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News State / Region N.C. lawmakers intent on ‘raising the age’

Marilyn Avila (R-Wake)Bill makes its way past committee for the first time.

The initiative for ‘raising the age’ of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina is gaining steam as lawmakers in Raleigh have come out in support of it this legislative session. Currently, any person 16 years of age or older who commits a crime of any kind is charged as an adult in North Carolina courts—a nearly 100-year-old policy that has become the subject of national contention.

On June 20, House Judiciary Subcommittee A unanimously voted to approve a bipartisan- supported bill that would change the age at which adolescents are tried as adults.

Currently, North Carolina is one of only two states which automatically prosecutes all 16- and 17-yearolds as adults for any type of crime. Eleven states have set the age at 17, while the other 37 states have set the age of adulthood at 18. New York is the only other state to try 16- and 17-yearolds as adults for criminal matters. According to the child advocacy group Action For Children [AFC], about 22,000 young people in North Carolina will suffer because of the current juvenile justice system.

Under the currently proposed reform, 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors would no longer be treated in the adult system. Instead, rather than simply being incarcerated, juveniles would be dealt with in the juvenile system, which offers rehabilitative education and insists on appropriate punishment and restitution. Young people who commit serious crimes, more felonious crimes, would remain in the adult system.

In previous years, the initiative died in committee in the form of other bills and without bipartisan support. This year, as Republicans have taken the majority in Raleigh, the bill (SB 434) remains strong.

“North Carolina needs and deserves a smarter approach to dealing with children charged with misdemeanors,” said Marilyn Avila (R-Wake), key sponsor of the bill. “The ‘Raise the Age’ bill approved unanimously today in House Judiciary Subcommittee A will appropriately punish 16- and 17-year-old misdemeanants, reduce crime, save taxpayers money and give North Carolina’s children the same shot at success as kids in 48 other states. The bipartisan coalition that I have championed will continue to move toward a prudent implementation of this important, common sense reform.”

In essence, the bill not only raises the age at which youth are tried as adults for misdemeanor crimes, but it ensures that all 16- and 17-year-olds accused of a felony remain in adult court. In order to keep the state’s juvenile policy change manageable both administratively and financially, the bill seeks to raise the age in half year increments, contingent upon funding, beginning in 2016.

2016: 16-year-olds
2017: 16 ½ year-olds
2018: 17-year-olds
2019:17 ½-year-olds

As a special provision of the 2009-10 North Carolina budget, the General Assembly created the Youth Accountability Planning Task Force [YAPTF] after AFC and similar groups pushed for legislative change in previous years.

The task force was charged with examining and researching the issues of the juvenile age jurisdiction in North Carolina in order to determine whether the state should amend the laws concerning persons who are 16 and 17 years old and have committed a crime.

Last year, the YAPTF concluded that increasing the criminal age of responsibility from 16 to 18 for lower-end offenders would prove beneficial for many in the age group, as the juvenile justice system offers rehabilitative therapy to its clients. For 16- and 17- year-olds who commit class A-E felonies (murder, rape, manslaughter, drug crimes, burglary or larceny, etc.), “the adult court may be better suited to dispose of these cases,” read the recommendation.

“Legislators have agreed that North Carolina should join the vast majority of other states in developing a system that appropriately punishes juvenile misdemeanants while reducing the number of repeat offenders and paving the way for children to lead productive lives,” said Brandy Bynum, AFC Director of Policy and Outreach. “We applaud our bill sponsors, and all the Republicans and Democrats who today cast historic votes of support.”

Next up, the bill faces the House Appropriations Committee, as it edges closer to being passed as law.


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