Local News

Proposals Would Send Fewer Teens to Adult Court

Posted March 21, 2007

— State lawmakers are considering raising the age at which teens can be tried as adults for crimes, but at least one prosecutor warned against such a move.

Companion bills in the House and Senate would channel everyone through the juvenile justice system until they turn 18. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are tried as adults under current state law, which has been in effect since 1919.

Some North Carolina lawmakers and child welfare advocates call the state law unfair, saying teens need the support offered through the juvenile system to turn their lives around. 

"The goal is to make sure any young person who steps wrong, who starts going down that criminal path, will be dealt with in the channel where they are best served and the public will be best served," said state Rep. Alice Bordsen, D-Alamance. "Some of them may need to stay in the adult system."

More than 450 offenders younger than 18 were admitted to state Department of Correction prisons last year. That number included 361 17-year-olds, 82 16-year-olds and eight 15-year-olds.

Supporters of the bills said teens who end up in the adult system are more likely to commit more crimes after being released. Having an adult record also often bars teens from schools and jobs, they said.

"Those who go to prison, when they come out, are more likely to repeat sooner and for more serious crimes," said Senior Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison, a member of the state Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission.

"If they commit a low-level felony, no matter what they do, they have a lifetime scar. No matter what they do, they will drag this felony conviction around with them forever," Bordsen said.

The Campaign for Youth Justice studied juvenile justice in seven states, including North Carolina, and found that placing teen offenders in adult courts and jails increases the odds they will become repeat offenders.

"The investment of public money will get the greatest returns by strengthening the juvenile system rather than putting these teens into the adult system," said Sorien Schmidt, senior vice president of Action for Children North Carolina.

New York and Connecticut are the only other states that routinely try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

The proposed legislation would give judges the authority to send a teen younger than 18 to adult court for more serious offenses, such as murder.

But Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said the legislation still goes too far.

"We're talking about dumping tens of thousands of more kids into the juvenile system immediately, and quite frankly, I don't think (the system is) equipped to handle it," Willoughby said.

"I think we should look at a way to take young offenders with non-violent crimes and, after the appropriate period of time, make their records clean," he said. "But I think a wholesale shift of this is a very dangerous thing for us to do."


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  • kristmcclur Mar 23, 2007

    Personalities and ability to survive is formed by age 7? I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. First, all adolescence is marked by a number of features (impulsiveness, poor judgment, submission to peer pressure) that make it likely that a teenager who would never grow up into an adult criminal, might commit a crime. Don’t you know any upstanding citizens who did something stupid when they were a teenager?

    There is a difference between children who are hard core criminals whose personalities are wired by 7 and those who make a mistake. Those who are evil, have no conscience and are not capable of rehabilitation may not change. They may try to take advantage of the system and continue to commit crimes be a menace to society. Those kind of kids are actually the exception. Perhaps they would be best locked up forever.

    However, in my experience, as a therapist who works with many behaviorally disordered adolescents most ( not all) criminal activity has its roots in

  • PSPro Mar 23, 2007

    In most cases you have a "child" making "adult" decisions! As always they know everything. Just ask my 13 y/o, he will tell you! I have seen the ones who think that they are old enough to drive, use alcohol, take lives, and even take their own lives! I once transported a 14 y/o who overdosed on tylenol, because the other kids at school picked on her because she was obese. Goes back to what I said in an earlier posting. "Don't do the crime, if you can't do the time"

  • AmericaFirst Mar 22, 2007

    P.S. I'm Protestant Christian, but I particularly like the Jewish idea of Bar Mitzvah: " Today I am a man". And they don't wait until they're 21 and all the brain cells start to function before they're held responsible for their actions. In most cases, their parents teach them how to behave and to know that their actions have consequences.

  • AmericaFirst Mar 22, 2007

    Adminstrators aren't sued for followig the rules. The rules allow too much leniency for educ. disruption with little protection for teachers. If you want to know about school litigation across America, you can print out 62 pp. referencing lawsuits against schools. In one year, one TX system was sued for $476,000. It's usually the parents who haven't bothered to civilize their children (neglect in teaching manners, morals) who get all revved up if a teacher or school admin. tries to discipline; they're the ones who tend to sue for perceived (not actual) harm. Where do I teach? In a school where the students come back from court, laughing and joking about the fact that "nothing happened". It's almost a badge of honor to get arrested and have to go to court, then walk out with attending school as the condition for probation. I'm there; I know what I'm talking about..reality, not emotion-based opinions and conclusions.

  • Gnathostomata Mar 22, 2007

    Last comment on this: promise! The human brain has all of the brain cells by age 13, but they don't all function until after age 21. Personalities and ability to survive is formed by age 7. So while these "children" are making decisions from a survivor mode before age 21, they are making bad decisions that then carry consequences. And they are aware of that by age 7. Don't let them fool you, they know what they are doing, they just don't care.

  • Gnathostomata Mar 22, 2007

    Informer: I consider "troublemaker" in a much different light than you do. I had my share of them, interrupting class, talking over my lecture moment, making comments that didn't fit the discussion, etc. I had to work at winning them over long enough to teach them a subject that they were not interested in because it was state tested, overloaded with facts and vocabulary, etc. However, a teenager, childlike, and living up to the expectation of a teenager, is quite different from a hardened criminal-minded person who has attained the years of a teenager, but is mature quite beyond one. And to ORDER that young man to attend class or go to jail, well, he attended classes, but no one told him to behave as if he were an innocent teenager, just causing disruptions and sassing a teacher or having a bad-attitude day. He was still dangerous and should not be in class by Order of a judge...I know they need help, but my point is reach them before their personality is formed at seven years.

  • kdajldf Mar 22, 2007

    Gnathostomata: Also you knew what being a teacher would be like. You would have your troublemakers and you will have your good days and bad days. You would be responsible for *teaching* the students. Just like police officers, firefighters, and soldiers know what they are getting into; or any other dangerous profession.

    I'm amazed how some of you believe that most teenagers if they get into drugs, robbery, there is no way for them to be a better citizen. It is very untrue and is sad that you have such a lack of faith in people.

  • kdajldf Mar 22, 2007

    *The bottom half of my post was also to you, Gnathostomata: Seven years old, I could talk a seven year old into doing something he or she knows is wrong. A seven year old is very vulverable and still wants to fit in. I'm not saying adults don't want to fit in, but we fully understand the consquences of our actions.

    Teenagers have not reaches maturity yet. It amazes me how people who have tried to counter my statements have chosen my weakest arguments. Nobody has touched the research of the maturity levels of teens and how they are still not matured. Also nobody has touched the subject of giving teenagers the right to drink, smoke, bear arms, vote, the list could go on.

  • kdajldf Mar 22, 2007

    First off, "Informer"...prision is a great way to make a good drug "hook-up". Especially for a teenager. While there, they might even get to meet the "big guy". -GPD

    I don't see how this ties into anything I said.

    "Teaching an overloaded classroom under current conditions" -GPD

    The classrooms are overloaded not because of deliquents, but because more people live in the area. I know many people in school and nothing has changed. Schools are the same. The only difference is you have more people going to school their, so naturally as you increases the size you have more trouble makers.

    Also most juveniles who commit serious crimes are not allowed back in the school; so they drop out or go to an alternative school.

  • iampostingmyopinion Mar 22, 2007

    AMEN, Gnathostomata. You have truly hit the nail on the head.