North Carolina was the last state in the U.S. to end the automatic prosecution of 16- and 17-year-old juveniles as adults when the General Assembly passed the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (JJRA) in 2017. As a result, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with non-violent crimes on or after Dec. 1, 2019, will be considered to be under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, pursuant only to specific exceptions.
Often referred to as “Raise the Age,” the JJRA is overseen by the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee, a group comprised of court counselors, judges, human services professionals, law enforcement, juvenile law experts, and others with years of experience related to juvenile justice tasked with bringing recommendations to ensure the effective implementation of JJRA. Successful implementation hinges on the adequate funding of the JJRA.
The Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee recommended state funding for successful implementation of the act as follows:
- Juvenile Justice: $47.6 million in FY 20; $62.7 million in FY 21; and $57.3 million annualized.
- Administrative Office of the Courts: $2.9 million in FY 20; and $2.8 million annualized.
- Office of the Juvenile Defender: $122,000 recurring beginning FY 20.
- Conference of District Attorneys: $125,589 recurring and $3,752 non-recurring beginning FY20.
- The Committee also recommends funding the courts’ existing deficiencies $15.1 million in FY 20; and $14.5 million annualized.
The breakdown includes funding for court services, detention operation, educational and vocational training and related career planning and support, and Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils. A signature component of the Raise the Age approach, Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils (JCPC) bring community leaders together to review the needs of juveniles in the county who are at risk of delinquency or who have been adjudicated delinquent. JCPCs review existing services and make determinations about service and resource gaps to address youth needs, and evaluate program performance in order to ensure appropriate and effective resources exist to meet identified needs of system involved youth, with the ultimate goal of preventing interaction with the both the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.
So far, proposed budgets fall short of full funding for Raise the Age. The Governor’s proposed budget sets aside $27 million in FY 2019-20 and $38 million in FY 2020-21 for the implementation of Raise the Age, with $26 million and $36 million respectively focused on court services, facilities, and transportation, while $1.2 million and $1.6 million respectively is earmarked for juvenile court administration for the anticipated increase in juvenile case load. The Governor’s proposed budget also includes six positions to support the work of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils, and funding to renovate the Perquimans Youth Development Center.
At $29.2 million for FY 2019-20 and $49 million for FY 2020-21, the proposed House budget comes closer to realizing full and adequate funding of the JJRA. In addition to funding for increased administrative and legal staffing associated with implementation of the legislation, juvenile detention funding, and juvenile court counselors, the proposed House budget provides $4.7 million in FY 2019-20, and $ 9.2 million in FY 2020-21 for the administrative support and implementation of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils, one of the most integral parts of the achievement of the ultimate goal of the legislation-to successfully intervene and provide the support and resources needed to prevent youth from becoming involved with the adult criminal justice system. The proposed House budget also includes funding for renovations to the Perquimans and Richmond Youth Development Centers.
It is crucial that the final state budget follow the recommendations of the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee in order to maximize Raise the Age’s potential for reducing recidivism, ensuring children get the support and resources they need to prevent them from becoming involved in the adult criminal justice system, and the ultimate cost savings associated with detention and a reduction in rates of re-offense.
Heba Atwa is a Policy Advocate at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.