In 2017, North Carolina took a major step to prevent young offenders from turning into career criminals. Following recommendations from Chief Justice Mark Martin’s Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice, the NC General Assembly voted to raise the juvenile age of jurisdiction from 16 to 18, for certain crimes. Starting December 1, 2019, youths charged with low-level felonies and misdemeanors (e.g. vandalism, theft and minor drug/alcohol offenses) will be treated in the juvenile system, rather than adult court. Teens charged with more serious crimes (Class A-F felonies such as sexual assault and armed robbery) will continue to be prosecuted as adults.
The new Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act received broad bipartisan support because it makes sense. Putting low-level 16 and 17 year old offenders in the adult system alongside hardened adult criminals exposes them to influences that may push them further into a life of crime. And, despite some perceptions that the adult system is “tougher”, the juvenile court system actually holds teens far more accountable for low-level offenses. The juvenile system provides teen offenders with developmentally appropriate treatment, and requires involvement from their family; the adult system does not. Altogether, non-violent teen offenders have better outcomes and lower recidivism rates when processed through the juvenile system, and this is ultimately better for public safety.
North Carolina was the last state in the US to raise the juvenile age. North Carolina teens charged with committing a crime at age 16 or 17 have been saddled with an adult criminal record, while teens in other states do not have to disclose their record. When this important change becomes effective on December 1, 2019, our state’s teens will finally be able to compete with teens in every other state when applying for employment and higher education.
A new Task Force will oversee efforts to implement the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, to ensure its success. The process will unfold over the next two years.
Visit LaToya Powell’s explanation of the specific language included in the legislation on the School of Government blog.