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Juvenile offenders belong in juvenile courts, most believe

Last month in Asheville, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice assembled a third hearing for the public at the Buncombe County Judicial Complex. There, social workers, teachers, judges, parents, public safety officers, lawyers and activists sought ways to bolster the state's judicial system.

One common concern was doing away with a nearly century-old law that requires that juvenile offenders who are 16 and 17 to be charged as adults. North Carolina is one of only two states that have refused to raise the age limit for juvenile offenders.

The District Attorney for Buncombe County stated, "Our system has not . . . kept pace with federal jurisprudence and a large body of law that has developed nationwide in this regard. We are an outlier. Let's not be the last state."

Criminal convictions of juveniles as adults permanently close the door to many opportunities for them due to mistakes and lapses in judgment. Often they may not fully grasp the long-term consequences of an adult criminal record while they are still in their mid-teens. There is evidence indicating that recidivism is reduced when the age limits are raised.

The Commission determined that upping the age would boost North Carolina's economy and aid families and the safety of the public. Their initial recommendation was to raise the age for juvenile court jurisdiction so offenders age 16 to 17 are included for every crime with the exception of traffic offenses and some serious felonies.

Statistics show recidivism declines by 7.5 percent when teenagers are adjudicated as juveniles. Youthful offenders who get prosecuted as adults have recidivism rates that are 12.6 percent higher when compared to the overall population. As of July, 89 inmates younger than 18 were incarcerated in state prisons around North Carolina. Of that total, 75 of them were 17 while 14 more were only 16 .

The old law is both antiquated and arbitrary and needs to be abolished, those in the field say. The state's Deputy Commissioner for Juvenile Justice with the Department of Public Safety believes that the juvenile justice system better engages the parents and family members of youthful offenders and is in a better position to offer them rehabilitation opportunities.

If you are the parent of a juvenile who is charged as an adult, your child needs an aggressive criminal defense attorney in his or her corner.

Source: Citizen-Times, "Pleas made to raise age for juvenile offenders," Beth Walton, Aug. 22, 2016

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