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'Tougher Treatment' Not The Key To NC Juvenile Justice

In 1998, about 1,400 North Carolina kids were being sent to state training facilities each year after being convicted of or pleading guilty to a criminal offense. Now that number is down to about 300 minors per year entering one of North Carolina's four detention centers. The centers are geared toward education, counseling and treatment rather than incarceration, changes that were recommended in the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1998.

Statistics on juvenile crime indicate that these programs are working. Violent crime among kids 16 and under has dropped by almost 40 percent as have juvenile theft crimes. Across the nation, juvenile crime rates as a whole are down, sure, but North Carolina exceeds the national drop by twofold.

Juveniles sent to a North Carolina detention center can expect to stay there for a minimum of six months. On average, the stay lasts about a year. The state detention centers should not be confused with the county-run detention centers that act as holding centers while juveniles await trial.

Since the early 1990s, North Carolina has allowed kids aged 16 and 17 to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Children as young as 13 who are charged with first-degree murder can be charged as an adult. This was part of the 'get tough' on juvenile crime movement, but many believe the current, more balanced approach to juvenile justice is more effective. Many children's advocates throughout North Carolina are lobbying the General Assembly to increase restrictions on charging juveniles as adults.

Source: Raleigh News Observer, "Reforms credited for driving juvenile crime down in North Carolina," October 6, 2012

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