Opposition Rising to Laws Allowing Juveniles to be Imprisoned as Adults

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Another one of the 'get tough on crime' measures dating from the blood soaked 1990s is being questioned in Texas, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

A rally at the state Capitol this weekend is designed to call attention to the laws that were passed in the nineties that allow teenagers as young as 15 to be sentenced as adults to terms of up to 40 years without possibility of parole.

"That is a de facto life sentence," attorney Lindsay Linder of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition told News Radio 1200 WOAI.  "That is essentially saying that you will never have a chance to prove to us that you have changed."

Driven by citizens were fed up by punk gangs committing high profile acts of violence, lawmakers in Texas in the 1990s approved some of the toughest laws in the world.  Every year in Texas, some 20,000 teenagers under the age of 18 are arrested and charged as adults.  Some 6500 people are currently in Texas state prisons for crimes they committed before they could legally vote.

Linder says the goal of the rallies, which will continue leading up to the 2019 Legislature, is to raise awareness of the financial and social cost of these laws."Texas' practice of routinely sending youths to state prisons for an extreme length of time, and how wasteful that is not only in terms of the human costs, but also the fiscal cost, it is extremely expensive to be doing criminal justice this way."

Several laws that would have lessened the punitive aspects of these 'determinate sentencing' laws failed in the 2017 session, but Linder says more and more district attorneys are declining to ask for lengthy terms in adult prison for juvenile offenders, and more and more juries are declining to mete out the sentences.

Linder says people who think that 'if you do the crime you should do the time' should apply to young teenagers should rethink that attitude.

"I don't think any of us can say that we are the same person we were when we were 14, 15, 16 years old," she said.

Linder and other activists say the real problem is that, when teenagers commit acts of violence, it is almost always peer driven, and the violence is committed in connection with a group of teens.  And in that case, if the violence results in a person being killed, the entire group, under the state's controversial 'Law of Parties,' can be charged with murder.  Linder says many people are serving lengthy prison terms who did nothing other than be present when a murder was committed.

Studies show that a 15 year old has no conception of 'forty years' so the threat of a lengthy sentence is not a deterrent.  Experts say it is not the length of the sentence but the certainty of arrest and punishment that is the most likely to deter a person from committing a violent crime.

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