As the Texas Legislature's special session drones on, the state's lawmakers are grappling with what to do with teenagers -- specifically with 17-year-olds convicted of murder. Last Thursday the Senate approved mandatory life sentencing with parole for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder -- with the option of parole coming 40 years into the sentence.
Previously, the possible sentences in Texas for any murder conviction for someone under 18 were the same as those for adults: a death sentence or a life sentence without parole. Then in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that no one under 18 could receive the death penalty. Which brought the sentencing options in Texas down to one: life without parole. And then last year's Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama also barred life sentences without the chance of parole for minors. Which brought Texas down to zero options.
And so Governor Rick Perry added this little problem to the special session agenda. The bill is currently in the House, and while they're figuring everything out there -- like whether or not having a single sentencing option really solves anything, as The Texas Tribune discusses -- the Department of Justice is looking at what happens to the juveniles once they're sentenced.
This month the DOJ released the results of a national survey on sex abuse in juvenile detention facilities. Nationwide, according to the survey, 9.5 percent of juveniles in such facilities reported some kind of sex abuse over the last year. In Texas that number is more than 11 percent. The rate in state-run facilities nationally is nearly double that of private ones -- 8.2 percent versus 4.5 percent. Just under 8 percent reported that the incident involved facility staff while the remainder reported an incident involving other youths.
A spokesman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department told the Texas Observer that the survey actually obscures the fact that Texas is improving. In fact, just a month ago a study for the TJJD ombudsman found that "youth do not report sexual assault to be a significant problem."
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"We don't want to make light of the DOJ report," the spokesman told the Texas Observer, "but we know that kids over-report this kind of thing. We saw what some of the questions were when they were coming in, and we thought some of the kids might have a hard time understanding the questions."
Maybe there's a tendency to over-report, but the questions seem pretty (explicitly) straightforward:
During the past 12 months, have you rubbed another person's penis with your hand or has someone rubbed your penis with their hand?
During the past 12 months, have you put your mouth on someone's vagina?
During the past 12 months, have you put your fingers or something else inside someone else's rear end or has someone put their penis, finger, or something else inside your rear end?
Clearly this whole issue could be avoided if everyone just used Dallas County's anti-rape graphic novels.