For too many young people, serving time in a juvenile detention center is a rite of passage. This is especially common for youth living in communities without a safe school environment and other basic services. On the one hand, people call for punishment that fits the crime and make no mistake, young people are capable of knowingly committing a misdemeanor and felony crimes. On the other hand, Texas law is designed to treat law-breaking juveniles differently, in the hopes that rehabilitation is a possibility before the child commits more crimes and is lost in “the system.”
The fact is, most of these kids would be happy to change their lives for the better if they had the skills and resources to do so. A juvenile criminal record harms a child more than it benefits society.
What Is Juvenile Law?
Under Texas law, a person aged 10 through 16 who breaks the law is considered a juvenile and will go before a juvenile court judge. A person 17 years or older is considered an adult. Adults who break the law are subject to a “trial” in the adult justice system and may be found guilty of a “crime” or “criminal act.” In contrast, juveniles who break the law are subject to an “adjudication hearing” in juvenile court and may be found guilty of a “delinquent act” or “delinquent conduct.”
Somehow, these differences in legal semantics are supposed to promote the possibility of juvenile rehabilitation. Sadly, Texas continues to promote juvenile incarceration, including imprisoning younger and younger offenders for lesser, non-violent crimes, instead of opting for non-incarcerative, more effective rehabilitative options.
Should Juveniles Be Tried as Adults?
In Texas, juveniles as young as 14 can be tried as adults, face adult sentencing and adult prison, and will be treated as an adult going forward for any new felonies committed before age 17. In accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, jailers now follow standards to keep juveniles separate from adults, which often means they are placed in solitary confinement, which can be extremely traumatic. (The American Civil Liberties Union reported that in 2011, more than 95,000 juveniles spent time in solitary confinement!) Despite what appears to be an effort to protect young people from predatory and violent adults, statistics continue to show that juveniles who end up in adult prisons instead of juvenile detention halls are more likely to be sexually assaulted and commit suicide. Even more disturbing, a 2011 report from the University of Texas found that juveniles were often tried as adults arbitrarily and 72 percent of those tried had no history of violence.
Amazingly, Texas lawmakers continue to promote trying juveniles as adults, despite evidence that harsher, longer juvenile sentencing prevents rehabilitation and only serves to crowd our already overcrowded prisons.
The team at Thiessen Law Firm understands Texas juvenile law and is dedicated to defending the rights of juveniles facing serious charges in Houston and beyond. We understand how a criminal record can take away a child’s opportunity to seek out the resources and support he or she needs to grow and become a healthy member of society. Contact us to learn how we fight for juvenile justice.