NC considers changing uvenile justice age

RALEIGH — On the same day North Carolina’s House of Representatives introduced a companion bill to the Senate’s Raise the Age proposal, Gov. Roy Cooper threw his support behind the legislation.

Representatives — including Greensboro Republican Rep. Jon Hardister — filed earlier this week their version of the bill aimed at raising the age of charging for most crimes to 18. Only North Carolina and New York automatically consider 16-year-olds adults for all crimes, although New York allows 16- and 17-year-olds to petition that their cases be moved to juvenile court.

New York also is considering this year two bills to raise the criminal age to 18.

Five other states — Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — have set the age of criminal responsibility at 17.

“Law enforcement, the courts and experts on juveniles agree that raising the age makes sense for North Carolina, and that’s why my budget includes initial investments to make this happen,” Cooper said in a news release.

In his third term, Hardister said the issue has been on his mind for a long time.

“This is something, frankly, that should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “Right now, in the North Carolina House, there’s a prevailing agreement that this is the time.”

House Bill 280 was moved to the House Committee on the Judiciary on Thursday, when it was expected to also advance to Appropriations.

State senators filed their bill Feb. 28. That legislation has advanced to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Under both bills, 16- and 17-year-olds would still be charged as adults in connection with the most heinous crimes such as murder, rape and other sexual offenses, narcotics trafficking, arsons and other crimes.

Both bills call for district attorneys and law enforcement officials across the state to gain more access to juvenile records, so they could take the records into account when determining what charges to pursue.

That compromise prompted the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association to support the proposed age change.

The bills would allow a victim of an alleged crime to review a decision to not file a juvenile petition, equivalent to filing a charge in the adult criminal justice system.

They also call for regular juvenile justice training for law enforcement officers. The training would include adolescent development and psychology instructions, relationship building to reduce delinquency, and best practices for handling incidents involving juveniles — arrests, referrals, diversion and detention.

Both also establish a 27-member Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee, which would develop a plan for implementing the changes to the juvenile justice system. The committee would extend juvenile matters to include 16- and 17-year-olds and come up with a plan that would include costs associated with expanding the system.

The committee would be required to monitor the changes and provide updates on the costs involved.

If young people go through the adult justice system, they are more likely to re-offend than if they go through the juvenile system, Hardister said. That increases costs to the state — because the offender isn’t contributing to society and because it increases traffic in courts and prisons, he said.

SB 146 calls for the change to go into effect on July 1, 2018.

HB 280 calls for the victim review and the increased access to juvenile records by prosecutors to go into effect on July 1, 2018. It calls for the rest to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2019.

“Some people look at this as being soft on crime,” Hardister said. “But, it’s actually the opposite. In the long run, this will reduce the cost on state government.”

Contact Joe Gamm at (336) 373-7090 and follow @joegammNR on Twitter.

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