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NC May Be Closer to "Raising the Age"

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North Carolina is currently one of only two states nationwide that automatically tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. (Crawford Learmonth/Flickr)
North Carolina is currently one of only two states nationwide that automatically tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. (Crawford Learmonth/Flickr)
December 28, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. – The tide may be turning when it come to prosecuting all 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina as adults. This month, a commission made up of members representing legal and law enforcement perspectives held its final meeting and declared that raising the age in North Carolina is a top priority.

Ricky Watson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said he and others have hope that "raise the age" legislation could move forward in the next session.

"This time we might see this actually happen, because we seem to have a good deal of bipartisan support of people across the aisle, in addition to people that represent the district attorney's office, the sheriff's association, that we haven't probably seen in the past," he said.

North Carolina is currently one of only two states nationwide that automatically try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Opponents of the practice point to scientific data that shows that a teen's brain may not be fully developed to understand lifelong consequences, and argue that a long prison sentence in an adult population may actually push them towards a continued life of crime.

Watson said while some heinous crimes merit a severe sentence, many juveniles are best served by rehabilitation and education, so they may become productive members of society.

"If your kid does make a mistake, they are at a disadvantage from any other kids across the country. That criminal record can follow them for decades," he explained. "Essentially it can effect their ability to get employment, to get scholarships, to get housing and qualify for loans."

The state commission recommends the state keep any 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors in the juvenile system.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC