“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 four 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 20,000 17-year-olds arrested in Texas in 2017, more than 95 percent 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: Only 33 kids aged 17 or younger were actually incarcerated in a Texas prison or state jail as of August 2017 – a small population that, again, could be absorbed by the juvenile system, especially given that the incarcerated juvenile population declined from 1,026 in December 2017 to 879 in June 2018 under the leadership of Executive Director Camille Cain.4

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 Bill

  • Bill Number: HB 344 [Dutton]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of criminal responsibility and to certain substantive and procedural matters related to that age.

  • Bill Number: HB 658 [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.

Other Bills Related to Age of Jurisdiction

  • Bill Number: HB 1364 [Wu]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the age of a child at which a juvenile court may exercise jurisdiction over the child and to the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Other Materials


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

4 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, FY 2017 Statistical Support, 8.

See also: Camille Cain, Short-Term Solutions and Long-Term Goals: A Plan for TJJD, June 1, 2018 [see introduction letter].