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NY only other state treating 16-, 17-year-olds as adults

By Shavonne Potts
spotts@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó Commit a crime in South Carolina at 16 and youíre tried and sentenced as a juvenile. But in North Carolina, any 16- or 17-year-old who commits a crime can be tried and sentenced as an adult.
For the courts, they became adults at the age of 16.
In recent years, there has been a push to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 for nonviolent crimes. New York is the only other state that treats teens 16 and 17 as adults.
Since the creation of a statewide juvenile court system in 1919, North Carolina has defined a juvenile as someone younger than 16.
In late 2009, the N.C. General Assembly created the Youth Accountability Planning Task Force (YAPTF) to examine whether the state should raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18.
Chief District Court Judge Charlie Brown was appointed to the task force in 2010 by Gov. Bev Perdue and is the only judge on the panel.
Brown is a certified juvenile court judge and implemented the Juvenile Drug Treatment Court.
District Court Judge Beth Dixon presides over juvenile delinquency court. She is also a certified juvenile court judge.
Dixon holds to the belief that full-fledged reasoning doesnít develop in youth until age 26, as science indicates.
It provides an opportunity to work with teens in a rehabilitative way.
Legislators and youth advocates are currently working on changing the law.
ěItís significant,î says Brown, ěthat beyond the bipartisan sponsorship of the pending ëRaise the Ageí legislation, the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, the N.C. Sheriffs Association and youth advocates from around the state have participated in the work of the Youth Accountability Planning Task Force.î
Dixon says she is 100 percent in favor of raising the age for several reasons, including to prevent limiting teens who are convicted of felonies from future employment opportunities.
Children who commit crimes early on and are later rehabilitated run the risk of being branded a felon, ěeven if theyíve changed their ways,î she said.
Teens in this state who commit crimes under age 18 and are tried as adults are shown an ěinjusticeî and upon their conviction also make it ěharder for them to succeed in the global marketplace,î Dixon said.
The policy change will likely reduce recidivism rates because it will enable teens who might otherwise re-offend to avoid future dealings with the court system.
Research suggests jail leads to worse outcomes and that after release, incarcerated teens are more likely to drop out of school and use drugs and alcohol, the task force found.
Proponents of the change say itís well-worth it, but those opposed to the changes cite cost as a factor in keeping the law the same.
Dixon is one of those who believes in the long run it would be beneficial.
The bill passed its first reading in the House and Senate, but is currently delayed in a subcommittee.
If youíd like to contact your legislators, information is on Page 9A.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.

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