Proposed TX Legislation Would Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility to 18

Proposed TX Legislation Would Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility.

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Texas legislators have filed four bills[1] for the 2017 session proposing that Texas raise “the age of criminal responsibility”[2] from 17 to 18.[3]

The bills reflect growing nationwide support[4] for 17-year-olds accused of crimes to have criminal cases against them referred to the juvenile-justice system, where penalties are not as harsh.[5] Advocates of the bill also point out that the juvenile-justice system’s procedures mandating parental notification and involvement[6] in the case better reflect the realities of most 17-year-olds who still live under their parents’ roof.[7]

Not everyone in the Texas Legislature believes we should go easier on our 17-year-olds:  The Legislature shot down a bill that proposed raising the age to 18 in the 2015 session.[8]

Opponents of the bill point out that expanding the juvenile-justice system to include 17-year-olds would be a costly measure.[9] The average per-day cost to house adult inmates ($54.89) versus juveniles ($437.11) is indicative of the generally higher costs the juvenile-justice system exacts per case.[10]

However, other state legislatures have been swayed by research showing that the initial short-term investment ends up saving money in the long run.[11]

Texas legislators know firsthand that money put into criminal policy reform can eventually yield gains: Investments in drug treatment and behavioral programming in lieu of prison and probation sentences beginning in 2007 has now prevented billions in Texas prison spending.[12]

Opponents maintain that all of the softer measures a juvenile court could implement are available for 17-year-olds in the adult criminal-justice system; thus, a massive overhaul is unnecessary and does little more than remove the option of punishing exceptionally egregious cases with fitting sentences.[13]

Keeping the status quo also has its costs, as federal laws that draw the adult responsibility line at 18 exact ever higher compliance costs on Texas prisons.[14]

The fact that, statistically, youths whose cases were adjudicated in juvenile-justice systems are 34% less likely to commit crimes than individuals of the same age whose cases were adjudicated in adult criminal-justice systems[15] misses the point for many opponents of raising the age.

The bills seeking to raise the age of criminal responsibility would primarily affect sections of the Texas Penal Code, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Texas Family Code. Here at O’Connor’s we will monitor these legislative developments.

Before and after the 85th Legislature makes changes, make O’Connor’s annotated code series your first source for the law.

For the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, depend on O’Connor’s Texas Criminal Codes Plus. For the Family Code, get your copy of O’Connor’s Texas Family Code Plus.


[1] H.B. 676; H.B. 122; H.B. 1015; S.B. 941.

[2] The age at which the “adult” criminal-justice system automatically adjudicates criminal charges is generally referred to as “the age of criminal responsibility.”

[3] Erin Nichols, Should Texas Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility from 17 to 18?, News 4 San Antonio, Jan. 31, 2017.

[4] Eighteen is the age of criminal responsibility in 43 of 50 states. Six states have increased to 18 their age for adult court jurisdiction during the past seven years, with Louisiana and South Carolina making the change in 2016. Bailey LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?, County Progress, Dec. 16, 2016.

[5] About 98.7% of Texas juvenile cases in 2015 resulted in youths being placed on probation. House Research Organization, Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?, Texas House of Representatives, Oct. 25, 2016.

[6] When a child is arrested the police must notify a parent of the child’s action and reason for taking him into custody. Texas Young Lawyers Association, The Texas Juvenile Justice System: What You Need to Know (2014); see Texas Family Code §58.0021(e).

[7] LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?

[8] Johnathan Silver, Juvenile Justice Advocates Look to Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility to 18, Texas Tribune, Jan. 30, 2017.

[9] Bexar County has estimated an annual cost of between $8.2 million and $8.5 million to implement the change. Harris County estimated $50.1 million in the first full year of implementation and $18.2 million to $19.9 million annually after the first year. LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?

[10] Id. The state’s cost per day for community supervision (probation), for instance, for someone in the adult system is $1.63 vs. $5.40 per day for juvenile probation supervision. Id.

[11] North Carolina commissioned a research into other states that raised the age to 18 and concluded that other states that initiated reforms taking teenage offenders out of adult prison led to long-term savings of as much as $10 for every $1 spent on the reform measures. LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?

[12] Time for Texas to ‘Raise the Age’ for Adult Crimes from 17 to 18, Grits for Breakfast, Jan. 30, 2017.

[13] LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?

[14] The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards “require individuals under 18 who are incarcerated in adult facilities to be housed apart from adult inmates with sight and sound separation between them.” TDCJ is in compliance with this requirement, but compliance requires an altogether separate housing and facilities for 17-year-olds in state prisons. LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?

[15]The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2007 reported that youths under age 18 who were transferred to the adult criminal-justice system from the juvenile-justice system reoffended at a higher rate than youths retained in the juvenile system. The CDC analyzed several studies and reported that transferred juveniles were about 34% more likely than retained juveniles to be involved in subsequent crimes.  LeRoux, Analysis: Should Texas Raise the Age of Adult Criminal Responsibility?

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