Texas Lawmakers Discuss Increasing Juvenile Criminal Age to 18 - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Texas Lawmakers Discuss Increasing Juvenile Criminal Age to 18

Wichita Falls, TX - The Texas House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family issues is discussing a number of bills that could increase the juvenile criminal age from 17 to 18 year of age.

For 97 years, Texas has charged 17-year-olds committing crimes as adults. 

The state's Legislative Budget Board said more than 514 teens were serving time in adult correction facilities in 2014.

Wednesday, several lawmakers at the committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues presented bills that would increase the juvenile criminal age from 17 to 18.

However, that idea is being challenged by Democratic Senator John Whitmire, who oversees criminal justice issues in the Senate. 

Earlier this week, Whitimire's committee passed his proposal that would house teens in the systems closer to their homes.

Kirk Wolfe, Wichita County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer told Newschannel 6 other counties with larger populations would have a difficult time accommodating .

Some of my colleagues in other areas have some significant concerns about that added population," said Wolfe. "Luckily, we don't think it would be much impact to us. We could only use a comparison of our 16-year-olds referrals, which last year we had 90 cases."

The Wichita County Juvenile Justice Center has 32 bed. Last year, Wolfe said the average daily population was 12 juveniles and its highest was 22. He said, the only area of concern for overcrowding would be the centers JJAEP or Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program.

"We pretty much run at capacity at that facility so we would have to come up with some extra space," said Wolfe. 

State lawmakers in favor of the bills said initially moving 17-year-olds to the juvenile system would be costly, but over time it would save the state money through recidvisms. 

The state is also having to address space concerns at county jails, which requires youth to be separated from inmates 18 and older. 

If the state does not address overcrowding by 2017, it could lose nearly $3 million in federal funding.     

Jimmie Johnson, Newschannel 6 

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