Texas bill would eliminate hard time for teens who skip school

Texas bill would eliminate hard time for teens who skip school
Credit: AP

Texas will continue to jail and fine 17-year-olds for skipping school — draconian punishment that conservatives and liberals denounce as counterproductive.

A proposal to remove 17-year-old truants from adult courts and put them into the juvenile justice system failed in the state legislature.

But Senate Bill 1630 promises some reforms. Instead of being shipped to costly, remote state lockups, habitual truants will be held closer to their home families.

Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Institute, predicted SB 1630 will reduce recidivism and incarceration costs, which run more than $400 per youth per day. Said Levin:

Studies have proven juvenile justice is more effective in reducing recidivism among 17-year-olds, partly because it works closely with the family and high schools. Research shows that 17-year-olds are exponentially more likely to commit suicide and be sexually assaulted when placed in adult lockups.

Texas sheriffs, the Texas Home School Coalition, the ACLU and the Texas Association of Business supported an amendment to stop jailing and fining 17-year-old truants. They note that 17-year-olds are covered by Texas’ compulsory school law and that parents are obligated to pay child support extends until their children reach 18.

But some counties have become dependent on the fines assessed against truants. Last fiscal year, counties collected $16.1 million in truancy fines in prosecuting 115,782 cases.

In 2013, Texas had more than twice as many truancy cases as the other 49 states combined

Levin says fines and jail time — which end up costing county taxpayers — are counter-productive. He said students have dropped out of school to pay penalties, leading to lower graduation rates.

Though disappointed that the amendment failed this year, “It started the conversation,” Levin told Watchdog.org.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”

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