One of the issues that has generated some controversy is finding a place to hold violent juvenile offenders. North Carolina is running out of options.
In the end, the Governor's Commission on Juvenile Crime will have a long list of recommendations to make sure young offenders understand that this system is not a joke.
So far, the commission has voted to recommend opening juvenile records to law enforcement officials, stiffen penalties, and set up prevention programs. Today, the commission looked to wrap things up, but they hit a snag.
Juvenile crime has exploded in North Carolina. It's easy to see. Detention centers are filled to the brim with violent juvenile offenders. The types of crimes that kids commit have changed. The Governor's Juvenile Crime Commission has worked to balance punishment and prevention.
Commission members reached consensus on most issues, but where to put violent juveniles after they're arrested has been a topic of debate. Governor Jim Hunt feels that adult jails are the best option. "You can fix them up so that we have some facilities for juveniles, as well as facilities for adults, and local communities have got to take some of this responsibility on. Violent adults are a threat to people, but so are violent juveniles."
Commission member Lucy Bode says that putting young criminals in adult facilities, even for a short time, would be a big mistake. "In situations where they would be isolated, they would not be closely monitored. They would be seven times more at risk for committing suicide. And, I just believe we're talking about young children here."
In the end, commission members voted to allow juvenile criminals to be held in adult facilities as a last resort -- for 72 hours at most.
The commission will hold one final meeting to vote on the complete report. The Governor will sign off on the ideas, and then forward the package to the legislature. If passed, we're looking at a serious restructuring of the juvenile crime system, but we're also looking at a long time before this becomes law.