Chief Justice Mark Martin has announced the Judicial Branch's support of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, HB280, also referred to as "raise the age," during a press conference today with a broad coalition of supporters at the N.C. General Assembly.
"We must reinvest in our youth and raise the age for non-violent juvenile offenders," said Chief Justice Martin. "North Carolina is the only state in the country that automatically prosecutes 16-year-olds in adult criminal court."
The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, which was introduced in March, represents a series of recommendations to improve the justice system's response to children and teenagers under the age of 18. Central to these recommendations is treating 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles except when they are accused of committing violent crimes. Nearly all convictions of North Carolina 16- and 17-year-olds in 2014 - 96.7% - were for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
"Juvenile reinvestment will help strengthen families and is likely to result in lower recidivism, less crime, and increased safety," said Chief Justice Martin. "Reinvesting in our youth will result in economic benefits for the state of North Carolina."
Juvenile reinvestment has widespread, bipartisan support. The N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice (NCCALJ) also recommended raising the age and engaging in juvenile justice reinvestment. Additionally, it will give law enforcement more tools for responding to youthful offenders.
North Carolina's criminal reform efforts are poised to extend to our state's juvenile system. In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Justice Reinvestment Act to reform our adult criminal justice system. Those policy changes led to the lowest state prison population in a decade and saved the state nearly $165 million from 2012 to 2015. During this same time period, there has been a decrease in crime rates.