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Texas Passes 50 Justice Bills, Covering Death Row to Juvenile Hall

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

The 2013 regular session ended with  50 new criminal and juvenile justice bills passed and signed into law.

Legislators passed bills focused on reducing the number of individuals wrongfully convicted or incarcerated in Texas. That included Senate Bill 344, which will "require state to perform DNA testing in any capital offense where the state is seeking the death penalty."

House Bill 1479 addressed truancy and other "disruption of class" offenses. House Bill 1952 individualizes the needs of special education students in order to prevent undeserved punishment.

According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, nearly 100,000 children are placed in the Texas juvenile justice system every year. The organization claims that in the recent legislative session, "policy-makers took crucial steps to ensure that youths' needs are addressed with effective, age-appropriate strategies."

Ana Yanez-Correa, Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, says that improvement of the judicial system in Texas has been long overdue. She says the new laws will make it more possible for the younger generation to get fairer treatment.

"Historically, in Texas, we have been really tough on our children," said Correa. "For us, only the most dangerous cases should interact with kids, in terms of the criminal justice system. It only should be in those very limited cases where a kid has to end up in a criminal justice system."

The Texas parole system will also see some change as legislators passed House Bill 2719. The bill calls for officers to improve the data they track and publish an annual publicly available report.

Correa said she is generally pleased with the end result. 

"I'm very proud of the wide-range of coalition partners and people that really fought to make those policies a reality," said Correa. "I feel like, overall, we did really good. But, for us, one innocent person is too many. One child that is traumatized in the juvenile justice system is too many. Even though we did really well, we still have a long way to go."

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reports Texas prisons are holding about 155,000 people, nearly 420,000 people are on probation, while  a daily average of almost 35,000 people are awaiting trial in a county jail.

Sebastian Herrera is an intern reporter for KUT News. He is also a sports writer for The Daily Texan and a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently working towards his bachelor's degree and concentration in sports journalism. Sebastian was born in Bogotá, Colombia and grew up in Dallas, TX.
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