Three Reasons Why Texas Lawmakers Should Raise the Age

 

In Texas, a 17-year-old that is arrested is automatically sent to the adult criminal justice system. This is done regardless of how minor the offense is. In fact, the majority of these youth are arrested for non-violent and misdemeanor crimes.

Texans have advocated for raising the age that a child can be prosecuted as an adult for years. Nonetheless, Texas remains one of only three states left that treats these teens as adults for Criminal Justice Purposes. While this is long overdue, legislators must raise the age this session.

The Adult Criminal Justice System is no place for 17-Year-old Youth.

Adult facilities and services are not equipped for the needs of youth. Juvenile systems focus more on rehabilitative care as compared to adult facilities. It is often the case that treatment programs for adults don’t allow 17-year-old in their program.  Additionally, youth are at an increased risk of violence and sexual assault. PREA, the Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, requires jails to separate children in their care from adults. Anyone under the age of 18 must be separated by sight and sound. This can lead to 17-year-olds being held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day. It is also very costly for county jails to comply with PREA.

Youth involved in the adult criminal system receive worse outcomes than their youth peers.

Youth involved in the adult criminal system are more likely to recidivate. Youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for violent or other crimes. And unlike in the juvenile system, youth are given adult criminal records. This adversely impacts their chances of obtaining employment, obtaining housing, furthering their education, and serving in the military.

The best time to make this change is now!

Due to the COVID pandemic, juvenile facility populations are at an all-time low. Even before the pandemic, these facilities were projected to be at a record low. The juvenile state residential population is projected to decrease 2.7 percent per year for the next 5 years. During the projected period,  these facilities will remain 44.7 percent below operating capacity. This, combined with a 65 percent decline of the arrest of 17-year-olds, creates capacity and opportunity to raise the age.[1]

Bills that will raise the age have already been filed. Texas should join the other 47 states that have already chosen to prioritize helping children. The 87th Texas Legislatures must raise the age.

Find more information on Raising the Age in Texas here.

 

[1] Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), The Texas Crime Report for 2019 –Texas Arrest Data, https://www.dps.texas.gov/administration/crime_records/pages/crimestatistics.htm

It’s the little things.

It’s the little things. . .

Many largescale changes must be made to the juvenile justice system.  From limiting law enforcement’s jurisdiction over children to diverting funds to community resources to shutting down detention facilities, there is much that can be done at a high level.  These measures recognize the growing body of science emphasizing the difference between criminal and adolescent behavior while recommending family-oriented and least restrictive models of discipline.  If that is the purpose, what can stakeholders who have direct and immediate contact with children in conflict with the law do now while we wait for legislation to catch up with science?  Could something as simple as access to a radio help?

It seems hard to overstate the importance of music to an adolescent.  Listening to music at a given moment changes the situation, which is an extremely powerful tool, particularly for a young person with limited control over their lives.  Listening to “music (in its different genres, behaviors, and contexts…) [allows adolescents] to capitalize, exercise, and regain a sense of agency.”[1]  When so much of a child’s life is dictated by schedules imposed on them by parents, school administrators, state officials, and others who are generally not accountable to the child, there is precious little with which an adolescent can experiment in their “trajectory toward their empowerment as agents who can create and control several aspects of their own world.”[2] And so, in listening to music, an adolescent can explore their own identity, connect with peers, and regulate mood by building a world “in which they can shout and be silly, [be] fragile and in search of themselves, and make their own, personal, choices.”[3]

When I started teaching Street Law to students in a residential probation facility, one of the first exercises we engaged in was developing class rules and incentives together.  Though I intended the exercise to encourage a spirited back and forth of negotiation, I was surprised by the enthusiasm.  They seemed genuinely excited to have the opportunity to exercise some agency over their environment and the thing they advocated for most was playing music at the beginning of class.  When I asked them to justify getting to listen to music before class as opposed to afterward as a reward, they explained listening to music can help process emotions, reduce anxiety, and improve performance in school.  They even self-imposed limits on the music videos to avoid gratuitous sexual or violent imagery.  Commending them on a job well done, I collected requested songs for approval by probation staff.  It was at that point that a student asked me why it needed to get approved, why they couldn’t just listen to the music they wanted to listen to.  It was striking that of all the highly restricted conditions they were subject to, limitations on music might have been among the most immediately hurtful.  Eventually, the music was approved (so long as it was a radio edit) and the students bought into the class.  But the fear of being judged on their musical tastes and having it censored was an emotionally fraught experience.

That interaction was among the most impactful of my teaching experience so far and it’s been the hardest to relate.  People seem, generally, to accept the idea that the content children consume ought to be regulated.  But, when it comes to music and the teenager, I’m not so certain.  It feels too much like reading a diary or otherwise depriving them of judgment-free self-exploration.  This seems especially cruel and counterproductive when, for better or worse, so many other restrictions on expression and experimentation apply.

Science suggests when a listener has so little control over their external environment, “the music itself becomes important to them; they feel the need for the ‘auditory bubble.’. . . to cope . . . [and] to improve their internal mood to deal with their lack of control over the external situation.”[4] One researcher calls it the “musically extended mind” that enhances internal abilities and affords possibilities for action at the affective, physical, and social levels.[5] Nevertheless, some would argue that kids these days aren’t listening to music with good moral values and with bad language.  Music just isn’t the same as when we were kids.  Of course not!  Music is ephemeral.  But that might be why it is so crucial, particularly for children who are learning how to navigate their time and place.  Furthermore, I’d like to share a point raised by my students.  They knew some words might be “inappropriate” and shouldn’t be said in polite company, but “that’s not the point,” they said.  The songs are about “flexing” or “telling it like it is.” In other words, it’s about “misery sharing”[6] or building confidence by listening to lyrics about overcoming significant obstacles.  To say that their music is inappropriate might sound to them like “your feelings are inappropriate” or otherwise discouraging having confidence, pride, or optimism.

But what about those kids that committed troubling acts of violence, those kids that our system would have removed from their communities to be rehabilitated?  Should they be allowed to listen to music that some may perceive as problematic?  Perhaps a level of censorship is appropriate in certain circumstances.  But music, like anything else, is uniquely understood through the listener’s context and history that influences their ability to identify and understand the musical, social, and political elements contained within.[7]  And so, I am less inclined to censor music based on sensibilities.  Perhaps, instead, it is more appropriate to encourage dialogue through sharing music while permitting solitary listening.  I would speculate that these small gestures of empathy and understanding might make the discipline that much more effective and rehabilitation more likely.[8]

 

 

[1] Saarikallio SH, Randall WM and Baltazar M (2020) Music Listening for Supporting Adolescents’ Sense of Agency in Daily Life. Front. Psychol. 10:2911. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02911

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Krueger, J. (2018). “Music as affective scaffolding,” in Music and Consciousness II: Philosophical, Psychological, and Cultural Perspectives, eds D. Clarke, R. Herbert, and E. Clarke, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

[6] Skånland, M. S. (2013). Everyday music listening and affect regulation: the role of MP3 players. Int. J. Qual. Stud. Health Well-Being 8:20595. doi: 10.3402/qhw.v8i0.20595

[7] Christopher M. Ortivez, Understanding Rap Music from the Listener’s Perspective (1997) (M.A. Theses, University of Colorado Denver) (Auraria Library).

[8] P Nieman, S Shea, Canadian Paediatric Society, Community Paediatrics Committee, Effective discipline for children, Paediatrics & Child Health, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2004, Pages 37–41, https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/9.1.37 (“To be effective, discipline needs to be: 1) given by an adult with an affective bond to the child; 2) consistent, close to the behaviour needing change; 3) perceived as “fair” by the child; 4) developmentally and temperamentally appropriate; and 5) self-enhancing, i.e., ultimately leading to self-discipline.”)

 

Texas Teachers did it, now it’s the Lawmakers Turn. Our Public Education System Needs You!

"student_ipad_school - 142" by flickingerbrad is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“student_ipad_school – 142” by flickingerbrad is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The COVID-19 pandemic forced our educators to adjust and teach like never before in history. This unprecedented event made public educators persevere and teach our children from non-traditional settings. Now that we have made the adjustments, our educators depend on our lawmakers to assist in their “new” normal.

Article 7 of our Texas Constitution lays out a clear understanding regarding our children’s education:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

But, what exactly does this mean? And how can we apply it to the current pandemic and the future of education?

The first question can be answered by analyzing the language of Article 7. First, “a general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people” means that the spread of knowledge is essential to ensuring the fundamental principles that we have as citizens of Texas. Next, it speaks of the “duty of the legislature of the state”. State lawmakers must use their position to create and vote on laws in the best interest of Texas citizens. Lastly, it discusses what their duty is concerning public education, they must  “make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools”. This means that the legislature must understand the citizens of Texas situations and provide help towards those situations— adjusting as needed to create a seamless and positive outcome for teachers and students in free publicly funded schools.

To answer the second question, we can apply this to the current pandemic by making sure that the technology needs are matched with what is needed to give the schoolchildren of Texas an adequate education. When we look at the future of education, we are looking for new laws that ensure future instances where we must rely on education over the internet or electronically is done in a manner where no child is left behind.

As the Texas legislature convenes this year for its 87th legislation, education should be put at the forefront. It is easy at times to look at cutting education funding but doing so will be detrimental to Texas children and families. As we enter into this session there is good news with the Texas budget. There were cutbacks made during the summer of 2020 by Governor Abbot. This past December the federal government gave Texas $5 billion in federal relief funds for education. This gives us hope that the lawmakers will use funds to support the needs of our public education system. Additionally, the rise in property taxes within the last nine years can support our current educational needs. The lawmakers can shore up funds from these funds that are set aside, and navigate them to our public education system.

The lawmakers have plenty of resources to ensure our children are being educated. There are funds that can be allocated to public education, we just need the legislatures to ensure this is a priority. This might be a small step for the lawmakers in Austin, yet it can lead to a large step in the right direction towards the education of our Texas children.