Texas Among States Facing “Raise the Age” Debate

Texas Among States Facing “Raise the Age” Debate

March 11, 2015 | by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project | The Texas Tribune

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As states like Illinois and Massachusetts raise the age of those considered adults by the criminal justice system to 18, the debate about when to send adolescents into the adult court system intensifies in Texas, where 17-year-olds are automatically classified as adults. Lawmakers argue adolescent brains are not fully developed at 17, meaning they should not be considered to have complete “criminal responsibility,” and youth are shown to be particularly vulnerable to abuse when placed in adult prisons.

As states like Illinois and Massachusetts raise the age of those considered adults by the criminal justice system to 18, the debate about when to send adolescents into the adult court system intensifies in Texas, where 17-year-olds are automatically classified as adults. Lawmakers argue adolescent brains are not fully developed at 17, meaning they should not be considered to have complete “criminal responsibility,” and youth are shown to be particularly vulnerable to abuse when placed in adult prisons. Implementing the separation of 17-year-olds from older inmates, as mandated by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), is an expensive undertaking for county jails, which has led to greater support for raising the age of adult classification to 18. Ultimately, the issue depends on how our society—in this case, Texas—views teenagers and young adults. Do they know right from wrong? Does it matter?

Learn more about NCCD’s role in PREA implementation and juvenile justice.