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.
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.
 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