Local & State
|Too young for jail: The drive to raise the age of adult prosecution|
|NC bill would reduce number of teens in prison|
|Published Thursday, April 13, 2017 12:38 am|
|Gemini Boyd of Charlotte was sentenced to prison at 16 for his role in a shooting at Myers Park High School. A bill before the N.C. House of Representatives would prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds accused of nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors as juveniles and violent offenders as adults. Boyd, founder of the nonprofit Building Outstanding Lives Together, supports the bill.|
Gemini Boyd grew up behind bars.
Sentenced at 16 for his role in a 1990 shooting at Myers Park High School, Boyd, a Harding High sophomore at the time, was locked up three years for assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. A second gunman was sentenced for killing a student.
“I’m sorry for what I did,” said Boyd, founder of Building Outstanding Lives Together, a youth intervention foundation. “I’d just turned 16 when my situation happened and I was incarcerated Feb. 1, 1991.”
HB280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act introduced in the state House of Representatives last month, would raise the age of teenage criminal prosecution to 18, which would move 16- and 17-year-olds charged with low-level felonies and misdemeanors to juvenile courts. Advocates contend the change would improve public safety and provide intervention for teen inmates – especially non-violent offenders – who would otherwise face incarceration with violent adult convicts.
“In some respects, it’s part of our prison mentality that we’ve looked at it and said we’re going to fill prisons and now when people are coming out of prison,” said Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles. “What do they do? What do they learn? What opportunities do they have to be productive in our communities?”
Support for HB280 cuts across the political and ethnic spectrum. Three of the four primary sponsors are white Republicans: Reps. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson), David Lewis (R-Harnett), and Susan Martin (R-Pitt, Wilson). The fourth, Duane Hall, is a white Democrat from Wake County.
McGrady believes HB280 will produce benefits similar to the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2011, which reformed the adult criminal justice system. That law lowered the state prison population over the last decade while saving the taxpayers nearly $165 million from 2012-15.
“Aside from it being the right thing to do, it’s fiscally the right thing to do,” McGrady told N.C. Policy Watch. “Over a long period of time, this bill will save us some money; short term, we’re going to have to make some investments in the juvenile justice system.”
Black lawmakers are rallying behind the bill as well.
“We’re very sensitive to know that African American males and females are going to benefit best from this particular action,” said Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill. “If you look at the number of convictions and the number of kids tried as adults, there’s a great disparity as far as African American youth.”
HB280 must be passed before the “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.
“In the political landscape we’re in now, anything could happen” during deliberations, said Robert Dawkins, state organizer with SAFE Coalition, a criminal justice reform advocacy group that supports the bill. “That’s why we’re making this push. People like the Koch brothers [billionaire funders of conservative political causes] are starting to see the light of it as a savings to the government as opposed to us on the progressive side that see it as not wanting to subject kids to adult prison.”
As a violent offender in 1990, Boyd would have been charged as an adult under HB280. An advocate for youth intervention programs since his 2015 release from federal custody on a drug conspiracy conviction, Boyd said raising the age of adult prosecution will give teens a better opportunity to rehabilitate. When he was sentenced at 16, Boyd expected his record would be expunged or sealed at 18. It didn’t happen.
“A lot of times they weren’t doing that,” Boyd said. “They were still holding that record over your head.”
It came back to haunt Boyd as an adult when he was convicted on a federal drug conspiracy charge in 1996. His juvenile conviction, he said, led to an enhanced sentence and a 19-year prison stretch as an adult. Boyd contends incarcerating children with adults has long-term ramifications for safety and rehabilitation, especially among non-violent offenders.
“It does so much to you,” he said. “At the age of 15, 16, 17, all the way up to age 25, the brain of any child or adult is still developing. When you’re in there, you’re treated to such hype because you have nothing to offer once you’re released. So the incarceration part at an age like that, you grow to expect that’s where you’re supposed to be because you adapt to wherever you are.
“You lose hope. You lose interest. The only thing you want to do after that is the thing that got you in there.”
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.
“I believe there is hope when young people have mentors and guidance and see another pathway,” Lyles said. “I think the idea of treating them as adult offenders leaves us a void in what we do to help people and treat people. This is supported not only by science but our social mores that people should have a chance at life.”
|Do you have any contact information for Mr Boyd? I have a nephew that is 16 and I am scared he is heading down the wrong path.|
|Posted on May 30, 2017|
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