|Report: Jail no place for N.C.'s kids|
|Activists lobby for change in state law|
|Published Thursday, December 26, 2013 11:07 am|
RALEIGH – Hundreds of North Carolina teens are spending the holiday in jail, and new research questions whether that's where they ought to be.
North Carolina is one of only two remaining states in the nation to automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Research by the National Juvenile Justice Network released this month found that keeping teens in the adult justice system slows their maturity, fosters antisocial behavior and places them at higher risk of re-arrest.
According to Brandy Bynum, director of policy and outreach for Action for Children North Carolina, it's time for this state to catch up with the national trend.
"The fact that we remain one of only two states in the nation that continue to automatically prosecute our 16- and 17-year-olds as adults goes against ample research," Bynum declared.
A bipartisan coalition in the state is advocating for legislation to "Raise the Age." A bill planned for release in the spring would allow 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors to be dealt with by the juvenile justice system. Teens who commit more serious crimes still would be eligible for adult incarceration.
Bynum pointed to psychological research that indicates that the parts of the brain that affect decision making aren't fully developed by the time kids are 16 or 17. She declared that existing juvenile programs can help redirect teens who get in trouble with the law to make them productive citizens.
"That is the best place for most young people," Bynum stated. "There are programs across the state that can really home in on these developmental needs and really be able to address those needs, but within the community - a less costly part of the system."
According to the Raise the Age Coalition, changing the state's policy would generate almost $98 million in long-term benefits for 16- and 17-year-olds and almost $22 million in benefits to taxpayers. In Connecticut, raising the age returned $3 in benefit for every $1 spent.
More information is at RaisetheAgeNC.com. The research can be found at NJJN.org.
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