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Vendredi 15 Novembre 2019

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North Carolina’s Raise the Age Will Still Leave Behind Some Young People

Wednesday 31st of July 2019 | Amerique du Nord, États-Unis
Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
Nouvelle

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — This is the first in a series of reports investigating the history and development of youth justice in the state.

With the historic change of Raise the Age come questions about what it took to pass it and where juvenile justice in North Carolina goes from here.

We’ll be examining what it took to reach this landmark decision and what happens once it takes effect at the end of this year.

The Southern brand of justice has been less forgiving of youth crime. But a fundamental change to juvenile justice in North Carolina represents something of a break from the past.

“In North Carolina, as part of the Bible Belt and living in the South, a lot of people who are from here value accountability, and we’ve been really punitive in terms of how we’ve dealt with children historically,” said Jonathan Glenn, associate project director for the Juvenile Justice Institute at N.C. Central University. 

Raise the Age, which increases the age of criminal responsibility to 18, takes effect on Dec. 1. The last state to pass this legislation, North Carolina is now eye-level with the way other states prosecute juveniles.

Designed to include most 16- and 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile system, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (JJRA) takes a notable step toward criminal justice reform.

But taking that step leaves a massive gap.

Consider: A teen of 16 or 17 who commits even a crime before Raise the Age takes effect will still be tried as an adult, even though the bill was passed in June 2017. When the JJRA was being written, it didn’t account for these youths.

Youths in limbo

Juvenile arrests in the U.S. are clearly in decline — down nearly 60% nationally from 2007 to 2017 — as some remedies like teen court and diversion are increasingly used. But Congress and state legislatures are still uncertain about what to do with kids already in the system.

Eric Zogry, head of the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender, estimated there are thousands of juveniles in limbo — 2½ years’ worth of youth convicted of misdemeanors and low-level felonies who will still be tried as adults.

They will continue through a process that some organizations, like the Durham, N.C.-based Youth Justice Project, call detrimental to their educational and social development.

 “You can hold a student accountable without being punitive,” said Peggy Nicholson, director of the Youth Justice Project. She emphasized a focus on alternatives that keep young people connected to positive influences and opportunities.

The word “justice” needs to be reclaimed “in a way that doesn’t mean punishment,” she said.

Reclaiming could mean compelling the justice system to recognize the nuance of age and how it can contextualize a situation. Advocates say the old system doesn’t take into account the psychology of those it deems youth or adults.

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