Texas Is Sending More Juvenile Offenders to Adult Prisons Each Year

January 1, 2023 | By Shane Phelps Law
Texas Is Sending More Juvenile Offenders to Adult Prisons Each Year

The juvenile justice system in Texas has been a topic of significant concern and debate for years. Now, reports are pointing to a deeply concerning increase in juvenile offenders sent to adult jail and prison facilities. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of this decision, its potential effects on the prison population, the legal system, and public safety, as well as its implications for Texas and the future of juvenile justice.

Summary of the Issue

The issues with the juvenile justice system have boiled over into a full-blown crisis. According to reports, in 2022 children were left locked up for 23 hours per day and were forced to use lunch trays as toilets due to understaffing. Self-harm behavior has increased exponentially and there are not enough staff to oversee children on suicide watch.

To alleviate continued stressors on the juvenile system, administrators have chosen to pressure judges to sentence child offenders to adult prison sentences. Claiming that only the worst of the worst are sent to adult prisons, but the truth remains that hundreds of juvenile offenders are being sent to prison with adult inmates.

Since 2007, the juvenile justice system in TX has prioritized placing kids in facilities closer to home. In general, the juvenile prison population has dropped from 5,000 to less than 600. Those imprisoned currently are charged with felony offenses and the system has determined that they are not fit for rehabilitation at the local level. These juvenile offenders are categorized as having violent behavior or severe mental health issues.

Advocates and reformers believe that the decisions made by legislators to relegate children to the adult prison system are abhorrent. They believe that this strategy is a way to toss aside ‘troubled children’ to be lost in a larger system. There are also accusations of neglect, especially for children suffering from severe mental health issues.

Proposed Legislation

The Texas Senate recently passed two bills with bipartisan support that would expand the range of crimes requiring long-term determinate sentences and likely transfers for almost any felony committed by a youth in prison to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), granting more TJJD detainees’ eligibility for transfer to the adult system. Additionally, the bills seek to require TJJD to seek transfers for some youth, specifically, those found to have assaulted officers.

Currently, TJJD has the discretion in pursuing transfers, a policy previously implemented by former TJJD director, Camille Cain. However, this discretion could change if Senate Bill 1727 becomes law, which would require all teens serving determinate sentences and committing new crimes while imprisoned to be transferred to TDCJ. The list would include all first- and second-degree felonies, as well as the less severe, but frequently pursued charge of assaulting a prison officer.

Senate Bill 2589, on the other hand, seeks to establish a zero-tolerance policy against violence against TJJD staff and other youth within the facility. This bill would affect a small number of violent youths who are not currently eligible for transfers. Despite the benefits of the bill, many are uncertain about the outcome since the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee recently voted out a reworked version of the legislation. The bill still needs approval from the full House and the Senate.

The passage of these bills is expected to have several notable effects on the prison population, the legal system, and public safety in Texas.

These include:

  1. Reduced prison population: By raising the age of adult criminal responsibility and limiting the use of determinate sentences, the legislation is likely to lead to a decrease in the number of young people incarcerated in adult prisons, which are ill-equipped to address their unique developmental needs.
  2. Increased focus on rehabilitation: The bill's provisions for expanding access to specialized programs and services, as well as its emphasis on community-based alternatives to incarceration, signal a shift toward a more rehabilitative approach to juvenile crime. This could result in better long-term outcomes for youth offenders and improved public safety.
  3. Changes to the legal system: With the new legislation, the legal system will need to adapt to accommodate the increased number of 17-year-olds being processed through the juvenile justice system rather than the adult criminal system. This may require additional resources and training for judges, attorneys, and other court personnel.

Pros and Cons of the Legislation

As with any significant policy change, there are both pros and cons associated with the recent decision on juvenile justice reform in Texas.


  • Aligns Texas with the majority of other states that set the age of adult criminal responsibility at 18
  • Recognizes the developmental differences between adolescents and adults and the importance of age-appropriate interventions
  • Shifts focus to rehabilitation and community-based alternatives, which have been shown to produce better outcomes for young people
  • May lead to reduced recidivism rates and improved public safety in the long term


  • Potential strain on the juvenile justice system as it adjusts to an influx of 17-year-old offenders
  • Possible concerns about public safety if youth offenders are not held sufficiently accountable for their actions
  • Some critics argue that raising the age of adult criminal responsibility may send a message that young people are not responsible for their actions

Implications for Texas and the Future of Juvenile Justice

The passage of new legislation marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to reform the juvenile justice system in Texas. By adopting a more rehabilitative approach and prioritizing age-appropriate interventions, the state has the potential to improve outcomes for youth offenders and enhance public safety.

However, the success of these reforms will depend on effective implementation and continued monitoring of their impact. As such, it will be crucial for stakeholders, policymakers, and the public to remain engaged in the conversation around juvenile justice and to advocate for the resources and support necessary to ensure the best possible outcomes for young people and their communities.

Contact Shane Phelps Law for legal advice regarding juvenile crimes.