, June 03, 2018

Now in a dwindling minority, failure to "Raise the Age" creating problems for Texas all over

The Missouri Legislature recently voted to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years old, beginning January 1, 2021. That leaves Texas one of only four states nationally that still prosecutes 17-year olds as adults, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of GOP primary voters (86%) support changing the policy. This is becoming embarrassing.

Quite a few stories you see on Grits are byproducts of Texas' backwards, minority-view policy on who is a juvenile.

For example, yesterday in a roundup I'd linked to a Dallas News story about the Youthful Offender Program at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which manages incarcerated youth younger than 18. After an adult inmate engaged in sexual relations with one of the youth, the warden and most of the staff were terminated and the entire program was moved to a unit in Huntsville, closer to central administration. This program - and the scandals that come with it - only exist because Texas has refused to "raise the age."

Similarly, Governor Abbott wants to treat 17 year olds as children for purposes of their parents' gun-storage requirements, but I'd described how the exact same logic may be used to support prosecuting 17-year olds as juveniles. Indeed, if Texas had already raised the age for purposes of prosecutions, it's likely the gun-storage rules would have been updated in the process.

We've also discussed county jails having to pay to meet federal PREA standards because they must enforce "sight and sound" barriers between 17 year olds and adult populations. The Legislature has balked at the fiscal note on raising the age, but failing to adopt the policy has created unfunded mandates for counties which are shouldered by the same taxpayers in the end.

And, of course, treating 17-year olds as adults created all sorts of problems with Texas' capital punishment scheme, given that US Supreme Court rulings treat them as juveniles.

There are so many areas where updating this one policy would resolve issues and remove glitches from various justice-system conundrums that are caused, at root, by treating 17-year olds as adults for some purposes and children for others.

Indeed, Grits has argued that raising the age from 17 to 18 merely moves Texas from a 19th to a 20th century policy. But in the 21st century, modern brain science has shown youthful brains continue to develop well after that. Society already treats older youth as children for many purposes - buying tobacco (18), alcohol (21), renting a car (25), staying on their parents' health insurance (26) - and there's no reason to think criminal prosecution necessarily should fall on the lowest end of that range.

Things are changing fast. When the Texas Legislature last convened, there were seven other states which still prosecuted 17-year olds as adults. After Missouri, there are three. 

Texas has made such great strides on the juvenile decarceration front, even if it has further to go. It's a shame that, nationally, this issue continues to paint the state as backward and excessively punitive. It's such a pointless stance, and on the ground is creating more problems and costs than it prevents.


Steven Michael Seys said...

One of the worst outcomes of treating 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system is that they learn to think like career criminals at a younger, more impressionable age. Thinking patterns learned at younger ages are harder to change later in life.

Anonymous said...

it's obvious neither you nor your supporters have been a victim of juvenile crime or to better your understanding of juvenile criminals, worked in a juvenile facility. These "children" learn what they see & what they see is criminal thinking & behavior. Better to start working on reducing the reproduction rate if you really want to do something about juvenile crime. These kids come into the system as full-blown criminals, especially in their thinking. They really don't know why something is wrong or something is right...just avoid getting caught.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:58, you're a piece of work. Here are the facts. Texas incarcerated 5,000 juveniles in TYC a decade ago. They've decarcerated to less than 900, and juvenile crime PLUMMETED over that period. So obviously, most of those youth didn't need to be locked up. There are currently ~ 30 17-year olds locked up in TDCJ, so that's about the size of the population we'd be shifting to TJJD if Texas raised the age. Literally, no big deal, and certainly no need to address the "reproduction rate" to solve it. That's just stupid.

Anonymous said...

Grits, your view of juvenile offenders is based on the way you believe they should be acting and thinking rather than the way they are. Reading about the pathology of delinquents in the literature is providing you with limited information.
Until you interact with them, your knowledge about juvenile delinquents will be marginal at best. I suggest that you take some time and visit TDCJ and TYC facilities and observe these teens firsthand. Your interaction with them should not be limited to a few hours. I suggest you spend three days in each facility. Then report your findings to your readers. Unless, you are afraid to be around these youths.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

As stated before:
FACT:“In fiscal year 2015, there were 22,503 arrests of individuals who would be eligible to receive services in the juvenile justice system if the age of criminal responsibility were raised from age 17 to age 18. This represents a 44.2 percent increase in arrests that would potentially be processed in the juvenile justice system. A total of 15,476 persons accounted for those 22,503 arrests in fiscal year 2015, which represents a 44.3 percent increase in the number of individuals who would potentially be processed in the juvenile justice system. .(LBB staff report 2/1/2017)
FACT: LBB Staff Report 2/1/2017 states: The juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems have different costs and operate differently. Raising the age of criminal responsibility from age 17 to age 18 would add cases to juvenile court dockets, shift caseloads from adult to juvenile probation officers, add offenders to populations in state and local juvenile facilities, and require programming adjustments to meet older juveniles’ needs. Juvenile probation departments would likely experience the greatest effects of changing the age from 17 to 18. Adult probation departments have indicated, generally, this change would not significantly decrease the need for resources in a way that would make it feasible to shift funding from adult probation to juvenile probation. Raising the age of criminal responsibility would cost the state approximately $63.8 million during the first two fiscal years of implementation and would have ongoing costs in subsequent fiscal years. The cost to local governments would vary by jurisdiction and is expected to be significant.
FACT: 2016 there were 381 admissions to TDCJ prisons and state jails of individuals who were 17 at the time of offense.
FACT: At a March 2014 hearing of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee,
the Office of Court Administration reported the estimated number of 17-year-olds in local jails on a typical day was 2,868 to 3,119. Most were in jail for misdemeanors.
FACT: In Texas there are 49 pre-adjudication facilities that have a total of 3,155 beds available. Most of the currently available beds are occupied by current young offenders ages 10-16.
FACT:The fiscal note for HB 122 reported the state’s cost per day for an inmate in a TDCJ facility is $61.63, much lower than the $441.92 cost per day for a youth in a TJJD facility. The state’s cost per day for community supervision (probation) for someone in the adult system is $1.63, lower than the $5.40 per day for juvenile probation supervision.
CONCLUSION: The New Executive Director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department knows these FACTS and can theorize the impact not only to state facilities but to local departments.
It's time to stop sugarcoating the subject. Either do it and FUND it or get out of the way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Man, 1:32, you're really talking out of both sides of your mouth here. Let's consider:

You say there were ~ 15k 17-yr-old defendants who'd almost all receive probation, but shifting them from adult to juvenile rolls "would not significantly decrease the need for resources in a way that would make it feasible to shift funding from adult probation to juvenile probation." So in your view, there's no choice but to keep paying them for probationers they'd no longer be supervising. Got it.

In fact, you're just making up numbers on how many 17 year olds entered TDCJ in 2016. Here's the link to the statistical report, you overstated it by nearly triple, which seems to jibe with my overall sense of your complaints. They're mostly overstated un-sourced.

Similarly, you complain that "the Office of Court Administration reported the estimated number of 17-year-olds in local jails on a typical day was 2,868 to 3,119. Most were in jail for misdemeanors. "

And yet, you ignore that that fact is one of the biggest reasons to raise the age. Right now, those counties must maintain "sight and sound" separation between those 17-year olds under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Those kids shouldn't be in adult jails in the first place, and counties incur lots of extra expenses because they are. But you and LBB pretend those costs don't exist.

Also, youth in the juvenile system receive probation at much higher rates than on the adult side, so all your incarceration estimates are overstated. Most of those kids wouldn't be jailed under a RTA scheme.

In reality, in light of PREA restrictions and the costs to local adult jails of complying with them, not enacting RTA is a decision to create massive unfunded mandates for county governments to avoid additional state expense. It's pure cost shifting, all paid for by the same taxpayers, ultimately, and thus complete BS for you to say "FUND it or get out of the way." The decision not to fund those costs is a decision to pass the costs on to counties. Own it. That's the reality.

Anonymous said...

OK so let's just say juvenile gets the number of kids mentioned above. Do you REALLY think county sheriff's departments are going to shift money from their current budgets to send over to juvenile??? Willingly?? You don't know much about county government do you. How about you and all the advocate groups out there who smell roses on your thrones get your hands dirty and start one-on-one discussions with each county leadership out there and convince them funding needs to shift, get more detenti0on beds on-line, certify all JPO's as law enforcement because THEY have to transport kids, get designated transport vehicles....
List goes on. Juvenile has to abide by PREA also so when we get a 18 year old in for VOP shouldn't we just shift them over to the adult jail??

Anonymous said...

Where is TDCAA on this issue? I am willing to bet that many a juvenile prosecutor is ALL IN on placing more juveniles in the adult system.

Steven Michael Seys said...

Do we really need to reinstitute eugenics as practiced in the nineteenth century?

Anonymous said...

I am a chief juvenile probation officer and I agree that Texas should raise the age. However, TJJD is not just secure institutions but county probation as well. The number of 17 year old inmates in the TDCJ YOP is not the only population that has to be considered. ALL juveniles arrested are referred to juvenile probation for assessments and services. County probation departments will need more resources for supervision, programing, and treatment.
I would expect you to have a better grasp of the entire issue. If you really want to have a better system in Texas then please support local juvenile probation departments.

Anonymous said...

1:32 speaks in volumes to the reality check of what expenses a juvenile probation department would incur. So does 8:38. Legislatively mandated assessments that are required to be performed ON EVERY JUVENILE REFERRED take several hours to complete, detained or not. Even if the juvenile's case gets dismissed, the assessments were already completed. Think of the shear numbers in Houston, Dallas, etc and project the manpower it will take just for the assessments. Funding will be KEY and the way the legislature continues to want to cut funding to juvenile probation departments this is a disaster waiting to happen. I can see more kids detained in the future,less rehabilitative services offered to younger ones and more emphasis placed on the older ones simply because of the added population. 1:32 states it perfect: "Either do it and FUND it or get out of the way"