More States Are Raising the Age for Juvenile Crimes

Only six states will prosecute all youth under 18 as adults. States are continuing to raise the age for juvenile court jurisdiction, which supporters argue lowers taxpayer costs and reduces recidivism.

Texas state Rep. Gene Wu is frustrated. State legislatures around the U.S. are voting to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles while his own state remains in a shrinking — and he says wrongheaded — club that charges them as adults, no matter the crime, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Neighboring Louisiana acted last year, as did South Carolina, leaving just seven states nationwide that still prosecute all youth under 18 as adults. This month, New York made it six, joining the wave deciding that helping kids get their lives back on track is better than giving them a criminal record in the adult system. New York, which had automatically treated even 16-year-olds as adults, enacted a sweeping overhaul that included raising the age to 18, effective next year.

Yesterday, Wu and his colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives voted by 82-62 to raise the age, giving supporters hope, although it faces an uncertain Senate fate. Similar legislative battles are playing out elsewhere. North Carolina’s House has passed a nearly identical measure, but it faces a potential state Senate roadblock, as does Texas. last month, Michigan’s House enacted the measure, but it died without making it to a Senate vote. In each state, opponents argued that reform measures would cost too much to implement, overrun juvenile justice court systems and could leave dangerous youth on the street. Supporters of the lower age say such fears are nonsense. They cite extensive studies that show the move lowers costs to taxpayers and drastically reduces recidivism rates.