Imagine being a high school kid, being broke, hungry, stealing a bag of Doritos from the corner store and getting caught.
In North Carolina, a 16- or 17-year-old in that scenario would be charged as adult, punted into the criminal justice system and, if convicted, left to watch their dreams of future employment, higher education, military service or stable housing crumble.
In the North Carolina House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsored “Smart on Crime” legislation so that 16- and 17- year- olds who commit misdemeanors are handled in the juvenile court system rather than automatically as adults. North Carolina is one of only two states in the country to prosecute all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for misdemeanor crimes. (The other state, New York, is expected to pass legislation changing its law this spring.)
House Bill 399, the “Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act,” is sponsored by Republican Reps. Marilyn Avila and Jonathan Jordan, as well as handful of Democrats. The bill would establish a juvenile jurisdiction advisory committee, create a pilot civil citation process for juveniles and raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 16- and 17-year-olds who have committed misdemeanors.
“Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will lead to both significant fiscal savings, safer communities and much better outcomes for children,” Avila said in a statement.
“Only in the juvenile system do parents of a 16- or 17-year-old have the right to be informed and involved, which is critical for the long term success of these youth,” said Marc Levin of Right on Crime and the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Levin co-authored a report on raising the age for juvenile jurisdiction the John Locke Foundation in 2013.
Avila introduced a similar bill last legislative session. It passed the House with a bipartisan majority, but never even received a hearing in the state Senate.