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Four Key Criminal Justice Reforms in the Texas Legislature

Texas’ politicians considered a number of key issues in the legislature this year including criminalizing abortion and a controversial ‘bathroom bill.’ The Texas Tribune highlighted four major criminal justice reforms that were up for discussion.

Major law and order reforms discussed included:

1 Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility

The push to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 was a top issue for criminal justice advocates.

House Bill 676 proposed by State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) was intended to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

Texas discusses criminal justice reforms

Texas has classified 17-year-olds who commit crimes as adults for almost a century. However, the pressure for a change grew over the last few years.

Backers of the measure say it will give hundreds of thousands of young people who committed a nonviolent offense a second chance.

Texas PTA President Lisa Holbrook said:

“At 18 you can be drafted in the military, you can buy a lottery ticket, you can vote, but at 17 you’re not able to do those things. Those are adult actions and adult decisions so why would we make an exception in that area when these are still teenagers?”

Opponents of the change point to the potential costs and question if the Texas juvenile system is ready for reform.

However, if Texas fails to make a change it could fall foul of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. This legislation prevents 17-year-old inmates from being within “sight or sound” of inmates 18 and older. Jails face massive bills to make renovations to put them in compliance with the law.

2 Increased Police Protection

Police are likely to end up with greater protection by the end of the legislative session under proposed criminal justice reforms.

The catalyst was the assassination of five police officers in Dallas last summer. The killings led to a call from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for a strong message to be sent out that Texas will stand by the men and women in uniform.

Abbott gave his backing to a bill that would make an attack on a police officer a hate crime. Some lawmakers want the state to fund bulletproof vests capable of sustaining high-caliber rounds of ammunition.

There has also been a call for police to play a greater educational role in the classroom.

3 Increased Protection of Inmates in Jails

In January, Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, filed a bill to set up an independent ombudsman’s office for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The new bureau would concentrate on evaluating, investigating and securing the rights of offenders. At present, the ombudsman’s office does not conduct investigations.

Michele Deitch, a criminal justice expert, proposes an independent ombudsman to monitor county jails. She’s concerned about young people being mistreated in adult jails.

4 Sandra Bland Legislation

The case of Sandra Bland, the African American woman from Illinois who was arrested for a traffic infraction in Waller County and ended up dead in the county jail, sparked a reform movement.

The death, that was later ruled a suicide, led the Texas House County Affairs Committee to lay the groundwork for what is dubbed the Sandra Bland Act.

It would change what qualifies as an arrestable offense, how people are jailed and what happens to them, in particular when they are suffering from a mental illness.

Rep. Garnet Coleman D-Houston, is to file legislation in Bland’s name that would outlaw falsified jail documents, require medical staff to be on duty around the clock in jails and improve the jail intake screening program.

The proposed criminal justice reforms include measures to increase jail oversight. There are many problems inherent in Texas’ jails. You can read more about the importance of jail release here.

If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Austin, San Antonio, Bastrop or Laredo, please call our Texas criminal defense lawyers today at (512) 474-4445.

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