Legislature OKs Juvenile Justice Reforms

The Legislature approved major juvenile justice reforms this week. - Via Flickr user Victor
Via Flickr user Victor
The Legislature approved major juvenile justice reforms this week.

A bill that juvenile justice groups praised as “a fundamental shift in how young people would be served by the justice system” passed through the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

SB 1630 will establish a more localized approach to juvenile justice, keeping young offenders out of large, regional detention facilities and closer to their home communities. The state Senate passed the bill in April. 

"Regional and community programs are proven to work. Instead of spending $150,000 a year per youth in a remote state facility, we can spend much less in a local program with much better results and outcomes,” Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said to the Houston Chronicle.

It’s the latest in a steady stream of juvenile justice reforms passed by the Legislature since The Dallas Morning News and The Texas Observer broke a series of scandals in 2007. The system was marred by sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and squalid living conditions.

Whitmire spearheaded the effort on the Senate side. His fellow Houston Democrat, Sylvester Turner, made the main push in the House of Representatives. The bill passed with overwhelming support in both chambers.

The bill’s other provisions include keeping 17-year-olds out of the adult justice system, and shoring up assessment tools to identify the risks and needs of each youth. Few states’ justice systems still treat 17-year-olds as adults.

Keeping 17-year-olds out of the adult system brings Texas in line with federal standards, which state that anyone under 18 should be considered a juvenile. Law enforcement groups hailed the change as a thrifty move that will yield better outcomes for 17-year-olds.

“Texas teens will be safer, and less likely to reoffend, because they will be served by the juvenile justice system and kept out of the adult system. By making this change, 17-year-olds will have a better shot at success and will likewise be protected from the harms associated with confinement in adult correctional facilities,” the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition said in a press release.

Having passed through both chambers of the Legislature, SB 1630 now awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. Abbott is expected to sign it.

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