Friday, December 14, 2018

Federal legislation boosts Raise-the-Age prospects in Texas

Texas is one of only four states which still charges 17 year olds as adults. But new federal legislation awaiting President Trump's signature will soon prevent the Lone Star State from housing 17-year olds in adult county jails, providing a big incentive to change their status to match 92% of other states and the federal government. The president is expected to sign the measure.

Dubbed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the bill would force Texas to stop housing 17-year olds in adult jails within three years, with narrow exceptions for rural jails, if it wants to continue receiving federal funds, reported the Marshall Project:
earlier versions of the law contained a loophole: Juveniles charged as adults could be held in adult jails pretrial. As a result, according to a recent UCLA study, more than 32,000 youth spend time in adult facilities each year. 
The new bill would require that problem be fixed within three years, although it would still contain a “rural exception” letting jurisdictions with no juvenile detention facility hold kids in their adult jail for a period of a few hours while they await transportation elsewhere.
Unless the state opts out, any county with its own juvenile detention facility, in other words, within three years will be barred from housing 17-year olds in the county jail at all. Counties without a juvie-detention facility could only keep them there for a few hours, and still must keep youth separated by sight and sound from adults, as mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Both Texas political parties have endorsed raising the age of adult criminal responsibility in their state party platforms. And the Texas House has approved such legislation each of the last two sessions. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, and the state prosecutors association have so far have opposed the measure.

Those opponents have mainly pointed to the economic costs of raising the age as the main reason not to do so. Now that Texas may begin to lose federal funds if it doesn't change incarceration practices for 17-year olds, maybe this legislation will make it over the hump in 2019.

Clarification: This column was edited after publication to clarify that Texas only must comply with the new regulations if it wants to continue receiving federal funds through the program, which Congress just re-authorized at new, higher levels. Reported the Huffington Post, "Three states no longer implement the act’s requirements because they are too costly."


BarkGrowlBite said...

I have always stated that an arbitrary age between juveniles and adults is meaningless. There are adults with the mentality of a 15-year-old and juveniles with the mentality of a 25-year-old. 17, 18, 19 ... it's all horseshit. I've personally investigated a number of crimes committed by juveniles who were sharper than a tack and as smart as much older adults.

Anonymous said...

So the bill wouldn't actually force Texas to do anything would it? I mean if Texas doesn't want the fed money then Texas could do anything it wants?

I agree that 17 is too young to be charged as an adult so it's a good thing, but the bill doesn't force Texas to do this.

Gadfly said...

Anon is right ... it only forces Texas to do this if it decides to remain in such participation, and Wyoming has long opted out.

Gadfly said...

To update, per this link from Act 4 Juvenile Justice, it looks like a LOT of states opt out of the JJDPA:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Force" ... no. Neither did PREA. Adds to pressure for Texas to change? Absolutely. Eventually, like 46 other states before them, the Lege will succumb to the drip, drip, drip of modernity as the world evolves around, beyond, and without them.

Anonymous said...

So this Federal act is holding money for juvenile programs hostage across the country??

Anonymous said...

"holding money... Hostage" might not be an accurate representation though. With previous federal legislation the penalty for not implementing a law at the state level could cost you money from a federal grant program, but before the federal law goes into effect the grant pool is slashed and distributed to another program.

For example, only 15 states actually comply with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act substantively. The penalty for non-compliance was a 20% reduction in available Byrne grant money. The year before SORNA went into effect Congress reduced the total pool of Byrne funds by 80% so states that didn't comply were only docked 20% of 20% of the previous fund allowance. To illustrate, for a hypothetical one million dollars available, the published penalty for violating SORNA was $200,000, but the actual penalty was just $40,000.

So my question is, what is the penalty for non-compliance and how big is the pool that it draws from come enforcement time?

States still got most of their Byrne grant money for not properly implementing SORNA it just came with a different name on it. (Let's not get into the waivers you could apply for to delay these penalties)

Anonymous said...

Last session the legislature appeared poised to pull the trigger and raise the age. Does anyone know where the delay of game or opposition is coming from?

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