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

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.

LGBT Youth Exist, are Overrepresented in the Foster Care & Juvenile Systems, and Deserve Protections

 

Despite campaigning on promises to protect and support the LGBTQ community, the Trump Administration has sought out to harm LGBT folks since his inauguration in 2017 weaponizing various policy initiatives and a cabinet of notoriously anti-LGBTQ politicians against the community. While largely aimed at LGBTQ adults, these attacks have also hurt LGBT youth. Despite making up only 9.5 percent of youth in the US, percent of LGBTQ Youth are disproportionality represented in both the Foster Care and Juvenile Systems. In a recent study of California youth grades 6-12, researchers found over 30% of youth living in foster care identified as LGBTQ. While not widely researched, it is estimated that 20% of all youth in juvenile justice facilities are LGB. Additionally, LGBT Youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness. These youth are particularly vulnerable youth are in dire need of increased protections, and the incoming Biden-Harris administration is in an excellent position to provide just that.

The Obama administration did some work to help LGBT youth, including issuing anti-bullying guidance through the Department of Education and a Dear Colleague letter containing legal guidelines that reaffirmed the rights of LGBT youth in schools. These advancements, at the time seemingly indicative of progress tirelessly pursued by the LGBTQ community, were quickly stripped away by the Trump administration.
Trump Administration’s Harmful Policies Affecting LGBT Youth

  • The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education revoked the Obama Administration’s guidance detailing school obligations to transgender students under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 197
  •  Housing and Urban Development (HUD), withdrew two notices impacting LGBT people: the first requirement for emergency shelters receiving HUD funding to post information about LGBTQ people’s rights to access shelter safely, and the second being critical data collection and implementation guidelines for a homelessness prevention initiative targeting LGBTQ youth.
  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempted to remove language protecting the rights of LGBTQ folks to access programs funded by HHS including child welfare services and openly announced protections would only be granted to types of discrimination already banned by federal statute. In 2019, at the time of this announcement, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity were not yet statutorily protected. Shortly thereafter the Trump administration issued a waiver to the same effect to the state of South Carolina, prompting outrage from the House Ways and Means Committee for the “intentional” violation of a congressional mandate to act in the best interests of children. The combined result of these actions was that otherwise qualified families could be turned away-with little to no recourse- from adopting or fostering youth from federally funded welfare programs on the basis of the prospective parent(s)’ sexual or gender identity, leaving LGBT youth with even fewer options for loving, affirming homes. HHS rule overturning Obama-era protections against LGBT discrimination in healthcare. The rule would have allowed the HHS to adhere to biological definitions of sex meaning male or female, completely disregarding an earlier regulation that accounted for an individual’s gender identity. Fortunately, a federal judge blocked the ruling stating that the move directly opposed the SCOTUS decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.
  • Ed Dept. memo that Bostock ruling doesn’t apply to children or Title IX cases (though the memo does state that Bostock may be used to guide cases depending on circumstance)
  • HUD allowance for discrimination against transgender individuals and youth in single-sex accommodations for homeless individuals.

Today, the Biden-Harris administration has the opportunity to step-up and help protect LGBT youth, and so far it looks like they might do just that. On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued a sweeping executive order protecting LGBTQ folks from discrimination in schools, housing, the workplace and healthcare. Though the order falls directly in line with the June 2020 SCOTUS ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, backlash from conservative and religious groups alike have begun, with both groups claiming their rights – or those of women – are being erased or threatened by the choice to uphold LGBTQ rights. While promises to pass the hotly contested Equality Act within the first 100 days of his presidency have recently been rescinded due to difficulties with a newly democratic senate, the Biden administration remains openly optimistic that the act will be passed sooner rather than later, codifying protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity into federal law in the areas of federally funded programs and public accommodations which are not covered under the most recent executive order.

The Human Rights Campaign has set forth a list of demands for the new administration, which includes calls to protect LGBTQ youth in foster care, create a comprehensive federal definition of bullying which would include sexual orientation and gender identity, and an end to the violent practice of conversion therapy. This is especially important for LGBT youth, considering that in 2020, of the 10% of LGBT youth that reported undergoing conversion therapy, roughly 78% of them reported their experiences took place before age 18. The practice has long been debunked as an effective method of “therapy” and instead carries an increased risk of suicide for those who have been subjected to it. Once more, this risk is amplified in youth. The passage of the Equality Act would address this as well as the neglect and harm experienced by LGBT youth in foster care, homeless shelters, and the criminal justice system. Only time can tell for sure whether or not Biden will honor the promises to push for total equality made on the campaign trail, but to those watching closely, this presidential term already seems promising.