Support grows for raising the age for juvenile offenders in Texas

Texas lawmakers are debating a bill that would raise the age at which an offender is considered an adult to 18-years-old.

Texas is one of only nine states that currently treats 17-year-olds as adults

Texas lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for raising the age at which an offender is considered an adult from 17 to 18, according to the Texas Observer. A House committee is currently debating the proposal, which, if passed, would mean that the vast majority of 17-year-olds charged with criminal offenses would be tried as juvenile offenders. Advocate for raising the age say that 17-year-olds do not have the mental maturity of adults and that rehabilitation services that are only available to juvenile offenders would help better help them reintegrate into society.

Raise the age

The bill, HB 1205, would raise the age at which a defendant is considered an adult from 17 to 18. The bill would still give judges some discretion in trying some 17-year-olds as adults, but the change would nonetheless apply to about 96 percent of nonviolent 17-year-old offenders. Texas is currently one of just nine states that treats 17-year-old youths as adults.

Furthermore, U.S. Supreme Court rulings and federal laws in recent years have increasingly taken the view that 17-year-olds should not be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, for example, was unanimously passed by Congress and requires jails to physically separate 17-year-old inmates from older ones by "sight and sound" in order to prevent rape and abuse, according to the Star-Telegram.

Benefits to juvenile justice

The main criticism of the proposal is that it will carry a hefty price tag with it. While the cost of housing adult inmates in Texas is currently less than $55 per day, for juveniles the cost is over $430 per day. However, while advocates of the bill acknowledge that there is a significant upfront cost, they point out that such expenses are offset by long-term savings.

The reason the juvenile justice system is so much more expensive is that it makes a wide array of rehabilitation programs available to offenders. The adult system, by contrast, is far more focused on punishing offenders for their crimes. Proponents of raising the age say 17-year-olds are still in a position where they can benefit from rehabilitation and ultimately reintegrate into society. They point out that people coming out of the juvenile justice system are far less likely to re-offend compared to those coming out of adult facilities. Raising the age would ultimately, it is hoped, lead to lower incarceration levels and, therefore, greater savings for the state.

Juvenile crimes

While any criminal charge can be frightening, it tends to be especially so for young people and their families. While there is still hope for the future after being charged with a juvenile offense, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on one's side. The right attorney can help families through what is an otherwise difficult time and advise clients on how to best protect their future prospects when faced with a criminal charge.

Keywords: juvenile, adult, crime, penalties, arrest