The House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee voted on Wednesday to approve a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18.
The proposal would affect thousands of 17-year-olds who encounter the criminal justice system by sending their cases to the juvenile justice system, a bone of contention for advocates and critics. Advocates say the crimes that 17-year-olds commit and their treatment needs are similar to 16-year-old offenders, who go into treatment programs under the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Seventeen-year-olds are minors in all other aspects of society, bill supporters say.
“As legislators, we have to remember that we live in the real world,” House Bill 122 co-author and state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said in January. “We live in a world where children act like children, and we shouldn’t expect them to be adults when we treat them as children for everything else.”
Critics point to two concerns: the cost of moving 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system and making room for them. In February, State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, shared concerns from a Harris County Juvenile Probation Department official:
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“We have 210 beds and are allowed up to 250 on multiple occupancy units. Our average daily population in Detention in 2016 was 270.”
It’s unclear where most senators stand on the age change. The bill’s Senate companion, which is not identical, by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 1 but has not yet been considered.