Legislature Reverses Course, Will Keep 17-Year-Olds In Adult Justice System

Texas will keep 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. - Via Flickr user miss_millions
Via Flickr user miss_millions
Texas will keep 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system.

A provision to keep 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal justice system was stripped from a bill this weekend as the Texas Legislature wrapped up the 84th Legislative Session.

The provision wasn’t expected to gain traction this session. So when it passed through the House as an amendment to a bill that would regionalize juvenile justice facilities, many viewed it as a cherry on top.

“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 news release after the House passed the bill.

Before the session started, law enforcement officials called to remove 17-year-olds from the adult system. Doing so would comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, which mandates that 17-year-olds be segregated from adults in correctional facilities.

“We want to treat kids as kids. We want them to have the chance to make mistakes, to learn and to grow from it and not be saddled with something that affects their lives from then on,” Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said to The Dallas Morning News. Wu wrote the amendment to keep 17-year-olds in the juvenile system.

Texas is one of just a few states to treat 17-year-olds as adults. Criminal justice advocates praised treating 17-year-olds as juveniles as a long overdue but positive reform.

The Senate apparently didn’t see it that way though. The bill’s author, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, wanted to keep potentially controversial amendments out of the measure.

"I am very willing to work with members on this issue, but I really think this should be a standalone bill," Whitmire said to The Texas Tribune.

Both the House and Senate approved the new version of the bill. It will become law once Gov. Greg Abbott signs it.

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