ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - A change to the criminal juvenile system could be on its way. As of now, seven states in the U.S. punish seventeen-year-olds as adults including Texas. A state lawmaker wants to change that.
The possible change has Angelina County probation officers concerned. The juvenile detention center in Angelina County is the third smallest in the state of Texas.
They couldn't buy a pack of cigarettes or vote in an election, but today in Texas, all seventeen-year-olds are punished as adults.
"When you detain a kid and it's their first time, it really puts a high risk factor on them," said Mark Gorman, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer.
The proposed state Senate Bill 104 will change that if passed by raising the age of adult criminal punishment to 18.
"A lot of kids that get in trouble between 17 and 18 and they never get in trouble again," said Gorman.
Texas is one of seven states that tries seventeen years olds as adults. Forty-one states punish 18-year-olds as adults, while two others treat those 16 and older as adults under certain circumstances.
Angelina County's chief probation officer tells us that raising the adult criminal punishment age to 18 would have pro's and con's in East Texas.
"We have a small juvenile detention center, it's eleven bed pre-adjudication facility," said Gorman.
The two hallway facility is also responsible for housing juveniles from eleven East Texas counties.
"They depend on us for contract detention," Gorman said.
If 17 year-olds were put in juvenile detention there could be population and funds issues. Rehabilitation for juveniles costs more, and the staff is small. However, if the bill is not passed, Angelina County jail could have to pay more to separately house 17-year-olds per the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
A pro would be the ability to be able to seal that juvenile record. Juvenile offenders have the option to seal or expunge criminal records. These options are almost impossible for adult offenders. He says he's not opposed to the possible change, but hopes it's well thought out.
Gorman says we need to know, "How it would effect the state and if it's a good thing for Angelina County."