In Texas, a 17-year-old is considered an adult for the purposes of the criminal system. Because of this, there is a problem within the criminal justice system – a disconnect between how 17-year-olds are generally treated in society and how, despite that, they must face adult sentences and punishments for some crimes, such as drug crimes. Should the age of responsibility be raised?
In 2015, more than 22,000 17-year-olds were arrested in Texas. Those who were jailed faced the dangers inherent to adult jails – violence, sexual assault and even an increased risk of suicide. Many of these 17-year-olds are forced into solitary confinement because of the problems that can arise when exposing them to adult offenders.
Efforts to protect minors from incarceration alongside adults have been in the works for a long while. In 2015, a bill was proposed that would raise the age of responsibility for crime to 18, but it was short-lived. This year, State Rep. Gene Wu of Houston is pushing HB 676, which would do the same thing.
The Juvenile Justice System in Texas
The juvenile justice system in Texas is based on the understanding that young people are capable of change and is focused on helping young offenders connect with the social resources they need to make a change for the better. By denying 17-year-olds access to these resources in favor of adult jails and prisons, one could argue that we are contributing directly to worse outcomes for these kids.
Critics of the bill worry about the sudden influx of juvenile offenders that such a bill would create and whether the juvenile justice system is equipped to handle that strain. The short term financial stress, Wu argues, would pave way for longer term success, allowing young offenders to rehabilitate in a more successful way, reducing rates of recidivism and working toward the greater good.