Is it Time to Treat North Carolina Juveniles as Juveniles?

According to recently released state statistics, North Carolina's juvenile crime rate has dropped 11 percent since 2008. Critics wonder if the rate might not drop even lower if 16- and 17-year-olds were no longer prosecuted as adults.

North Carolina is one of only two states to process 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system. While that approach might appear on its surface to be tough on crime, there's hard evidence that kids who go through a juvenile justice system are less likely to reoffend than teens who enter the adult system.

High Rates of Reoffending

The Charlotte News & Observer reports that in 2007, the North Carolina Sentencing Commission disclosed that 16- and 17-year-old offenders had a higher rate of recidivism than the entire sample of offenders aged 13 to 21. In addition, the commission found that youths who serve time in an adult facility are more than twice as likely to reoffend as those who are punished in the juvenile system, receive treatment or get rehabilitative services.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that youthful offenders who go through the adult criminal justice system are also more likely to be arrested again, convicted again, and have their probation revoked than adult offenders.

Obviously, all of these outcomes are undesirable. They're bad for juveniles and they decrease rather than increase public safety, while adding costs to taxpayers.

Problems With the Adult System

The adult criminal justice system is designed to process adults, not youths. The adult system simply doesn't do enough to counsel and rehabilitate young people who break the law.

In a juvenile system, kids are pushed back to school and toward people who can help them turn their lives around: parents, educators, mental health professionals and substance abuse experts, among others.

Because their crimes tend to be minor, three-quarters of 16- and 17-year-olds get probation when they go through the adult system. In the juvenile system, they get more of a hands-on approach that requires restitution, school attendance, court-ordered services and, when appropriate, treatment for substance abuse problems and mental health issues.

Many argue that it's past time for North Carolina to treat juveniles as juveniles: help order their lives and turn them around before it's too late.

If your child faces criminal charges and adult punishment, contact a North Carolina criminal defense attorney who understands both the law and the steps needed to help teens get back on track. A criminal defense lawyer helps protect your family's rights.

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