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NC Budget: Fewer Kids in Prison, A Little More Education Funding

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is now deciding whether to sign the budget passed by the State Assembly. (Flickr)
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is now deciding whether to sign the budget passed by the State Assembly. (Flickr)
June 23, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. – While the state waits to see if Gov. Roy Cooper will sign the budget sent to his desk from the State Assembly, public-interest groups with generally common goals find themselves on opposite sides of some issues.

The budget includes a plan to raise the age that juvenile offenders can be tried as adults, to keep them out of the adult prison population.

At the same time, education funding to benefit all children remains stagnant or below pre-recession levels, says Logan Smith, communications director of Progress NC Action.

"We certainly do support the Raise the Age proposal, but it's only one step," Smith says. "You know, when you prevent kids from getting the education they deserve, then it, unfortunately, can land them in trouble."

In a statement, Gov. Cooper says he thinks the budget "lacks vision and unfairly picks winners and losers." Its supporters note that it does increase teacher pay, although not to 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation.

The governor could veto the budget, although Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the State House and Senate.

North Carolina is the only state that prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Ricky Watson, the co-director of the Youth Justice Project with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, says this was the only way advocates for young people were able to get the state to change the policy.

"'Raise the Age' is one small piece to this budget," Watson states. "And essentially from that point, we would expect that there would be an override of that veto. This was probably the only way that this was going to happen, due to some inability to compromise in the Senate."

Watson says numerous bodies of research indicate young people don't have a full understanding of consequences until age 25 - and there are other concerns about youth in the prison population.

"What this does is essentially creates a vicious cycle, where youth are learning more negative behaviors and not re-enforcing positive behaviors," Watson adds. "So, they're really just kind of ending up in this cycle they're more like to recidivate and re-offend, and really not be able to function outside the jail or the prison that they're placed in."

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC