Get The Facts

Holding 17-year-olds criminally responsible ignores the line that society has drawn for “age of maturity.” In the majority of instances, only youth who are 18 have the following rights:

  • the right to vote
  • the right to join the military without parental consent
  • the right to buy a lottery ticket  
  • the right to purchase tobacco products
  • the right to move out of your parent’s house without parental consent

When it comes to engaging in criminal behavior, 17-year-olds are no different than their 16-year-old peers.

In a recent article examining the operational and fiscal impact of raising the age from 17 to 18, policy experts found that 17-year-olds engage in the same types of offenses as their 16-year -old counterparts: mostly nonviolent and minor offenses (e.g., theft, possession of marijuana, and liquor law violations).  To read the full article, click here.

When 17-year-olds are arrested and tried in the adult criminal justice system, they are denied critical rehabilitative services.

In 1913, Texas passed the Juvenile Delinquency Court Act, which shifted the purpose of a court’s involvement from punishment to rehabilitation. The decision to do so was largely driven by national reform that identified the delinquent child as “in need of the court’s benevolent intervention.” Unlike adult criminal courts, the responsibilities of the juvenile system were made clear: provide treatment to youth to help them stay away from delinquency and get on the path of becoming productive members of society.

For more on the history of juvenile justice in Texas, click here.

For more on the history of juvenile justice in the U.S., click here.  

When 17-year-olds are arrested and tried in the adult criminal justice system, they are given an adult criminal record, ultimately impacting their chances of:

  • obtaining employment
  • obtaining housing
  • furthering their education
  • serving in the military

When 17-year-olds are arrested and tried in the adult criminal justice system, they are subject to confinement within an adult jail or prison setting, which exposes them to higher risks of physical and sexual abuse.

Adult correctional officers are not equipped with the skills they need to adequately protect youth from the dangers of adult jails and prisons.  According to the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, “more than any other group of incarcerated persons, youth incarcerated with adults are probably at the highest risk for sexual abuse.”

To learn more about the dangers that youth face in adult confinement, click here.

When confined in a jail or prison setting, 17-year-olds are subject to isolation, which poses a severe danger to their mental and physical health.

Youth who are confined within adult settings are required to be kept "sight and sound" separated from their adult counterparts. Because the populations of these facilities are largely adult, youth are often put in isolation to meet this requirement. Research has indicated that the use of solitary confinement on youth is extremely dangerous to their mental development and significantly increases their risks of suicide.

To learn more about the harms of putting youth in isolation, click here.

When confined in a jail or prison setting, 17-year-olds are more likely to re-offend and increase their chances of a continued life of crime.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, youth who are transferred from the juvenile court system to the adult criminal system are approximately 34% more likely than youth in the juvenile court system to be re-arrested for violent or other crimes.

To read the full report, click here.

Scientific researchers have asserted that when it comes to engaging in risky or criminal behavior, youth are inherently different from adults and therefore should be treated in different ways.

Cognitive reasoning, otherwise known as the mental function that allows adults to adequately weigh rewards and consequences, does not fully develop until an individual reaches about 25 years of age; these findings have significant implications for youth who are being tried in the adult criminal justice system. Given the amount of research supporting this finding, one could argue that youth do not have the mental capacity to understand the full ramifications of their actions.

To learn more about what researchers are saying about adolescent development and crime, please click here.