05YoungCriminalsShould North Carolina “Raise the Age?” North Carolina is the last and only state to prosecute 16- and 17 year-old teenagers as adults. Only 3 percent of violent offenses are committed by our youth. This means the overwhelming majority of our teenagers receive adult consequences for minor offenses. A teenage mistake could prevent a child from entering the military, receiving college financial aid or obtaining employment. But, this could all change with House Bill 280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, proposed bipartisan legislation which would raise the juvenile offender age to 17 except for violent felonies. 

Under the proposed legislation, teenagers who commit murder or rape would still be prosecuted as an adult. Why the push to increase the age limit?  According to an article titled “States Raising Age for Adult Prosecutions Back to 18” published by ABA Journal in February of this year, “adult penalties lead to more teen recidivism (repeatedly committing crimes), new science shows teenage brains really do mature later,” and it is a response to high incarceration rates.” Also, over the past 10 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional to execute for crimes committed as juveniles, outlawed the automatic life without parole for nonhomicide crimes, extended the ban on automatic life without parole for teenagers who have committed homicide and retroactively extended the ban on life sentences. The difference is our juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation — helping the child make a change — versus the adult system which focuses
on punishment. 

According to North Carolina Policy Watch, House Bill 280 has the support of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, the Police Benevolent Association, the Association of Chiefs of Police and the North Carolina Chief Justice’s Courts Commission. Over the next few months, we must watch to see if North Carolina joins the rest of the nation and raises the age.