Proposal by Texas Senator may send juveniles to adult prison

The chairman of the Texas Senate's criminal justice committee proposed that 17 and 18 year-olds who commit violent crimes should serve their time in an adult prison instead of the juvenile system. One motivating factor for the change, according to Senator John Whitmire: saving the state money.

Those against the proposal argue that juvenile detention should focus on rehabilitation not incarceration. They contend putting these children into the adult penitentiary would shift the focus to punishment while proponents of the measure counter that in addition to saving the state money, the program would only apply to violent offenders. As a result, the proposal would also decrease the danger of working in youth prisons.

Basics of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department, or TJJD, aims to protect the safety of Texans by using secure facilities to promote rehabilitation while ensuring public safety.

Generally, those who are sent to TJJD are given indeterminate sentences. Instead of serving for a defined period of time those sent to TJJD are given a minimum length of stay. This length of stay can vary from nine to 24 months depending on the severity of the crime.

Once this minimum stay is completed and treatment progress is made, the juvenile is eligible for release, but release is not guaranteed. Once entered into TJJD, a child could remain there until the age of 19.

In some cases, a determinate sentence is issued. A determinate sentence sets forth a specific period of time the child is to spend in prison and can extend up to 40 years.

Impact of imprisonment on a child's life

A study conducted by researchers with Duke University questioned the benefits of imprisonment on young adults. Researchers found young adults who were incarcerated suffered an increased level of psychological distress when housed in an adult prison as opposed to a juvenile detention facility. In addition, youth who completed their time in an adult facility often left with a criminal record making it more difficult to obtain employment and become a positive member of society.

Overall, the study argued incarceration of a child or young adult in should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Researchers did note juveniles' experienced increased psychological damage when serving in an adult prison. The researchers argue imprisonment has harmful consequences including a higher risk of reoffending.

As a result, regardless of whether the above proposal is passed it is important to take any criminal charges a child receives seriously. If your child is facing criminal charges, contact an experienced juvenile defense lawyer to discuss your situation and better ensure your child's legal rights are protected.