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N.C. task force to study age limit for juvenile offenders

Posted October 21, 2009

— North Carolina residents have to be 21 to drink alcohol and 18 to vote and to have full driving privileges, but the state is one of the few where 16 and 17 year olds are considered adults in the eyes of the law.

Some child advocacy groups are lobbying state lawmakers to consider increasing the age in which a person can be criminally charged as an adult to 18 years old.

On Wednesday morning, the new Youth Accountability Planning Task Force will sit down at the Juvenile Justice Department to start talking about what would work.

The task force includes court counselors, judges, Fayetteville's chief of police and the state superintendent of schools.

Sorien Schmidt, senior vice president of Action for Children, says juveniles, whom she considers to be under 18, need special resources they are not likely to get in the adult court system.

"What we know is that putting juveniles in the juvenile justice system gets better results, because the system is geared toward kids with developing brains who are learning how to control their emotions and learning how to work in society," Schmidt said.

Action for Children proposes that cases with suspects under age 18 be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile system by default unless a suspect is charged with first-degree murder. A juvenile judge could choose to transfer a case to the adult system.

Schmidt would prefer to see parents held accountable for their children's actions – something she says doesn’t happen if they are under the jurisdiction of the adult court system.

In the juvenile system, she said, "Not only are they under the court's jurisdiction, but their caretaker or parents are under that system too and have to show up, get subpoenaed."

Those opposed to changing the age say violent criminals are getting younger and that the juvenile system is already overwhelmed and underfunded.

Last year, more than 22,000 juveniles – defined by law as someone 15 or younger – went through the state court system.

"If you take the number of serious offenders who are 16 and 17 years old and dump them on a system the way it is now, it could make the juvenile justice system much worse than it already is," said Wake County Chief District Judge Robert Rader.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he is opposed to changing the law.

"We look at the trends of younger and younger offenders committing violent sexual offenses, armed robberies, homicides, and then we're going to talk about raising the juvenile age and making it more difficult to protect the public? I think that concept is ridiculous," Willoughby said.

Schmidt disagrees.

"There's a lot of studies that have shown us that kids who go into juvenile systems are less likely to commit future crimes and that kids who are put into adult systems are much more likely to commit future crimes," she said. "They are also more likely to become more violent over time."

Linda Hayes, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, said she believes lawmakers need more information to make an informed decision. She said most of the crimes committed by 16 and 17-year-old offenders are not heinous enough to qualify for adult punishment.

"So, I think it's going to just be really based on what the research shows," she said.

A change, Hayes said, would require lawmakers to appropriate more money for the juvenile justice system.

Schmidt admits more resources would be needed but says lawmakers have to look at the long-term outlook.

"(The system) is absolutely underfunded, but for the long-term well-being of the state, in terms of the economy, if you put them in juvenile and they're less likely to commit future crimes, you're going to have to build fewer prisons," she said. "And we have a problem where we already have too many people in prisons now."

"We need to bite the bullet and do what is going to work and what the science tells us works," she added.


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  • Mommy1st Oct 22, 2009

    The topic is whether or not to raise the age for juvenilles or not. Since I am currently dealing with a young adult, it was something I spoke about. Parenting and who does or does not have the experience according to you or anyone else, was not the topic. Thank you for your insight.

  • pw Oct 22, 2009

    slanted........Your not in New York Toto.....so no one used you as target practice when you were a kid?? Image that....I wasn't referring to kids that are incredibly Violent...by all means blow them away save my taxes.....But for the most part kids that are 16 17 get into stupid trouble and that age most kids are incredibly stupid.....so it just depends on the situation that they should be charged as adults....because there not adults they are morons as you were at that age obviously.....Violent criminals I have no patience for at any age.......

  • pw Oct 22, 2009

    His wife.........Your still not there yet. But in a few years you will be.... when she gets about 30..wisdom comes with experience and a little age....possibly trial and error.....you still have a few years but good luck.....its easy to help other children but when its your own it is a task.....A mothers job is never done no matter how old your chidren are.....The teenage years are trying....been there......best of luck....

  • Watcher Of Things Oct 22, 2009

    PW ... you said: oh Geez ... here we go lock them up and throw away the key...I take it none of you were ever a teenager ...

    I lived my teen age life in the inner cities of NY ...

    I was a trouble maker - ME PERSONALLY! ...a real one!

    ... but we were NOT out there just killing people and expecting to be treated EQUALLY for breaking the law!

    When will you people say ENOUGH is Enough? Something has to STOP!

    It is so bad ... that a guy can get shot over a cigarette lighter and I have to let my wife and son out in that!

    ... trust the fact - if a kid tries to kill me - I'll blow him away ... I'll dump a full clip into him or her!

    That punk will NEVER get to try that again!

    So - please DON'T stop them legally ... I need target practice!

    They kill someone ... now THAT PERSON has no more rights or consideration ... and you want these animals to have a pretty little life?


  • Mommy1st Oct 22, 2009

    @pw, for the record, I judged no one. I hope to raise my son as my daughter is now, but reality is that I started raising her at 13 and didn't have much influence on her life before she got to me, I could only deal with when she got with me. She is now 16 1/2 and now that I have my own son, I want to raise him so that regardless of how much time we spend together, he has the confidence and wisdom of his older sister. It's been hard with her, but I've managed to be there for her as much as possible and help keep her out of trouble- so far. Eventually I plan to go back to work so it will be even more of an issue when I can't keep my eye on her as much as I can now. She still goes to school without me, and I know how high school kids are because I work with them. So...now that you know all my business, which was not your business, do you feel better knowing that I'm not basing my opinions on raising a toddler?

  • Mommy1st Oct 22, 2009

    @pw, not sure who you're referring to with the toddler remark. I recall being the only one that said that I was a stay at home mom with a little one. My advice on raising children comes from being the oldest of 6 and seeing how my mother raised us, also from dealing with children and teenagers (child and adolescent pyschology, worked at a high school as a counselor). Another factor comes from the fact that I have an adoptive child who happens to be a teenager as well, and my sister dealt with a charge at the age of 16...so I'm not completely clueless on this topic. The topic is whether to raise the age limit for juvenille offenders, which I deal with often. For someone who is preaching not to judge, you judged me pretty quick. I mentioned my son because I will have more of an opportunity to start building his confidence at a young age, my teenager is already a teenager and I had to start with her at an older age. I am still raising a teenager, whether I gave birth to her or not.

  • pw Oct 22, 2009

    oh Geez........here we go lock them up and throw away the key...I take it none of you were ever a teenager....and your mindset as a teenager is the same as it is years later...classic. I like the comment "they know exactly what there doing" or someone with a 2 year old giving advice on how to raise children. Did you make the same decisions at age 15 16 17 as you would say at age 35...give me a break. And those of you that have toddlers at home please do not give advice on raising children ....you are not there yet...do not judge unless you intend to be judged....I live in a glass house myself.

  • floseh Oct 21, 2009

    These kids make a choice when they rob kill or steal. Nobody makes them do this. They always have the choice of right or wrong. What about repete offenders? They have a choice too. Lock them up and send them to Somolia or Africa.
    The Floseh

  • floseh Oct 21, 2009

    It's not what kind of background the kid has that causes him to rob,shoot,steal,rape,kill,it's knowing that he can say it's how he was raised and treated that caused him as a 14-15 yr. old to act like he doe's. The Muslims have it right on one thing, If you steal, cutoff one hand, if you do it again,cut off the other, if you do it again, cut off the head. We could get rid of a lot of crime if we would adopt these policies.
    The Floseh

  • readerman Oct 21, 2009

    "The problem with all this is people seem to want to apply one dimensional solutions to a multidimensional problem...and it won't work." How right you are NCAries.
    There is no simple solution to complex problems and human behavior is among the most complex of issues.