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Changes for juvenile offenders ahead in Texas

On May 26, the Texas House voted to raise the age at which teens would enter the adult legal system. The provision was part of a bill earlier passed by the Senate that proposes keeping juveniles convicted of minor offenses closer to home rather than in faraway facilities.

Based on the bill, youthful alleged offenders will automatically enter the legal system at the age of 18 instead of 17 although there is still leeway to try a juvenile as an adult if the crime is a serious one. The age has been set at 17 since 1918.

There are 1,258 young people in juvenile centers in Texas. Most of them are being held for offenses such as assault, drug possession and car theft. While about 80 percent of them are spread throughout five facilities in the state, it is costlier to house them further from home. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. John Whitmire, says 35 facilities have been identified that could take in the juvenile offenders and save money.

Juveniles or parents of juveniles who have been charged with a crime may wish to consult an attorney. It should not be assumed that since the individual is a juvenile or the charge seems minor that there will not be a penalty or that the incident will not have repercussions. With an attorney, an individual might have a better chance of avoiding being sent to a juvenile facility, and there may be provisions in place to keep the incident from following the juvenile into adulthood. Juveniles facing more serious charges may also want to consult with legal counsel. For example, a juvenile might be on the scene at an armed robbery where someone is killed, but the juvenile may not be responsible for the death. An attorney might attempt to ensure that the juvenile is not tried as an adult.

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