Elizabeth Henneke, a juvenile justice advocate and defense lawyer, told the Tribune that the best help for youths would be to keep lockups small and closer to home.
Smaller facilities would allow "kids to be in smaller environments where they are not just of a herd but in fact are able to be treated like the kids that they are," Henneke said. "And being closer to home allows them to get the positive influences in their communities, so that when they transition back into their communities, they already have positive support."
The Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition views the “Raise the Age” initiative as an urgent life-and-death matter, not just a long-range public policy goal. A 17-year-old prisoner committed suicide in the Fort Bend County jail Jan. 26.
“A 17-year-old in an adult facility is 36 times more likely to commit suicide than someone in a juvenile facility,” said Elizabeth Henneke, policy attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
Proposed “Raise the Age” legislation would leave in place a certification process that allows prosecutors to charge older minors accused of violent crimes with adult offenses and authorizes judges to transfer cases to the adult system on a case-by-case basis, she explained.
While incarceration in a juvenile facility costs more per day than incarceration in an adult facility because of the rehabilitative services and educational opportunities offered to young offenders, the reduction in repeat offenses offsets results in long-term savings, she noted.
“The state has to pay a little more on the front end, but it’s a cost-effective approach in the long run,” Henneke said.
“More importantly, it’s a moral imperative. Raising the age puts these 17-year-olds in a safer environment with greater opportunities. It’s giving them another chance to rise to their potential.”
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