Juvenile-justice reforms on way to Texas

Jun 1, 2015 by


AUSTIN — After dropping a mandate to raise the adult age in Texas from 17 to 18, lawmakers on Sunday approved and sent to be signed into law a bill that makes the next stage of reforms in the state’s juvenile justice system.

After weeks of wrangling over the final wording, the vote in the Senate, which did not support changing the adult age, was unanimous. The House vote was 137-7.

Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated he will likely sign Senate Bill 1630 — the most significant changes since 2007, when the Legislature approved a makeover of the corrections system for teen-aged lawbreakers after a sex-abuse and cover-up scandal.

Under the proposed changes, hundreds of juvenile offenders who are now sent to remote state-run youth lockups will instead serve time for crimes in regional and locally based treatment programs. They have a lower recidivism rate than the state lockups.

Supporters said that youths who are in treatment and rehabilitation programs near their home communities do much better in returning to society as productive citizens, and not committing new crimes.

Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who is the architect of the new reforms, said move toward eventually treating and rehabilitating more youths in local and regional programs was contemplated when the first reforms took effect. “This is the next, important phase,” he said.

Despite widespread support for the change, several advocacy groups said they had hoped that an amendment added by the House to raise Texas’ adult age from 17 to 18 would have been agreed to by the Senate. It was not, at the insistence of Whitmire, and both chambers agreed to remove it to allow the bill to go to Abbott’s desk.

Texas is among only nine states that consider 17-year-olds as adults.

Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said he agreed to pull his amendment off to ensure that the bill passed. “This is one of the most important reforms in our juvenile justice system in 20 years,” he said.

Wu and other supporters of the age change, including state Reps. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and James White, R-Hillister, said the issue will come up again next legislative session. Whitmire said he supports studying the age change, but that the issue is too complex to try to make the change starting in two years — as the House amendment had proposed.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” Turner said.

Source: Juvenile-justice reforms on way to Abbott – Houston Chronicle

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