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Youth Justice Project: North Carolina can do more improve juvenile justice system

The Youth Justice Center released a report yesterday that found the juvenile justice system in North Carolina falls short for more than 12,000 impacted children.

Lawmakers voted earlier this year to pass “Raise the Age” legislation so that 16- and 17-year-olds are not automatically charged in the adult criminal system, but it will not be implemented until December 2019, and, when it goes into effect, it won’t be for all crimes.

While that changes is viewed as undoubtedly positive (it is estimated to keep 5,500 youth out of the adult criminal system), there are more changes that need to be made, according to the report.

The document identifies five areas North Carolina’s juvenile system faces problems:

  • The limits of the “Raise the Age” legislation: it doesn’t include all crimes and is ambiguous in how juveniles currently in the adult criminal system will be helped.
  • School issues: schools use the courts as a grounds for sending students considered to difficult to serve. This burdens the court and makes it more difficult for the youth in the system to get help they really need.
  • Inadequate representation for youth offenders: there are disparities in juvenile systems across the state, which can affect access to resources, specialization, and accountability for the judges, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and court counselors.
  • Harmful collateral consequences: youth in the juvenile system still face many harmful consequences, including being denied enrollment in schools, being deported for acts perceived as bad, being suspended or expelled and being evicted from public housing.
  • Disparities: the juvenile system is plagued with racial and gender disparities. African Americans, males and LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in the system, according to the report.

“While we are excited that North Carolina will soon end the practice of prosecuting all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, we must continue to push for evidence-based policies that will help all kids,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “For example, young people — particularly youth of color — are still being referred to our court system for behaviors that historically have been left out of the courts and could be more effectively addressed through other means.”

Other examples the Project listed for the state to improve include increasing the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 6 to 10 years old, having school systems reduce suspensions and court referrals and implementing restorative justice practices and racial equity trainings. It’s also recommended the state increase funding and specialization of attorneys representing children.

“We can dramatically improve the juvenile justice system here in North Carolina through a series of common sense policy changes that give our kids the opportunities they need while keeping our communities safe,” said Ricky Watson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “We strongly encourage policymakers to review and implement these recommendations in order to ensure our young people are receiving the care they need.”

You can read a fact sheet about the Project’s findings here and the full report here.

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