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Office of Juvenile Justice Comes of Age

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RALEIGH — People who commit crimes when they are young often end up in prison as adults, so Governor Hunt formed theOffice of Juvenile Justiceto help steer wayward teens down a different path. Now that the Office is coming of age, Hunt hopes to give it a home of its own.

Since the Office was created in January of 1999, it has helped to streamline the juvenile justice system.

For a year and a half, the office has worked to combine all juvenile programs under one umbrella and do away with waste.

"Quite honestly I think it will save the state money in the long run because it truly does eliminate the bureaucracy we found ourselves in when we were put in other departments," says director George Sweat.

Now theGeneral Assemblyis taking steps to make the office its own department. Sweat says the time has come to give juvenile justice a permanent voice in state government.

"I was headed on a bad path, I was hanging around with negative peers. A lot of them were addicted to drugs, I could have wound up like them. I could have went to jail, could have went to prison," says Richard.

Instead, the Office of Juvenile Justice sent the 15-year-old to a wilderness camp in Vance County.

"I think the earlier you can catch a child and start working with the family and child at an earlier stage, the better off our kids are going to be, the better off our state is going to be," says camp director Dave Hardesty.

The state sends boys with behavioral problems to one of seven camps across the state.

While campers work together to learn teamwork skills, the state is working to help young men like Richard transition back into society.

"It has really changed my life and made me into another person, somebody respectable and honest," Richard says.

Sweat says making the office a department will not cost taxpayers any more money. The office operates on a budget of $130 million a year and has 2,046 employees.

TheDepartment of Correctionsays that there are more than 31,000 people in prison in North Carolina. Nearly 1,600 prisoners are under the age of 20.


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