Two new Texas laws have fueled a larger-than-anticipated 83 percent decline in the number of schoolchildren prosecuted in adult court for infractions such as disrupting a classroom, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Including other misdemeanor school-based offenses, almost 90,000 juvenile cases were kept out of adult court by the new laws, which were written to encourage schools to handle most behavior problems internally instead of relying on police or the courts, two Texas House committees were told yesterday.
“We were expecting a drop. I don't think we were expecting that significant a drop in the first year,” said David Slayton, director of the state Office of Court Administration. The sharp decline in the number of juvenile prosecutions offered evidence that the laws were working to reduce the number of children saddled with criminal records for relatively minor school offenses, legislators and criminal justice advocates said. “We have seen major success as a result of the passage of these bills,” said Mary Schmid Mergler of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy group. “School discipline had increasingly moved from the schoolhouse to the courthouse, and misbehavior that used to mean a trip to the principal's office was landing children in court and resulting in criminal convictions.”