The “raise the age” movement has strong momentum in North Carolina. It’s about time. North Carolina would become either the 49th or 50th state to say that 16-year-olds no longer will be treated as adults in all criminal matters. A House bill looks promising. It’s called the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, and it already has gathered the support of 68 Republicans and Democrats — a majority in the 120-member chamber. It offers a sound, comprehensive approach to juvenile justice, investing more money earlier so the state can save later. The headline item is raising the age of full adult accountability to 18. Younger teens who commit serious crimes could still be dealt with as adults. However, the sponsors of the bill recognize that when 16- and 17-yearolds are arrested for relatively minor offenses yet sent into the adult criminal-justice system, they are more likely to return to that system again and again. This proposal follows a recommendation by the N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, which was formed in 2015 by N.C. Chief Justice Mark D. Martin. He has made a personal commitment
to push for the change. Gov. Roy Cooper has endorsed the proposal, as have statewide law-enforcement groups.
“Raising the age can actually save North Carolina money in the long run if juvenile justice needs are adequately funded, and it makes communities safer by giving young people an opportunity to turn away from a life of crime,” Cooper said in a statement, adding that his proposed budget makes initial investments.
Additional funding is needed because juveniles receive services more directly aimed at education and rehabilitation rather than incarceration. These can include mental health treatment and counseling. Their parents have to be involved; not so for youngsters in the adult system.
Data from other states are compelling. A juvenile’s unlawful behavior can be addressed more effectively with correction than with punishment. That may still require time in a detention facility, but not for as long, and not with a prison record that follows an offender for the rest of his or her life, often barring future opportunities.
This won’t apply to 16- and 17-year-olds charged with murder, rape, armed robbery and other serious violent crimes. But it’s more common for offenders that age to be ensnared in the adult system for minor offenses.
The bill also seeks to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. It establishes procedures for local judges to work with police and sheriff’s departments and school administrators to find ways to reduce school arrests and student suspensions and expulsions.
While the House seems ready to tackle this task, the Senate could be more reluctant. A similar bill was introduced there with the support of only a handful of Democratic senators.
We hope the strong argument in favor of this new approach prevails in both chambers and that proper funding will be provided. The payoff should be a future with fewer career criminals.
From the Greensboro News & Record