GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers are once again considering raising the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years old. The move would send more 17-year-olds to juvenile justice centers, instead of adult prisons.
In preparation for the law, the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center has asked for an expansion. On Tuesday, county commissioners approved a 48 room expansion for the center. All the new rooms will be secure with locks. The facility currently has 96 rooms, only 35 of them have locks. The other 61 rooms are for residential teens getting treatment.
There are several similar house bills and a senate bill legislators are currently discussing, that would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years sold. That could mean nearly 350 more 17-year-olds a year, staying at the Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center.
Executive Director Scott Matthew welcomes more troubled teens. “It’s the right thing to do for kids. I still consider a 17 year old a child, their intellectual functioning is not fully developed.”
The move will cost county taxpayers more money, but Matthew says it’s worth it. “If you want your community protected, you want to have a good place to live, then you have to do what’s right and I think it’s hard sometimes, especially if you don’t feel you have a stake in it, but ultimately, we all have a stake in it.”
Besides, Matthew says sending juveniles to adult prisons is more expensive.
The Williamson County Juvenile Justice Center provides treatment for children, including counseling, community service projects and their normal schooling.
It will cost the center about $200,000 to get a design plan for the expansion, which is expected to take several months. The actual construction could cost upwards of $20 million.
When children spend time in juvenile detention, parents are supposed to get a bill. Nineteen state juvenile justice agencies charge parents for their children’s incarceration. Texas is one of 28 states where counties can charge parents. At the Williamson County Justice Center, daily costs can range from $122 to $188. Parents pay based on income but Matthew says most parents don’t pay anything. Williamson County taxpayers and the county fund about 80 percent of facility costs, while the state pays the remaining 20 percent.
The average stay at the Williamson County Justice Center is about six months.