RALEIGH, NC — The state budget released yesterday by leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly contains policy language and funding provisions that will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state. Currently, North Carolina is the only state in the country to automatically charge all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, regardless of the offense.
“If this budget becomes law, most North Carolina children will no longer be treated as adults by the criminal justice system,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, an initiative of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Instead of saddling our kids with the consequences of a lifelong criminal record, we will provide more effective and rehabilitative services to those who desperately need it. Raising the age protects our kids from the harms of the adult criminal system, as well as our communities by reducing recidivism rates.”
Two-thirds of children in the criminal justice system have at least one disability. The juvenile justice system is a far more productive setting for these children than the adult criminal justice system because it offers needed services and support that can help youth with disabilities stay on track in the future. The adolescent brain is still developing and responds well to interventions. With support, young people can learn to make responsible choices and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior.
“It is astounding that it took us this long to stop prosecuting children as adults, but this is a big moment and we applaud those who worked hard to make it happen,” said Ricky Watson Jr., co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “Many advocates, family members, and legislators dedicated themselves to this issue for many years. Now, we need to keep moving forward and think about how we continue to ensure that the children of North Carolina get the opportunities they deserve.”