Lawmaker Wants to Change Youth Prisons
A Houston lawmaker is proposing a major change to the way Texas incarcerates its youth offenders. State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) wants to move violent crime offenders who are 17 or older from the current juvenile facilities to their own prison system under the umbrella of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Sen. Whitmire, who chairs the state Senate's () criminal justice committee, tells KTRH his idea is first and foremost about safety. "It is so bad in the juvenile justice facilities that most days they don't even go to class, because it's become so dangerous." He notes that 40% of those hired as guards in youth prisons end up quitting within six months because of safety fears. "We cannot have administrators, teachers, and youth injured by people who have now become adults," he says.
Whitmire explains that the current youth correctional system under the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) is chaotic, dangerous, and unfair by throwing all offenders 18 and under in the same place. "They mix sex offenders with non-sex offenders, they mix older youth with younger offenders," he says. "We've got to get a safe environment if we're ever going to rehabilitate anyone." Under Whitmire's plan, 17 and 18-year-olds who have committed violent crimes would be placed in special youth prisons separate from younger, non-violent offenders. He also claims it would save the state money by consolidating the more violent offenders under the umbrella of the TDCJ. "We can save money, it will be safer, and we'll be able to provide schooling and rehabilitation for the kids that want to learn."
Whitmire says for now, the proposal is just in the planning stages and he's not sure whether it would be in the form of new legislation, or changes to the state's current prison budgeting. Nevertheless, he's ready for the discussion, one he predicts will cause some waves in Austin. "I understand this is controversial, but that's my job, to bring new ideas to the table."