In Texas, adulthood usually means 18. Seventeen year olds cannot vote, serve in the military, or buy lottery tickets. There is an exception, though: kids are automatically charged, jailed, and imprisoned as adults the day they turn 17, even for the most minor, nonviolent offenses.
Texas lawmakers should raise the age of criminal responsibility so that 17-year-olds are treated in the juvenile justice system when appropriate, but allow judges to transfer those younger than 18 into the adult system on a case-by-case basis.
Here are the five most important reasons for Texas to raise the age of criminal responsibility:
- Raising the age will improve public safety. Prosecuting and incarcerating youth in the adult system leads to more crime, yet Texas is one of seven states that still automatically treats 17 year-olds as legal adults in the criminal justice system. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that excluding youth from the juvenile justice system may increase recidivism by as much as 34%.
- Raising the age will protect parental rights. When 17-year-olds are arrested as adults, their parents do not need to be informed of the arrest and do not have a right to be involved in the court process. Including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system will protect the right of parents to support their children through the justice system.
- Raising the age will protect kids. Including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system will protect youth from the dangers posed by incarceration in adult facilities. Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. They also face a high risk of sexual assault, and they often spend up to 23 hours every day in solitary confinement, leading to physical and psychological harm.
- Raising the age will keep kids on track for success. Adult arrests are public record and can limit job and educational opportunities for a lifetime. Adult convictions shut the door on even more opportunities, such as earning the certification required for employment in Texas’ biggest industries.
- Raising the age is cost-effective. States that have raised the age have downsized their juvenile justice systems and lowered costs as a result of decreased recidivism. According to one study, including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system is projected to ultimately save Texans $88.9 million for each annual cohort of 17-year-olds moved into the juvenile system.
If you want to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas, share this post to spread the word and find the contact information for your legislators here.