There is a debate in the state legislature this legislative session about changing our current laws which allow 17-year olds who cannot vote, drink or smoke to be tried as adults in adult court. Texas has always been a tough on crime state and the question arises will relaxing this option send the wrong message to young people who get in trouble with the law. Will it make for more youth crime, in other words?
I don’t think it does and there is strong evidence to support this.
The majority of juveniles get in trouble for some minor offense – a fight, possession of marijuana or even truancy which is a criminal offense in Texas – truancy isn’t a criminal offense in 48 other states. These are not necessarily hardened and habitual criminals from which society needs to be protected. They are kids and young adults that have problems and they need help with those problems. Per a recent story in the Dallas Morning News, this softer approach is working in Dallas County and the recidivism rate (the number of people who re-offend after going to jail) there is now low.
We do not need more kids in the justice system. We need less. We need to stress the importance of family support, how additional tools in the class room can help, and how kids need a moral compass of their own rather than the threat of punishment to keep them on the right side of the law. One excellent little book I know of is the Way to Happiness which has been in circulation for more than three decades.
Compassion and understanding for the situation that put them there in the first place is necessary. Solutions exist outside of detention and already exist in the community that can be implemented to turn a juvenile indiscretion into an opportunity to turn around an entire future. It takes a village to raise a child.
So I applaud the Texas Legislature for moving ahead and being tough on crime by being understanding of our youth.