You have the right to make a difference

By Gislaine Williams, ACLU of Texas Outreach Coordinator

We are fast approaching the start of the 2013 Texas legislative session. Starting January 8 through the end of May, Texas lawmakers will meet in Austin for the 83rd Legislature. They will be proposing, debating, and passing laws that will impact all of us.

As Texans, we have the right and responsibility to be a part of this political process. You can make a difference by raising your voice to demand policies that will make a positive change in our communities. Learn how to become a grassroots activist at Community Watchdog TX.

The first step is to educate yourself. Become familiar with the major issues in Texas. Learn about the legislative process and get to know your representatives. Our toolkits provide you an overview of the critical issues facing our state:

  • Criminal Justice TX: Learn about mass incarceration, the rise of for-profit prisons, and the death penalty.
  • Educate, Don’t Incarcerate:  An overview of school discipline policies pushing students out of school.
  • Religious Freedom: A look at how our religious freedoms are threatened in Texas.
  • Immigrants’ Rights:  Find out how we’re working to reclaim the civil rights of all Texans, regardless of immigration status.
  • Find out who your representatives are here.
  • Learn how a bill becomes a law here.

Contact your legislator. There are a number of ways you can contact your representative about an issue. You can write a letter, telephone, or set-up a meeting in  the local district office. Use our lobbying guides to learn how.

Ready to meet with your legislator? We can help you schedule and prepare for your local meeting. Just email to get started.

Lobby with us in Austin! The ACLU of Texas will host our first ever Symposium & Lobby Day in Austin Feb.  10-11. On Feb.  10, you will hear from advocates and policy experts working on criminal justice and immigrants’ rights issues.  The following day we will go to the state capitol to meet with representatives to talk to them about the major civil liberties issues in our state. Sign-up today to receive more information.

Stay involved. Join the Community Action Network to get updates on ways you can advocate for change this legislative session.

Opt Out of Invasive Programs: RFID in Texas Schools

By Matt Simpson
ACLU of Texas Policy Strategist

Rep. Kolkhorst of District 13 (Brenham) filed two bills that, if passed, would bolster protections for individual privacy rights of students in Texas schools.  HB 101 mandates that Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) student attendance tracking programs be voluntary and only implemented if approved by the school district board of trustees.  The approval process would include an opportunity for students, parents and the public to offer comments.  HB 102 cuts to the heart of the matter and bars school districts from requiring students to participate in an RFID badge program.

The ACLU of Texas opposes use of RFID technology to track studemts because the technology is not secure. This technology, originally used to track livestock, simply isn’t appropriate for use with children.

RFID is a generic term that is used to describe a system that transmits the identity (in the form of a unique serial number) of an object or person wirelessly, using radio waves. In schools, students wear RFID equipped ID cards that show their whereabouts at all times. On campus, RFID raises privacy concerns about the ability of school personnel to track students, even in restrooms. Off campus, RFID exposes students to stalking because the devices are easily hacked using simple, inexpensive devices called “readers” that cost as little as $8 on Ebay.

RFID technology to take attendance in schools made statewide news in October 2012 when John Jay High School north of San Antonio began tracking student attendance via RFID-equipped school ID cards.  Prior to this, only a very small number of schools in the Houston area used this technology but the use of RFID to track students has raised serious concerns for some time.

The ACLU has monitored the expanded use of RFID technology with students.  We have opposed such efforts because we don’t want to see this kind of intrusive surveillance infrastructure gain inroads into our culture, and because it is against American values of privacy and freedom to teach children to accept intrusive surveillance technology.

Rep. Kolkhorst’s proposals leave flexibility with local schools but the decision about tracking individuals rightly remains with students and their parents.  This is a balance that should transcend politics and remind us that parental authority is only temporarily (and never fully) handed over to schools.  Parents and students who share our concerns about the kind of intrusive, surveillance climate student tracking programs create should be able to opt out.

In truth, the ACLU of Texas encourages all school districts to avoid RFID controversy by ignoring the claims of savings used as selling points by RFID manufacturers and avoiding the purchase of expensive RFID tracking programs.  RFID was designed to track commercial products and livestock, not humans.  Students don’t need to be treated like parolees under house arrest with an ankle monitor.  Finding creative, locally grown solutions to support education, promote school attendance and education funding is critical.  But, RFID student tracking comes at too high a price.

Drug testing #TANF applicants is wrong. Here’s why!

By Terri Burke
Executive Director

A few days ago we posted our response on Facebook to a proposed law that would require drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance of Needy Families (TANF), which was endorsed by Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewherst. Our post drew a number of very spirited replies from supporters and non-supporters. To those who commented, thank you all for writing. Let me respond to some of your comments to emphasize a few points:

Halyi, There is no evidence welfare recipients use drugs at a higher rate than the rest of the population. When Florida tried this, over the 4 month period before the courts shut them down, the state lost $45,000 and discovered only 2.6 percent of the folks tested positive for drugs.

Jonathan, this drug test will only identify drug “use” not abuse. However much some of us may deplore any drug use, there is a difference between use and abuse. Moreover, the constitutional questions raised by mandatory government testing are far more problematic than testing by a private employer. This represents serious government overreach.

Robert, children of the occasional marijuana smoker are surely better off with that parent than being thrown into the Child Protective Services system (I don’t know where you live but search for some very scary stories about that if you haven’t seen them).

Johnathan, the average TANF monthly check is about $200, according to Gov. Perry. I don’t know much about drugs, but I doubt that buys very many.

Keilah, if you buy the argument that the taxpayers have a right to demand that those who receive taxpayer dollars be drug tested, then why aren’t we demanding drug testing of all the veterans, the senior citizens who receive Medicare and Social Security, farmers who get government subsidies, entrepreneurs who receive Texas Enterprise Funds from the governor’s office, and so on. My point is quite simple: we are making poverty a crime. We are going to drug test a group of people who differ from these others only because they may be poorer, they may be black, they may be brown – not because they are drug users.

I’m sorry we disagree on this but I hope you will continue to comment on our Facebook posts, receive our emails, and continue to challenge us when you think we should be. It is only through these dialogues that we get a better sense of the thinking of all Texans.

Call for change at the Texas Legislature

By Matthew Simpson
Policy Strategist

Parents and community members will have an opportunity to advocate for students at the Texas Legislature later this month. On Oct. 30, 2012, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear testimony on a variety of issues facing students in our public schools.  These are the topics the committee will address:

Alternative Education Programs

The committee will look at Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs).  Students are placed in DAEPs and JJAEPs when they are removed from the classroom. DAEPs are a part of school districts whereas JJAEPs are run by county juvenile justice boards.  Advocates have expressed concerns about the quality of the education provided in DAEPs and JJAEPs. There are also alternative approaches to discipline that allow students to remain in a normal classroom setting that can actually produce better outcomes.

Racial Inequity in School Discipline

Second, the committee will review research that highlights racial inequity in suspension, expulsion, and tickets at school.  Organizations like Texas Appleseed and the Council of State Governments Justice Center have found African-American and Latino students are more likely to be ticketed at school, expelled, and suspended.  Special education students are also disproportionately represented in statewide studies.  These trends raise troubling concerns about the way students are disciplined across Texas.

Zero Tolerance, Alternative Schools, and Student Ticketing

Third, the committee will consider how zero tolerance policies, separate alternative education campuses, and law enforcement in schools have become problematic in Texas.  Zero tolerance policies require harsh disciplinary responses like suspension and expulsion when certain rules or laws are broken.  The policies are  widely considered a failure because they tie the hands of administrators.  Even conservative groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation are voicing concerns about this approach to school discipline.  Another critical issue is the overzealous use of ticketing by law enforcement in school.  Over 275,000 tickets are issued to students in schools EACH YEAR in Texas.  Expulsion, ticketing, and suspension undermine school success and ultimately undermine the chances of any individual student graduating.  It is essential that we address our high dropout rates as we move toward an ever more sophisticated workforce and economy. We can start improving student success by making basic reforms to suspension and ticketing policies.

Children in the Foster Care System

Fourth, the committee will look at how foster children fair in school and in the juvenile justice system.  The committee will likely look at ways to improve case management and information sharing so that youth receive appropriate services.

Alternative Discipline Models

Finally, the committee will look at “[e]vidence-based models used for addressing juvenile delinquency prevention that are targeted to non-adjudicated, but at-risk youth, in the school disciplinary system.”  Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is one school discipline model that helps keep students in school and out of the juvenile justice system.. PBIS is a good alternative because it allows a school-wide approach to school discipline that focuses on prevention rather than simply relying on punishment. Graduated Sanctions is another alternative model.  This approach creates disciplinary consequences of growing seriousness with each infraction. Tickets or suspensions are used as last resort measures.

The good news is that state legislators want to improve how we handle discipline at school and are ready to listen to suggestions. We, as parents, students, and Texas residents, have the opportunity to weigh in at this hearing and in the future as these issues continue to be discussed.

Want to get involved?  Here’s how you can take action:

Schools In Texas Routinely Violate Constitutional Protections For Religious Freedom

By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director

This week we released a report documenting that school districts all over the state routinely ignore the Constitution when it comes to religious freedom in public schools. Examples are detailed in, “At the Mercy of the Majority: Attacks on Religious Freedom in Texas Public Schools in the Decade after Santa Fe v. Doe.” Moreover, Texans who complain publicly are often subjected to ridicule and threats.

Check out our coverage:

Fox News 26 Houston

KUHF FM Houston

Texas News Service

According to the report, “The ACLU of Texas receives dozens of complaints every year from students, parents, and teachers across Texas reporting that local public schools violate students’ religious freedom in a myriad of ways: prohibiting students from wearing religious attire, injecting sectarian religious views into classroom instruction, and even endorsing and requiring student prayer.

“Yet most of the complainants are afraid of speaking out, even with the Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court on their side. They fear if they go public with their concerns, their children will face retaliation at school. They fear social stigma in their towns. They fear loss of their jobs. They fear violence,” the report concluded.

Schools named in the report include:

Alief ISD p. 22
Athens ISD p. 46
Brazosport ISD p. 32
Brownsville ISD p. 21
Celina ISD p. 26, 32
Cleburne ISD p. 32, 42
Clint ISD p. 20
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD p. 30, 32
Dallas ISD p. 21, 44
Dayton ISD p. 28, 32
Deer Park ISD p. 28
Ector County ISD p. 32, 35
El Paso ISD p. 25
Grand Prairie ISD p. 25
Fort Bend ISD p. 22
Fredericksburg ISD p. 32, 42
Honda ISD p. 26
Humble ISD p. 26, 28
Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD p. 45
Irving ISD p. 32, 44
Joshua ISD p. 32
King HS, Corpus Christi ISD p. 29
Liberty-Eylau ISD p. 41
Lubbock ISD p. 35
Lufkin ISD p. 32, 43
Magnolia ISD p. 25, 27, 32
Nacogdoches ISD p. 32, 40
Navasota ISD p. 41-42
North Lamar ISD p. 46
Panhandle ISD p. 28, 32
Rockwall ISD p. 41
Round Rock ISD p. 31
Socorro ISD p. 25, 47
Somerset ISD p. 20
Spring ISD p. 20
Texas City ISD p. 22
Willis ISD p. 32, 35
Wylie ISD p. 32
Ysleta ISD p. 45

Stop disproportionate and unnecessary ticketing in schools of African American students

By Sarah Guidry
Interim Executive Director
Earl Carl Institute for Legal & Social Policy
Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University

I recently found out that back in the late 1800s, my paternal great grandfather purchased land and built a school for the education of his children and grandchildren. I recall hearing my father talk about how his grandfather had volumes of Shakespeare on his book shelves that contributed to my father’s yearning to learn.  As a child, not a single day passed without my parents and grandparents “preaching” the importance of education.  As parents and grandparents of African American children, they knew, as I do, that education is a way to a better life.  Education improves key aspects of life including financial, social, familial, and spiritual.  Education is power!

My forbearers would never have envisioned today’s educational system that routinely criminalizes our children and closes the doors of opportunity. Students are pushed towards lifelong involvement in the criminal justice system when they are ticketed for relatively minor disciplinary issues. This phenomenon is now widely referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.

The Earl Carl Institute for Legal & Social Policy, Inc. (ECI), is a research, writing, and advocacy think tank, affiliated with the Thurgood Marshall School of Law on the campus of Texas Southern University, a historically black university.  The institute is one of the few organizations providing legal representation to students in school ticketing cases.

We frequently represent children in cases we consider particularly egregious; which brings to mind the story of a student we’ll call Mick.  Mick retained the ECI Juvenile Justice Project to represent him in a school ticket case.  Mick has ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, which most often manifests through difficulty with social interaction, and repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior.  Mick has an issue with elopement.  That’s when a student leaves a permissible area of containment and enters onto another part of the school grounds unsupervised or without permission.

Mick was issued a ticket for trespassing on school grounds after he eloped from his Behavior Support classroom. Mick’s Individual Education Program specifically requires that his emergency contact (in this case, his mother) be notified immediately if Mick elopes, before involving the police. Multiple school personnel followed Mick around the campus for two hours; never once notifying his mother.  One of the principals finally suspended Mick to have an excuse to call police.   School policy holds that the only lawful place a suspended student may physically “wait” is in the front office.  If the student leaves that area or refuses to go to the office, the school may call the police to arrest the student for “trespass.”  Only after six squad cars arrived on scene, and Mick was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a squad car, was Mick’s mother notified of the situation.  This was Mick’s third ticket for behavior related to his disability.

ECI was ultimately able to get Mick’s case dismissed.  Mick potentially could have had three criminal misdemeanor convictions against him, all by the age of 12, possibly affecting his dream of going to college to earn a degree in computer science and becoming a gaming designer.

Other cases have included a student:

* With anxiety disorder ticketed for disruption of class for singing the ABC song which calms him;

* Overheard saying a curse word in the hallway that was ticketed for disruption of class/profanity;

* With Asperger’s Syndrome who was ticketed for assault when he brushed past a substitute teacher to leave the classroom and walk a certain hallway. He was following his school behavior plan for when he starts to have a meltdown;

* Who was bullied, including being held down and beaten. After the third bullying incident when he’s had enough and tries to defend himself, he is ticketed for disruption of school by affraying (fighting)

* Who, at age 17 and in the ninth grade, was told to withdraw from school and get a GED despite his low grade functioning (4th grade level) and in violation of the school’s duty under federal law to supply services that will allow him to be successful in school.  He then was slapped with truancy fines and the court issued warrants for unpaid fines even though the student only receives social security disability benefits and could not pay.

ECI believes that the school ticketing issue should be of particular concern to the African American community. According to a report issued by Texas Appleseed, 97 percent of school tickets are discretionary (meaning the school does not have to issue the ticket). Moreover, young African Americans receive a disproportionate number of these tickets. In some school districts, African Americans are ticketed at a rate double their percentage of the school population.

We cannot afford to stand back and watch the efforts of our great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents eroded by a school system that would rather send children to jail than to college.  If you need help fighting this up-hill battle, please contact the Earl Carl Institute at 713.313.1139 or visit our website at for more information.

Do minors have fewer rights than adults? Take the youth rights quiz

Find out what the law says about praying in school, punishment at school for saying something on Facebook, and handling police encounters.

Take the quiz to test your knowledge. Then, as you go through the answers, find out what the ACLU of Texas is doing to educate youth about their rights.

1. A school district that allows for corporal punishment cannot discipline a student in that manner without a parent’s written consent.

a. True

b. FalseIf a school district agrees to allow corporal punishment, a school within that district is permitted to physically discipline a student unless that student’s parent or guardian expressly opts out in writing before the beginning of each school year.

2. School administrative staff and police officers must receive training about student mental health and suicide prevention.

a.True – Thanks to a new law in Texas, all school districts must provide for training of all teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, social workers, law enforcement officers, and all other staff on how to recognize signs of mental health issues and intervene early and appropriately.

b. False

3. When a student is the victim of bullying, a school:

a. Must notify the parents of the bullying victim

b. Must notify the parents of the bully

c. May handle the matter internally

d. Both a. & b. – House Bill 1942, which will go into effect as law this fall, requires school officials to provide for the timely notification of both students’ parents.

4. Can the school punish a student for something he or she says on Facebook?

a. Yes

b. No

c. Maybe – Students have a First Amendment right of free speech, but it has certain limits. Schools may be able to censor or punish students for cyberspeech if it is part of a school project, uses school computers, is accessed from a school computer lab, or if it is materially disruptive, vulgar, threatening, or advocates illegal drug use. However, the Supreme Court has said that political speech is “at the core of what the First Amendment is designed to protect,” and students generally have the right to state their political opinions in a non-disruptive manner.

5. When addressing an incident of bullying that results in school disruption, a school is required to consider whether a victim was acting in self-defense when determining the appropriate punishment for those involved.

A. True – House Bill 1942 also prohibits a student from being punished if he or she was reacting in self-defense to an act of bullying.

B. False

6. Do students have the right to pray in school?

a. No, because the ACLU will file a lawsuit to stop them.

b. Yes, in most circumstances. – Students have the right to pray at school, whatever their religion or religious denomination, as long as they do not disrupt the instructional or other activities of the school. A valedictorian or salutatorian may even include a prayer or religious message in their graduation speech. The school cannot compel or sponsor student prayer, however, or set aside time for prayer during the course of any school event or activity. Prayer is an individual right, and it may not be restricted or coerced by the school or any school official.

7. Can school officials search a student’s locker without the student or parent’s consent?

a. Yes, any time they want and for any reason.

b. No, they are never permitted to search a student’s locker without that student’s consent.

c. Yes, but the search must be reasonable and related to a suspected violation of the school code or the penal law. – Under Texas law, students do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their lockers. The school technically owns each locker and does not need a student’s consent before conducting a search. At the same time, the search must be reasonable and related to the suspected disciplinary violation that led to the search. For example, in Shoemaker v. State, the Beaumont Court of Appeals found that when a student was suspected of stealing credit cards, a nonconsensual, warrantless search of her locker for evidence of the theft was reasonable. In contrast, in Coronado v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that when a student was suspected of skipping school, a search of his locker for contraband was unreasonable under the circumstances.

8. Can minors obtain contraception without the consent of a parent or guardian?

a. Yes. A student has the right to obtain any over-the-counter or prescription contraception available to adults.

b. Yes, but with some limitations. – As a general rule, minors over the age of 16 do not need consent to buy any over-the-counter form of birth control. Prescription contraception, however, normally requires the consent of a parent or guardian.

c. No. Students do not have any right to contraception without parental consent.

9. If a school administrator wants to question a student about a crime or a violation of school rules, she must first recite the student’s Miranda rights (i.e., that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law, etc.).

a. True

b. False – Unless the police are involved in a student’s questioning or detention, a student is not “in custody” so as to trigger his or her Miranda rights. As long as the administrator is acting within the scope of his official duties in questioning the student, he is not legally obligated to “Mirandize” the student.

10. Do minors have fewer rights than adults when they are stopped by the police?

a. Yes

b. No – While school administrators have greater leeway than law enforcement to question and search students on campus, police are held to the same legal standards when stopping minors and adults. This is true whether the stop occurs on- or off-campus.

Students shouldn’t fear going back to school.

Most of us have all been on the receiving end of bullying at least once, but that doesn’t mean we should let today’s youth continue to be bullied, and the Texas Legislature agrees!

State lawmakers passed a law creating new guidelines concerning bullying which school districts must implement by the time school starts this fall.

The new law requires school boards to adopt policies that:

  • prohibit bullying
  • stop retaliation against any person including a victim, witness, or another person, who in good faith, provides information concerning a bullying incident.

The new law requires schools to:

  • notify a parent or guardian of a student who is bullying or bullied within a reasonable amount of time after the incident
  • provide steps students should take to obtain assistance and intervention in response to bullying
  • make available counseling options for a student who is victim of or a witness to bullying or who engages in bullying
  • establish procedures for reporting bullying, investigating reports of bullying, and determining whether bullying occurred
  • prohibit punishment of a student who, after an investigation is found to have been a victim of bullying, use reasonable self-defense in response to the bullying
  • develop a process for bullying cases involving special education students in accordance with the Disabilities Education Act.

Parents and guardians no longer have to worry about being in the dark if bullying happens or students being punished for self-defense against bullies!

Help us protect youth rights by joining the ACLU of Texas CAN (Community Action Network). We need people like you to raise awareness in your town!

Texas must stop overusing solitary confinement in prisons and jails

By Kate Vickery
Legislative Intern

In June, for the first time in US history, a congressional subcommittee hearing was held on the use of solitary confinement. Senator Dick Durbin opened the congressional hearing by noting that over 80,000 U.S. inmates are currently held in solitary confinement, the highest number in history.  This wasn’t always the case.

“We now know that solitary confinement is not just used on the worst of the worst. Instead we’re seeing an alarming increase in isolation for those who don’t really need to be there and for many vulnerable populations like immigrants, children, LGBT inmates…supposedly there for their own protection.”

The testimony of people who had experienced solitary was incredibly moving, particularly that of Texas death row exoneree, Anthony Graves, who was housed in isolation for 10 of his 18 years behind bars. Mr. Graves was an innocent man.

Mr. Graves, was one of many. Texas prisons contain about 10 percent of the nation’s isolated prisoners, who spend an average of three years in solitary.

Last month, a group from Texas Impact visited the Hughes Unit, one of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s maximum-security prisons.  An excellent editorial in the Austin American Statesman this week describes the experience:

“We spent the day touring the prison facility with Warden Edward Smith and heard about all of the programs available for inmates. But the image of that small room, the huge doors and the men who languish there stayed with me.”

As Senator Durbin noted, incarcerated juveniles are increasingly held in isolation as well.  While hard numbers are nearly impossible to get, we know that youth are held in solitary confinement in both state and local facilities.

Using isolation as a punishment is technically prohibited for youth in Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facilities. However, 24-hour isolation is a viable option in order to “control behavior that disrupts programming.” This loophole in policy allows youth to easily be placed in isolation, when it should be used only as the absolute last resort.

Isolation has particularly devastating effects on juveniles because of their incomplete psychological and emotional development.  This fact was the primary argument for the Supreme Court’s recent decision to eliminate life without parole (LWOP) as a sentencing option for juveniles. The Supreme Court continues to affirm that children who commit crimes are fundamentally different from adults. They should be given every rehabilitative opportunity while incarcerated in order to increase their chances of leading a productive life upon release. Every hour spent in isolation decreases that chance.

Current Texas policies are far too weak to prevent the overuse of isolation.  Reforms need to be made to ensure that solitary confinement is used only in the most extreme circumstances.

The ACLU of Texas is committed to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all persons in Texas, including the incarcerated. Unfortunately, the overuse of solitary confinement in Texas prisons and jails violates those civil rights, is exorbitantly expensive, jeopardizes public safety, and has devastating effects on an individual’s mental health.

To help reduce the use of this practice in Texas prisons, sign up for the ACLU of Texas Community Action Network.

The US Supreme Court Continues to Affirm Fair Sentencing for Youth

By Matthew Simpson
Policy Strategist

Today the Supreme Court issued an important decision on how youth can be sentenced.  Specifically, the court held that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment, as barred by the 8th Amendment.

In previous cases, the Supreme Court had barred capital punishment for juveniles and prohibited life without parole for non-homicide crimes.  Specifically, Roper v. Simmons held that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children, and Graham v. Florida concluded that the Amendment prohibits a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense.

Today’s opinion, written by Justice Kagan, indicates two lines of legal reasoning that point to the unconstitutionality of life without parole for youth.

  • First, youth are viewed to be less culpable generally because of a “lack of maturity” and an “underdeveloped sense of responsibility.”
  • Second, juvenile life without the chance of parole has been compared to the death penalty in previous opinions.  Because the Supreme Court previously determined the death penalty could not be applied to youth without violating the Constitution, any similar penalty would likewise be unconstitutional.

In Texas, juvenile life without the chance of parole was ended by a law passed in 2009. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed the practice, despite existing state law to the contrary, for youth sentenced to life without parole from 2005-2009.  We hope that today’s decision will influence CCA’s  future decisions on juvenile life without parole.

Overall, the Supreme Court has affirmed that youthful offenders are fundamentally different from adult offenders and criminal penalties for youthful offenders must take into account these differences.  This line of reasoning could potentially mean further reforms in the future.  For example, the court could consider the sentencing of the mentally ill with similar emphasis on the culpability of individuals with mental health issues.  Or, the Supreme Court could consider the use of solitary confinement on juveniles who have been shown to be more negatively impacted than adults by isolation.

The opinion today is a step toward fair sentencing.  Approaching justice with an individualized and outcome oriented approach allows policymakers to continue to develop criminal justice policy that makes us safer and encourages positive long term outcomes.  In Texas, ending juvenile life without parole was smart on crime and today the Supreme Court indicated we also have a constitutional duty to cease this sentencing practice.