Referring at times to theirown pasts, members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners noted Monday that teenagers of all backgrounds can make mistakes. But North Carolina teens shouldn’t have to pay for those mistakes for the rest of their lives, commissioners said, as they endorsed the passage of a state law that would try most sixteen- and seventeen-year-old offenders in the juvenile system instead of adult court.
Filed March 8 by sponsors from both parties, the state measure, House Bill 280, would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that cases involving sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds would fall under it unless the suspect had committed certain felonies or motor vehicle offenses. Only New York and North Carolina prosecute suspects in this age range as adults, and a bipartisan crowd showed up to support the “raise the age” measure at Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that the members of the General Assembly will be influenced by the commissioners’ unanimous recommendation. Commissioner Matt Calabria noted that the panel doesn’t, as a rule, offer guidance of this type to the General Assembly.
“We do occasionally do that when there are issues that substantially impact our county and our citizens,” Calabria said. “I do not think this is about being soft on crime, but it’s about doing the smart thing.”
Sheriff Donnie Harrison emphasized the section of the resolution that called for the legislature not only to change the age for juvenile disposition of charges, but also to include enough funding to make the program work.
“We need more [district attorneys], we need more judges, and we need a lot more juvenile counselors,” Harrison said during a press event following the passage.
Proponents, including Commissioner Jessica Holmes, said the measure could cost Wake more in the short term, but would eventually save the county money.