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Children's Advocates Urge NC Lawmakers to 'Raise the Age'

May 30, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. - The state House Judiciary Committee today will hear testimony about proposed legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction.

North Carolina is one of only two states which automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for misdemeanors as minor as stealing a can of soda. Child advocates acknowledge that such crimes should be recognized by the judicial system, but many are pushing for the Legislature to pass SB 434, which prosecutes teen-agers as juveniles in misdemeanor cases.

Brandy Bynum, director of policy and outreach for the group "Action for Children North Carolina," says leaving youths with a permanent criminal record can have lifelong effects.

"They have their whole lives ahead of them - and for them to have access to opportunities for education, employment and sometimes, even housing, they can be restricted from that because they have this adult permanent record."

Under the proposed bill, teens who commit felonies would continue to be prosecuted as adults.

Bynum points to the success of the juvenile-justice system in North Carolina, where juvenile crime is at a 12-year low.

"We know they could do the same thing with 16- and 17-year-olds. We can keep them from having an adult record, but also give these kids a chance to put their lives on the right track - to become taxpayers, and not tax burdens. "

Because they often are first-time offenders, 86 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds found guilty of crimes in North Carolina end up receiving probation, although Bynum explains that being prosecuted as an adult leaves them with a permanent record. In some cases, they serve time with adults in county jails while they await trial, which she says is another concern.

Reporting for this story by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest. Media in the Public Interest is funded in part by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC