North Carolina is the last remaining state to treat 16-year-old children as adults when they are charged with a crime. The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act of 2017 is set to end that practice as of December 1, 2019. Between now and then, North Carolina lawmakers and concerned parties in the criminal justice field hope to improve the way young people are treated when they run into legal trouble. The goal is to take a 16-year-old who made a bad decision and turn him around, as opposed to making repeat offenses an almost foregone conclusion.

The impact of a brush with the law

What serves the interests of North Carolina citizens better, a harsh punishment that destroys a future, or a program designed to give a young person a shot at a better future? Not treating a 16-year-old as an adult is a small step in the right direction. Better yet would be to recognize that when a teen has a run-in with the law, that teen is on a very dangerous precipice. The criminal justice system can give that teen a shove, or a hand. While some might feel the shove is warranted, statistics show that it is a costly and destructive way to approach criminal justice.

Drug crimes, DWI and student offenses

Young people are prone to making mistakes. Even the smartest young person lacks experience and the perspective it provides. Poor decisions involving drugs, alcohol, and self-control can easily destroy a person’s life before it really begins. Mistakes should not end a person’s life when it can be avoided.

The right kind of training

North Carolina is attempting to enhance programs designed to give juvenile offenders the training they need to have a productive future. A teenager will learn lessons in prison. Those lessons are unlikely to lead to the development of a law-abiding, gainfully employed adult. While some young offenders do make their way to responsibility and solvency, it is all too common to find them bouncing in and out of the system before coming to a bad end. Juvenile offenders need the right kind of guidance and training to prevent this.

Source: Richmond County Daily Journal, “Juvenile programs suggested to adapt to ‘Raise the age’ law,” By Gavin Stone, 2 March 2018