“Raise the Age”: Hold 17-Year-Olds Accountable in the Juvenile Justice System

Policy Background

In Texas, 17-year-olds who are arrested are automatically sent to the adult justice system. Texas is one of only three states left to treat these teens as adults for criminal justice purposes1 – removing their parents from the court process, and exposing kids to confinement in adult jails. Of the 16,000 17-year-olds arrested in Texas in 2019, approximately 95% were arrested for nonviolent and misdemeanor offenses.2 These kids could be processed through the juvenile system, where they would have more access to community-based rehabilitative services (e.g., counseling, education, and treatment), giving them positive and age-appropriate redirection. This is a common-sense approach, as kids are highly amenable to rehabilitation. Furthermore, keeping kids in the juvenile (vs. adult) system lowers their likelihood of re-offending by 34 percent,3 and it prevents them from receiving an adult criminal record, which can create barriers to a college education, employment, housing, and the military.

Note: Between 2016 and 2019, arrests of 17-year-olds fell nearly 25 percent (from 21,374 to 16,104).4 Also during that time, the average daily population in Texas’ secure juvenile facilities fell 16 percent (from 1,129 youth aged 10-16 to 949 youth).5 With COVID-19 also reducing populations of kids in county facilities,6 the Texas Juvenile Justice Department is well equipped to absorb 17-year-olds who are confined to or facing adult prison. Importantly, reports from other states that have recently “raised the age” have not shown evidence that such a policy change has overwhelmed their juvenile systems.7

Proposed Solution

Raise the automatic age of criminal jurisdiction from 17 to 18, which will start kids off in the juvenile system but give judges the discretion to transfer kids with the most serious offenses to the adult system on a case-by-case basis.

Relevant Bills

  • Bill Number: HB 967 [Dutton, Reynolds]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of criminal responsibility and to certain substantive and procedural matters related to that age.
  • Bill Number: HB 1430 [Dutton]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of a child at which a juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction over the child, to the age of criminal responsibility, and to certain substantive and procedural matters related to those ages.
  • Bill Number: SB 1552 [Hinojosa]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of a child at which a juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction over the child, to the age of criminal responsibility, and to certain substantive and procedural matters related to those ages.
  • Bill Number: HB 4371 [Allen]
    Bill Caption: Relating to juvenile justice reform, including the age of a child at which a juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction over the child and the age of criminal responsibility.
    TCJC Materials: Testimony on omnibus bill
  • Bill Number: HB 486 [Wu]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of criminal responsibility and to certain substantive and procedural matters related to that age.
  • Bill Number: HB 1273 [Crockett]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of criminal responsibility and to certain substantive and procedural matters related to that age.

Other Materials


1 Other states that have not yet raised the age of criminal court jurisdiction to 18 include Georgia and Wisconsin.

2 Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas: 2019, p. 22, 24.

4 Texas Department of Public Safety, The Texas Crime Report for 2016; also: Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas: 2019, p. 22, 24.

5 Texas Juvenile Justice Department, The State of Juvenile Probation Activity in Texas: Statistical and Other Data on the Juvenile Justice System in Texas, 2016 and 2019.

6 Texas County Juvenile Court Case Counts, file received via email, October 8, 2020, compiled from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. File available upon request.