Advocates Ask for Changes to Juvenile Justice System
By Kelsey Tsipis
North Carolina remains one of two states in the nation that automatically prosecutes all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
That’s why supporters of Action for Children for North Carolina visited the Legislative Building Thursday to advocate against North Carolina’s law requiring kids under 18 to be prosecuted as adults, no matter how minor their offense.
“We definitely feel like that is bad public policy. It’s outdated,” said Brandy Bynum, Director of Policy and Outreach for Action for Children for North Carolina about the law that’s been in place since 1919. “Forty-eight other states do things differently. They recognize kids should not be plagued with an adult permanent record for the rest of their lives.”
New York is the only other state to automatically treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults when they commit crimes.
An Action for Children initiative, known as Raise the Age, would allow 16- and 17-year-old offenders, charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies, to be put into the juvenile system, rather than be tried as adults. Supporters of the Raise the Age initiative wearing bright orange t-shirts with blue letters reading “Join the other 48 states! Raise the Age” packed the galleries of the of the House and Senate chambers as they met Thursday.
“We are not saying get soft on crime,” said Geraldine Alshamy, Director of Family Outreach for Action for Children. “We’re saying for those children that have committed low level offenses, let’s stop ruining the rest of those children’s lives.”
Advocates were recognized on the House and Senate Floors as the legislative session convened. Then they visited legislators in their offices to talk about the law.
“There has definitely been some positive support from legislators,” said Bynum. “I think a lot are just becoming better informed on this issue by hearing from people that have been impacted by this policy.”
Bynum said it’s also fiscally responsible.
“It will save North Carolina money in the long run by putting these kids in the juvenile justice program that will help them get back on the right track rather than be re-incarcerated down the road,” she said.
According to 2010 statistics from
the Department of Public Safety, it costs an average of $27,747 to house a prisoner for a year.
“This issue is important to me as a younger adult because I’ve seen the ramifications of how this can bar someone from access to higher education,” said Bynum. “We’re setting our young children up for failure. I cannot imagine being a 16-year-old and doing something as minor as shoplifting, and while I should be held accountable, not for the rest of my life.”