A proposal to raise the age at which North Carolina teens can be charged as adults appears to have run out of steam this session.
North Carolina’s teen sentencing laws were put in place in 1919. We’re one of only two states that still treat 16- and 17-year old offenders as adults.
Senate Bill 434, backed by several Republican leaders, would have raised to 18 the age at which youthful misdemeanants (who make up more than 80% of teen offenders) could be processed and tried as adults. It was turned into a study bill tonight in House Rules.
Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, is a key proponent of the Raise the Age bill. She said it ran into two major roadblocks.
One was its price tag. Even though it would be four years out, the cost to the state at that time would be tens of millions of dollars. Advocates of the bill say the state would save far more money in the long run by reducing recidivism and putting young offenders back on track to become productive and contributing citizens.
Some critics, including law enforcement groups, were concerned about the cost to counties. It’s much more expensive to process a 16- or 17-year-old as a juvenile than as an adult. Those offenders can now be housed with adult offenders. The bill would have required more juvenile accommodations.
The second roadblock, Avila said, was the state’s already overloaded juvenile justice system. Critics weren’t convinced the system could handle the influx of 16- and 17-year old offenders.
The proposal would have put community support and diversion programs in place during the four years before the change would take effect, but some said they should be in place before the changes are approved.
Avila said the study, now part of Senate Bill 626, will be a comprehensive look at the entire juvenile justice system, from the age of offenders to facilities and recidivism.
“Juvenile Justice has been kind of overlooked,” she said.