In 2017, after nearly 100 years, the state of North Carolina finally caught up with the rest of the country by raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18-years old for most crimes. That’s right, for nearly a century, our state has charged 16- and 17-year-old kids as adults for their crimes.
While it is exciting that Raise the Age legislation was included in the state’s 2017 budget, it will not take effect until December 2019. That means that 16- and 17-year-olds can still be charged as adults until that time. Further, this is not an “all kids, all crimes” bill. Children who commit most felonies after December 2019 will still be referred to adult court. This practice goes against all the research and practical wisdom that proves the juvenile system is better at rehabilitating kids and preventing future crime.
That being said, this policy change is still a big deal for many reasons and shows why we must continue to advocate for its expansion. First of all, brain science continues to demonstrate that young people’s brains aren’t fully developed until their mid-20’s and the parts of the brain that take longest to do so are involved with decision making, emotional regulation, and reasoning.
Second, prosecuting kids as adults fails to keep our communities and children safe. Recidivism rates among 16-and 17-year olds handled by the adult criminal justice system are more than twice as high as those served by the juvenile justice system. Youth in the adult system are also more likely to reoffend in more serious and violent ways. That means prosecuting kids as adults actually makes it more likely that communities will experience future harm.
Finally, the juvenile system is the best place to rehabilitate children who commit offenses. In adult prison, children are often left unsupervised and without education or rehabilitation opportunities. Young people are exposed to dangerous individuals and are at a much higher risk of sexual and physical assault, causing devastating long-term mental and physical health impacts.
In the juvenile system, these young people enter into an extremely regimented world of school, counseling, behavioral therapy, and other rehabilitative programs that are shown to reduce recidivism rates. North Carolina’s juvenile justice system has a track record of providing effective services to youth as proven by the 37 percent reduction in the juvenile delinquency rate since 2000. In our experience at the Youth Justice Project, kids find the juvenile system grueling and challenging; it is most certainly not a walk in the park.
Additionally, when children are charged under the juvenile system, their records are sealed, allowing them to avoid the lifelong consequences of a criminal record that include difficulty accessing education, entering the military, securing housing and finding employment. Kids make mistakes. We certainly did. Children shouldn’t have to pay for their mistakes for the rest of their lives, though.
A government-appointed committee is creating recommendations to ensure Raise the Age is implemented smoothly. The Raise the Age NC Coalition is monitoring these meetings to ensure that the committee members have the information and resources they need to make an implementation plan that works for North Carolina’s children.
We have created a toolkit to help supporters advocate for responsible implementation of Raise the Age. It contains a petition and social media suggestions that will show the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee that they have the public’s support in creating a Raise the Age implementation plan that gives children the opportunities they need to have a better future.
To view the toolkit click here: https://raisetheagenc.org/s/RaiseTheAgeNC-Implemention252FPetition-JAAC-2.pdf
To sign the petition click here: bit.ly/rtaNCpetition
Follow the Raise the Age coalition updates using the links below:
Together, we can ensure that North Carolina kids can learn from their mistakes in a rehabilitative environment, resulting in safer communities for us all.