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Posted by The Charlotte Post on Monday, March 7, 2016

Local & State

NC closer to changing age for criminal prosecutions
Legislation would raise age for adult trials to 18
 
Published Wednesday, March 29, 2017 2:18 pm
by Herbert L. White

North Carolina is moving closer to moving more teenagers out of the adult criminal justice system.


A bill introduced in the state House of Representatives would raise the age of criminal prosecution of teens to 18, which would move 16- and 17-year-olds to juvenile courts. Advocates of HB280 contend the change would improve public safety and spare teens from incarceration with hardened adult criminals.

“I think we’re very close,” said state Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat. “This is the first time we’ve had a strong bipartisan support of this particular effort and …I think we’ve got enough bipartisan support to move this over to the Senate and get them to pass it and the governor [Roy Cooper] to sign it.”

HB 280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, was introduced on March 8.  The bill would “raise the age” of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina to 17 for low-level felonies and misdemeanors. Primary sponsors are Reps. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), David Lewis (R-Harnett), Duane Hall (D-Wake) and Susan Martin (R-Pitt, Wilson).

HB280 must be passed by the House before April’s “crossover” period in order to be eligible for a Senate vote during the 2017 legislative session. North Carolina and New York are the only states where 16- and 17-year-olds are tried as adults.

“It’s got support from a majority of the Republicans, strong support from Democrats in the legislature, police chiefs association, sheriffs association,” said Robert Dawkins of SAFE Coalition NC, which backs the bill. “When you look at the bill, it’s all misdemeanor crimes that they will not be tried as an adult and for lower-level felonies, they wouldn’t be tried as an adult.”

According to the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, in 2014, the year with the most recent data, 5,689 16- and 17-year-olds were convicted as adults. Of that number, 3.3 percent were convicted for Class A-E felonies such as murder and rape, 16.3 percent for lesser felonies and 80.4 percent for misdemeanors. Under raise the age, serious violent felonies could still be prosecuted in adult courts.

Advocates point to data that suggest raising the age gives more teens an opportunity to become productive citizens when they’re taken into the juvenile system as opposed to being tried and incarcerated as adults. According to the sentencing commission:

• Young offenders in the juvenile justice system are less likely to re-offend and more likely to complete their high school education.

• North Carolina data shows a  7.5 percent decrease in recidivism when teens are adjudicated in the juvenile as opposed to the adult system

• Data also shows that when youthful offenders are prosecuted as adults, they return to prison at a rate that is 12.6 percent higher than the overall population.
Research also shows that interventions that are implemented in the juvenile system are usually unavailable in the adult system.

“At 16, we should be treating young people differently in the court system,” said Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, who noted scientific research concludes that juvenile brains aren’t fully matured, which impact decision-making abilities. “I agree that there’s hope when they are mentored and guidance and see another pathway. I think the idea of treating them as young offenders really leaves a void in what we do to help people and treat people, so I think this is an idea that is supported not only by science but by our social mores.”

Dawkins maintains that lawmakers who scrapped a law that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote by citing their immaturity have a chance to be consistent with their logic with “Raise the Age.”

“Are you doing stuff to change the behavior or are you doing things to just be punitive in nature just to punish them?” he asked. “Sixteen and 17-year-olds haven’t had the decision-making ability established to the point of an adult but you want to hold them accountable like an adult.”

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