A change in New York law earlier this month leaves North Carolina alone in a place 49 other states have found to be indefensible: only NC automatically prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of their crime.
There are many things our state will not let teenagers do because of their age, but it will punish them as an adult. And the impact on them, their families, and their communities can be staggering.
Child advocates believe this may finally be the time to bring North Carolina in line with the rest of the nation. The Raise the Age NC Coalition, of which the Council is a part, is calling for raising the juvenile age to 18 for low-level felonies and misdemeanors. Three bills introduced in the General Assembly, one in the House and two in the Senate would make the needed change, if approved. The Coalition expects the House to consider legislation first, in early May, and wants the strongest bill possible to emerge and move on to the Senate for consideration.
To show support for raising the age, we are asking faith leaders to sign onto a statement put together under the leadership of the Rev. Bruce Stanley, president of the Methodist Home for Children. Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform and NC Child collaborated on the statement, which reads in part:
We believe that wrongs deserve consequences. But we also believe that 16- and 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors should be handled in the juvenile system. There, they would learn their lesson, pay their dues, and still be allowed to grow up and continue down the path to becoming productive adult citizens. Young people who land in the adult criminal justice system, on the other hand, are twice as likely to commit another crime. They are also disproportionately at risk while in custody – more likely to be victims of rape or assault and to commit suicide.
Much work needs to be done on issues of mass incarceration and on the school-to-prison pipeline, and raising the age is emerging as an achievable next step in the process. Faith leaders are asked to sign on no later than Friday, April 28.