Minors Charged as Adults for Truancy on the Way Out?

Many people may not realize that in Texas, minors that skip a few days of school are routinely tried as adults and convicted of a misdemeanor. However, a new survey shows that Texas voters want truant children punished like children.

Right on Crime, a national conservative leader on criminal justice reform recently released polling that asked 1,000 likely Texas voters their thoughts on the current Texas criminal justice system and where they would like to see further reform in the future.

An overwhelming majority of Texas voters were in favor of truancy reform. 71 percent of voters agreed that the justice system should only be involved in extreme cases involving chronic truancy. 73 percent of voters said they would support a bill that would have minors tried as juveniles in juvenile court as opposed to being tried as adults. 77 percent of voters agreed that schools, not the courts should be responsible for appropriately responding to kids who skip class.

This sentiment does not land on party lines either. For instance, 72 percent of Republicans polled would support legislation that would have juveniles tried as juveniles while 73 percent of Democrats polled would support that legislation.

Currently, a minor child is tried as an adult if they miss ten or more days of school in a six-month period in the same school year or three or more days within a four-week period from school. If found guilty, the child is convicted of a Class C misdemeanor and can be assessed a fine of $500.00. Most of the students convicted of truancy come from low-income families where they cannot afford to pay these fines. Texas is only one of two states that that criminalizes truancy and prosecutes children for truancy and does so at more than double the rate of any other state. More than 115,000 truancy cases were filed in adult Texas criminal courts in 2013 alone, while only 50,000 truancy cases were filed in juvenile courts for all other states combined.

However, this may all change this legislative session. House Bill 93, introduced by Representative James White would repeal the offenses of failure to attend school and parent contributing to nonattendance and would require that truancy cases go to juvenile courts rather than adult courts.

The bill would prevent children from potentially being introduced to the adult criminal justice system at an early age, which may help them stay out of it later on in life. Studies have shown that early court contact can lead to dropouts and future contact with the courts. Even more troubling, thousands of students were ordered by Courts to drop out of school and take the GED following a conviction. As you can probably imagine, a high percentage of these students failed the GED and are left with no education or degree. This in many cases leads to further criminal conduct, rendering our communities less safe. Juvenile courts and community/school based programs provide much needed supervision and guidance to these troubled youths that the adult courts have failed to give.

With strong support from voters, 2015 is the right time to put an end to criminal convictions for juveniles that normally come from underprivileged homes and provide these children then help they need to become productive citizens.