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Texas Leads the Way in Criminal Law Reforms

By Peek & Toland on September 29, 2016

Texas has a reputation for being a state that’s tough and unyielding on crime and big on incarceration. However, in recent years the Lone Star State has forged a reputation for enacting important criminal law reforms.

Recently, the Texas Observer reported on how the state has pioneered important reforms.

The Observer noted Texas has an “increasingly strong bipartisan coalition.” It is continuing to push for reform in the criminal justice arena.

These are changes that would have been unthinkable in the 1990s when the state’s prison system tripled in size.

Texas pioneers criminal law reforms

In recent years the trend has been reversed, although Texas still has more prisoners than any other states and executes more inmates.

The reforms can be traced back to 2005. Policymakers under the leadership of former Republican Gov. Rick Perry undertook reforms criminal law reforms which led to a 12-percent reduction in the state’s incarceration rate since 2009. Supporters of the reforms claimed they resulted in the lowest crime rate since 1968.

Criminal Law Reforms Include Drug Courts

The changes implemented in Texas included specialized drug courts which served as an alternative to incarceration. The state shook up its parole and probation system. Legislators wanted to quickly punish violations without automatically sending an offender to prison.

The massive projected costs of new prisons almost a decade ago was one catalyst to reform. The Observer noted the state was spending $2 billion to build and run new facilities to meet rising demand. Legislators looked at how they could instead invest more than $240 million in programs in the community that would divert offenders from prison.

Fast forward to 2016 and Texas closed three prisons, reduced the number of inmates and enacted significant criminal law reforms to address wrongful convictions. It led the way in reforms in forensic science.

That’s not to say Texas is a role model yet. The state has one of the worst records in the country for miscarriages of justice. It uses the death penalty far more than any other state in the Union. Our experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys help many people who have been wronged by prosecutors to secure jail release.

During the most recent legislative session, legislators enacted more reforms including:

1 – Adjusting the property theft thresholds in a move that’s likely to decrease the number of people jailed for theft.

2 – Decriminalizing truancy

3 – Ending the ‘pick-a-pal’ system for selecting grand juries, which allowed judges to pick people they knew and the same people to serve on juries again and again.

Changes that keep defendants out of jail are to be welcomed. In the past, Texas jailed too many people for minor crimes. Once in jail, there are few mechanisms to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent them re-offending when they are released.

If you are facing a jail term in Austin, San Antonio or another city, it’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Considers Raising Its Juvenile Criminal Age to 18

By Peek & Toland on September 28, 2016

Texas has a reputation for taking a hard line on juvenile offenders. The state has classified 17-year-olds who commit crimes as adults in the criminal justice system for almost a century. Now there are moves to raise the juvenile criminal age.

However, the practice of treating 17-year-olds as adults has come under increased scrutiny and criticism in recent years, resulting in moves to change the law at the state legislature.

Recently, CBS revealed some lawmakers in Texas are seeking to change the juvenile age to 18. A bill was put forward this summer in the House of Representatives. Although it failed to make it into law, its proponents are going to keep on pressing for change. They say there are many valid reasons for raising the juvenile criminal age.

Texas is considering raising the juvenile criminal age

Texas considers upping the juvenile criminal age

The Advantages of Advancing the Juvenile Criminal Age in Texas

The present law has been in place since 1918, but there appear to be few advantages to punishing 17-year-olds by treating them as adults. Some drawbacks include:

1 Re-offending

The juvenile system has programs that are intended to prevent recidivism that are not present in the adult system. Although the juvenile system is more costly, those supporting the bill say the change would cost the state less in terms of reoffending rates.

2 Future Prospects

Adult records aren’t sealed like juvenile criminal records. When youths are caught up in the adult system, it’s harder to access services and find jobs and homes after their release.

3 Texas is in the Minority

Just nine states treat 17-year-olds as adults. Campaigns to raise the juvenile criminal age are gathering momentum in New York, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, states the Marshall Project.

4 The High Cost for Jails

If Texas does not change its juvenile law soon, its jails will face shelling out large amounts of money for renovations. They must meet the requirements of the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. The legislation says youths must be kept away from inmates 18 and older by October 2017. The Legislative Budget Board, says the state faces the loss of almost $3 million in federal funding if it fails to comply.

Lawmakers have not yet reached a consensus. However, many of them believe the juvenile law should be changed in Texas.

Our criminal defense attorneys are well aware that being hit by charges as a young person can ruin your prospects. The situation may be even worse after incarceration in an adult jail.

If you are a teenager in the adult criminal justice system in Texas, it’s vital that you get help. Call us today for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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