Why Texas Should Raise the Age of Responsibility From 17 to 18

If you are a 17-year-old in Texas, you can't legally buy cigarettes or beer or even a lottery ticket. You can't vote. You cannot marry without parental consent. But you can go to jail if you're caught shoplifting an expensive designer handbag — because the state's criminal laws view 17-year-olds as adults.This legal inconsistency doesn't promote public safety or reduce recidivism rates — and it has serious consequences for former young offenders when they start looking for jobs and housing. For all these reasons, Texas lawmakers should raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18.Adolescent brains differ from those of adults and, reflecting that fact, most states place the age of criminal culpability at 18 or older. But that's not true everywhere. In New York, for example, 16-year-olds are considered adults in criminal matters. When a 16-year-old is arrested in Buffalo or Manhattan, police have no duty to notify his or her parents, nor do police need to ask parental permission to question a 16-year-old suspect.Change the age to 17, and the same is true in Texas.Seventeen-year-olds tend to commit the same crimes as 16-year-olds — drug possession and theft — and don't belong in the adult criminal justice system any more than younger adolescents do. The 17-year-olds are at greater risk of sexual victimization in adult systems than adolescents kept in juvenile custody. They receive fewer rehabilitative and mental health services than teens in the juvenile system, and they tend to have higher recidivism rates after release. And those 17-year-olds have adult criminal records.Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, leads the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee. He wrote HB 122,which raises the age of criminal culpability from 17 to 18. (Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, filed a similar bill, SB 941.) A March hearing on the House bill produced a long list of supportive witnesses — groups ranging from the Texas NAACP to the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission to the Texas PTA — and one opponent. It was approved.The bill does carry a fiscal note. In order to care for 17-year-olds, some counties may have to add capacity to their civil courts and increase their juvenile probation and services staff. The state should help with these costs.But it's hard to directly compare the costs of handling 17-year-olds in the adult system with how they would be treated in the juvenile system. Adults can be jailed for minor offenses that, in the juvenile system, would result in a sanction — a date in court or with a probation officer — and release. Other states have raised the age of criminal responsibility without overwhelming their juvenile justice systems or blowing their budgets. Texas can do the same.How you can helpContact your legislator to register your support for HB 122 and SB 941, which would raise the age of criminal culpability from 17 to 18. To find out who represents you and how to contact them, go to www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx and type in your address.Email forms are available on each lawmaker's website. Find them at www.house.state.tx.us/members.  Continue reading...

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