High-profile legislation to raise the age for criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 was declared dead in the Senate in early May, as leaders rejected House overtures to pass the bill but delay its implementation until 2021.
Senate leaders said the estimated $35 million cost to implement the change and concerns that putting perhaps thousands of additional youths into the state’s already overburdened juvenile system led them to opt instead for a two-year study as a prelude to enacting the change when the Legislature returns in 2019.
“The concept has merit, but the votes are not there on the Senate floor to do it this year,” said Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and longtime chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “With all due respect to the House, their proposal did not have any funding in the budget they passed, and there was no plan on how to change the juvenile system to successfully accommodate the additional population of 17-year-olds.”
Texas’ age of adult responsibility has been at 17 since 1913. Texas is one of five states that treats 17-year-olds as adults in criminal cases, with New York having recently raised its age from 16 to 18. A dozen states have left that list in the past 10 years, and statistics show that many of them either overestimated the costs of raising the age or ended up paying nothing for the policy change.
Juvenile justice advocates of the change have said treating 17-year-olds as juveniles makes sense because their rehabilitation needs are similar to 16-year-olds in the juvenile justice system; the move would keep them safe from exploitation by older prisoners; and the likelihood they won’t re-offend would increase. It seems as though those advocates will have to wait until the study is complete and the House can come up with the money to make this proposed action a reality.
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