Local News

NC task force: Raise juvenile age to 18 for some crimes

Posted January 14, 2011

— A task force of attorneys, judges, law enforcement officials and school administrators say North Carolina should raise the age in which a person can be criminally charged as an adult from 16 to 18.

The bipartisan Youth Accountability Task Force released a draft of the recommendations of its two-year study to the General Assembly on Friday.

The suggestion is to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction only for misdemeanors and low-level nonviolent felony offenses. It would not apply in cases where a person is accused of violent crimes.

“North Carolina is doing a mediocre job with 16- and 17-year-olds, because we have them in a system that’s inappropriate for their needs and inappropriate for their actions,” said task force Chairwoman state Rep. Alice Bordson, D-Alamance. “We need to change how we deal with these young people.”

Members of the task force said they believe it could help decrease the recidivism rate by as much as 10 percent among 16- and 17-year-olds.

"If you've got some young person who's living in the dark, you're not going to scare them out of the dark" by punishing them like an adult, said Mark Galloway, the chief district court judge for Person and Caswell counties who worked with the task force. "Leading them into the light is going to take a little more effort."

Supporters said changing the law passed in 1919 wouldn't take away prosecutors' ability to try teenagers as adults in the gravest cases. State law allows someone as young as 13 to be tried as an adult on a felony charge, if a judge agrees. Traffic offenses committed by persons 16 and older would continue to be judged in adult criminal courts.

Judging the 16- and 17-year-olds accused of misdemeanors and low-level, nonviolent felonies — about 30,000 teens each year — in juvenile courts would cost taxpayers about $50 million a year, the panel said. The costs would come from higher law enforcement, court, and detention costs, the report said.

Panel suggests raising juvenile age for some crimes Panel suggests raising juvenile age for some crimes

But that would be balanced if law-abiding adults weren't held back in job prospects by a stupid mistake they made in their teens, the report said. The higher salaries for people who finished high school and weren't burdened by a criminal record would mean an additional $98 million a year in earnings.

Keeping more 16- and 17-year-olds out of prison also would keep them from being hardened by the experience, making it less likely they will commit more crimes and helping to protect potential victims, supporters said.

"Where do we have the best recruitment for gangs in North Carolina? In prison," Galloway said.

The state could get most of the cited benefits of raising the juvenile court age without the costs if legislators allowed isolated, nonviolent criminal charges to be expunged from an older teen's record, Caldwell said.

Still, with a projected $3.7 billion budget shortfall, members say it is highly unlikely that the General Assembly will commit funds for the change.

What they are looking for, instead, is a commitment to move in the direction, adding that it can be accomplished incrementally over several years.

North Carolina and New York are the only two states in the country that automatically considers offenders age 16 as adults. Ten other states have set the juvenile age at 17, and 38 have it at 18.

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

But Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president of the North Carolina Sheriffs Association, and Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine said the Legislature's first priority ought to be increasing spending on the underfunded juvenile court system.

"It all leads back to money," Bergamine said.

123 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • shortcake53 Jan 18, 2011

    Unclegripes, some people will never admit others may have a point, and your "comeback" is nothing but stupidy. I am done discussing this with you. Enjoy your ignorance.

  • unclegrits Jan 17, 2011

    "You are totally out of touch with what "kids" are into these days."

    This part makes me laugh the most. Kids today are no worse than they were at any point in time. I bet you would have been the type of person that wanted rock music banned in the 50's, disco in the 70's and now the horror of rap. I would hate to be so afraid all the time, must stink.

  • unclegrits Jan 17, 2011

    "I'm following just fine unclegripes, my comment still stands. You are totally out of touch with what "kids" are into these days. I am involved with with schools and I hear kids all the time making comments to show they have no fear or respect for rules or laws. They feel they are untouchable and will get away with whatever they get into. I hope you dont learn this firsthand someday."

    So your great idea is to charge kids as adults, give them an adult crime record that could prevent them from getting into college, the military, or land a job. Now with no options they are more likely to continue a life of crime, etc.... Think long term please. Also, we aren't talking about a felony, those would still stand.

  • shortcake53 Jan 17, 2011

    I'm following just fine unclegripes, my comment still stands. You are totally out of touch with what "kids" are into these days. I am involved with with schools and I hear kids all the time making comments to show they have no fear or respect for rules or laws. They feel they are untouchable and will get away with whatever they get into. I hope you dont learn this firsthand someday.

  • jrfergerson Jan 17, 2011

    Completing my comment: The Scriptures are God’s blueprint of holy living for His people of every era. We need to take note that Josiah an eight year old king, new the difference between right and wrong, based on the teaching of the Scriptures, drew a line of cause and effect between the nation’s disobedience and God’s wrath. Do our leaders of the Youth Accountability Task Force not understand, if one in leadership at the age eight knew the consequences of their actions, do not our leaders of today not understand the consequences of their decisions? Mark Galloway, the chief district court judge says "Leading them into the light is going to take a little more effort." Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine said, "It all leads back to money. No sir, it all leads to those with integrity and good morals to take the challenge to be the leaders they need to be. In the long run the cost is greater if they do not make the effort to start in the younger age to straighten these young f

  • unclegrits Jan 17, 2011

    "unclegripes, So exactly HOW old does a child have to be to be punished for a crime?? Oh poor little johhny, hes only 10, dont punish him for shoplifting that gum and candybar. Go ahead and overlook it, then little johnny will be looking for a car to boost before he's 14. Why? Because he can get away with it since nobody stopped him with the gum and candy. Open your eyes."

    Please try to follow along, nobody is talking about letting them off, just not charging them as adults.

  • jrfergerson Jan 17, 2011

    A task force of attorneys, judges, law enforcement officials and school administrators say North Carolina should raise the age in which a person can be criminally charged as an adult from 16 to 18. In 2 Kings Chapter 22 in the Bible we read of the story of Josiah’s reign as a king at the age of eight. During his reign, temple repairs were being done and the book of the law of God’s words were discovered. Upon hearing it read, Josiah realized the nation was guilty of breaking the covenant of God and was in danger of divine wrath. Josiah speaks in Verse 13 saying: “Go and inquire of the Lord for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. For great is the lord’s wrath that is kindled against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words of this book in order to do everything written about us.” As we think about the spiritual environment of our nation, we too would be wise to turn to the Scriptures and to pray for understanding.

  • shortcake53 Jan 14, 2011

    unclegripes, So exactly HOW old does a child have to be to be punished for a crime?? Oh poor little johhny, hes only 10, dont punish him for shoplifting that gum and candybar. Go ahead and overlook it, then little johnny will be looking for a car to boost before he's 14. Why? Because he can get away with it since nobody stopped him with the gum and candy. Open your eyes.

  • ecu_rules Jan 14, 2011

    If people don't think 15 year old are being recruited for felonies they need to open their eyes. Raise it to 18 years old. You think you are having trouble with teenagers in high school now. Wait for the 17 year old who says no matter what I do - fight, sell drugs - I am going to get a free pass for.

  • lawncare5 Jan 14, 2011

    A thought to those who would suggest community service. Someone has to be paid to oversee community service workers. Defendants can be sent to a county owned garage or trashdump for their punishment. Who there has the authority to make this person wash a car or pick up trash? No one. I would not want to be told by a court system that defendants are coming to help at my business. Just another liability. I would not have the time to waste to go to court to tell a judge that little Johnny wouldn't listen to me.

More...