After more than 10 years of discussions, there is a reasonable chance that the N.C. Legislature could act on a bill that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in the state. North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the court system. There is clear evidence that we do harm to them when they are treated as adults in court. States, such as Connecticut, that have changed their law in recent years have found that juvenile court has much better results for kids and that future criminal behavior is seriously reduced.
The Children’s Alliance, a network of more than 30 agencies serving children in Mecklenburg County, has followed this pending legislation for several years and believes that 16- and 17-year-olds, and our communities, would be better served in juvenile courts where the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment such as incarceration with older adults. Some critics suggest that juvenile courts are “soft” on offenders. In fact, juvenile courts tend to render harsher sentences to youthful offenders than adult courts. Youthful offenders charged with serious felonies would continue to be handled in the adult courts.
Juvenile courts also allow more time on each case, trying to better understand the circumstances of those involved and render a sentence better suited to deter future problems. In the long run, we will reduce costs by keeping youthful offenders out of the adult court system by dealing with them more effectively at a younger age.
There is a heightened risk of youthful offenders being physically and/or sexually victimized when incarcerated with adult criminals. Imagine your son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandson or granddaughter being 16 or 17 and incarcerated with adult criminals, even for a brief period of time. This is not what we want for our kids, and therefore need to raise the age which will allow courts to treat our kids more justly.
The N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law & Justice will host a forum on Thursday at 6 p.m. in Room 267 at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center. Please join us to hear more about why this is important for our children and youth. You can also sign up to speak at https://survey.nccourts.org/
Crawford represents the Children’s Alliance of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.