Teenagers that commit low-level crimes should not be tried in court as adults, say some conservative groups in North Carolina, and raising the age limit of juvenile delinquency from 16 to 18 would decrease recidivism and increase rehabilitation, among other benefits. Plus, it’s simply the moral thing to do, according to Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Creech and others, including the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) and Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR), have expressed strong support for the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (H.B. 280). The bill, which is currently before the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations, would increase the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, except in the case of certain felonies.
Tarrah Callahan, CCJR executive director, called the bill “an investment in our youth” during a March 20 press conference.
“We are throwing children into the adult system and limiting their ability to be productive and successful adults,” she said. “Rather than allowing them to participate in the juvenile system that offers far more rehabilitative opportunities, we are channeling them into a future life of crime.”
BCH released a statement signed by CEO Michael Blackwell and COO J. Keith Henry:
“Based on our experience in working with children and families we believe that raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will ultimately lead to significant financial savings, safer communities and better outcomes for children,” said the press release.
Depending on the crime’s severity, state law allows court sentences for juvenile delinquents to include prison alternatives, such as returning the individual to a parent or guardian, or placing them into the custody of social services.
“The Holy Scriptures teach that justice requires proportionality,” said Creech. “In other words, there should be different kinds and degrees of punishment for offenders of the law. It is not proportional, sensible or moral that our state’s criminal justice system treats 16 and 17-year-olds as adults with they commit minor, low-level crimes. It results in far more drastic and permanent consequences for them.”
BCH said, “Young people who land in the adult criminal justice system are twice as likely to commit a crime. They are also disproportionally at risk while in custody – more likely to be victims of rape or assault and to commit suicide.”
The bill passed the N.C. House with overwhelming support in a 104-8 vote.