Coalition aims to keep Texas 17-year-olds out of adult jails

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Expanding reentry education, job training and treatment alternatives to incarceration were announced Wednesday as the upcoming legislative priorities for the Texas Smart-On-Crime Coalition.

A new reentry vocational pilot program is in the works to specifically address the high rate of recidivism in Texas’ state jails.

Instead of a full term in a state jail, the program would require a minimum of 90 days in a community supervision program that includes rehabilitation, education and career and technical training, the coalition said. The program aims to rehabilitate state jail and prison populations with the highest recidivism rates.

Jim Forbes, communications director at Prison Fellowship, announced that the coalition would be working to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 years old. Texas is one of a handful of states that automatically prosecutes and sentences 17-year-olds as adults. “We need to end the exclusion of 17-year-olds from the juvenile justice, because it will reduce crime and protect parental rights,” he said.

A measure that would have moved 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal justice system was stripped out of legislation in May 2015, the Dallas Morning News reported. 

They’ll also look at capping the amount of time someone on probation and parole could spend in prison after a technical violation. “It doesn’t make any sense to send someone back to jail for years for being tardy to a probation appointment,” Teri Burke,” executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said.

The coalition was founded in 2014 by the Texas Association of Business, The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition Goodwill Industries of Central Texas and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, in response to the “ineffective and costly overreliance on incarceration,” the group said.