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'Raise the Age' push for teen crime changes returns

Posted March 31, 2015

— A proposal to change the way the state treats some teen criminals is back on the table in the House.

The "Raise the Age" initiative has been circulating in various forms for more than a decade at the legislature. This year's version, very similar to a bill that passed the House last session, would rewrite state laws for minor offenses for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Under current law, 16- and 17-year olds who commit misdemeanors are tried as adults. The crimes remain on their records as adults, making it more difficult for them to get into college, obtain financial aid or get a job.

For felonies, the age is even younger. Teens as young as 13 who commit a violent felony can be tried as adults. North Carolina is one of only two states in the nation – the other is New York – that still treats such young offenders as adults.

House Bill 399, however, does not address felony charges, only misdemeanors.

Sponsor Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said teens are prone to poor decision-making, but today's teens don't have the community structure and support that kept her generation out of trouble for the most part.

"Too many of our children today don't have that positive influence and are suffering because of it," Avila said.

She said treating those offenders in the juvenile justice system would ensure they get more support and help with other problems they might have, such as substance abuse or educational deficiencies.

Co-sponsor Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, pointed out that the same bill passed the House last session 77-33, but the Senate refused to hear it. Hall said the bill would cost a little more money in the short-term but would save the state money in the long run. Study after study has shown teens who go through the adult system are much more likely to re-offend than those who go through the juvenile system.

"Lots of costs reasons," Hall said, "but the main reason we're doing it is it's the right thing to do."

That sentiment was echoed by Durham County Chief District Judge Marcia Morey, who said she sees teen offenders before her bench every day who don't understand that the crime "is indelible on his life, his future, getting into college, getting a first job."

Retired New Bern police chief Frank Palombo, also a longtime supporter of the bill, said many law enforcement officers would rather keep the law the way it is because it's so much simpler and faster – and cheaper – to book a teenager as an adult than as a juvenile.

"It's easy, but easy isn't right," Palombo said. "What are we accomplishing?"

Palombo said this debate has been going on since he served on the state's Structured Sentencing Commission in 2001.

"It's time to stop talking and do this thing," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Avila said about 80 percent of charges against 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina are misdemeanors. The bill also doesn't offer any help for teens already in the system.

The bill was referred Tuesday afternoon to the House Judiciary 2 committee.

The legislation will be referred to a committee Tuesday afternoon.

5 Comments

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  • Will Sonnett Apr 1, 2015
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    As the teen crime rate goes up, we should lower the severity of punishment and the level of personal responsibility for their choices and actions? What sound thinking!

  • Ronnie Reams Mar 31, 2015
    user avatar

    Sounds good, but it would require a lot more LEOs. Just think of all the time spent if juvies are 18 yoa and older, running down a juvie court counselor to get a petition. Where I first started in the sticks of NE NC, our jcc was one county over and the juvie judge was one county over the other way. So if you detained a juvie for driving NOL , a misdemeanor, under this new law, instead of just arresting and carrying to a magistrate, you drive the whole Judicial District just about getting the petition from the jcc and the judge to sign it. Not a good use of resources.

  • Sammy Macloud Mar 31, 2015
    user avatar

    NO , THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. We have more and more 16 & 17 yo committing all kinds of crime and because of their age they are getting away with it with only a slap on the wrist, while families are often devastated from their actions....and not their families.

    Kids should think about their records BEFORE they commit a crime. We had to pay for our mistakes growing up so should they

  • Mike C Mar 31, 2015
    user avatar

    If they do an adult crime, then they should be punished as adults. Instead of incarcerating them with adults, there are juvenile detention centers they can be put in.

  • Peter Panda Mar 31, 2015
    user avatar

    Teens don't have the community support or structure so it should be OK for them to make dumb decisions?!?!? What a bad argument. Teens have more access to more info than teens before them so they have less excuses for doing stupid things