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News State / Region NC House approves House Bill 725 to ‘raise the age’ for adult prosecutions

Under current North Carolina law, if a 16- or 17-year-old enters a store, puts a candy bar in his/her pocket and leaves, then that individual, if caught, will automatically be prosecuted as an adult. North Carolina is one of two states in the country that allows a child to be tried as an adult after committing a misdemeanor.

For years, advocates of changing the law have pushed for new legislation and on May 21, the N.C. House of Representatives agreed when a bi-partisan majority voted in support of House Bill 725 "Raise the Age" of juvenile jurisdiction.

“This is some great news,” said Deby Dihoff, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) N.C. after the news came in. “Please send thank yous to Marilyn Avila, the representative from Raleigh who championed this bill. This took years, but it got done.”

The bill passed with supporters coming from both sides of the aisle by a vote of 77- 39 and was sponsored by Republican representative Avila. Its passage has gained positive comments from a variety of social and political groups throughout N.C.

“Today’s bipartisan vote is a hugely important step toward ensuring that young people in our criminal justice system are not only protected, but given a chance to correct course,” said Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina. “Young people who land in the adult criminal justice system are disproportionately at risk while in custody, more likely to return to criminal behavior than those placed in the juvenile system, and denied jobs and educational opportunities that could help them turn their lives around and contribute to society. We urge the Senate to follow the example set by these bipartisan House members and vote in favor of HB 725.”

Some facts that have been presented are as follows:

  • Kids who go through the adult system are re-arrested, re-convicted, re-incarcerated and have their probation revoked at higher rates that other adult offenders says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Task Force on Community Preventative Services.
  • The policy change will generate $97.9 million in long-term benefits among 16 and 17 year olds arrested during a given 12- month period and an additional $21.7 million in taxpayer benefits according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
  • Kids handled in the juvenile system repeat offend far less than youth dealt with in the adult system says the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Corrections.
  • A 2007 report from the Campaign for Youth Justice found that youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide when housed in adult jails than they are in juvenile detention facilities.

In WNC, Rep. Roger West who represents Macon County also voted for the passage of the bill.

The version that was passed by the House and will now move to the Senate includes a last minute amendment that would require 16- and 17-year-olds who are gang members and charged with gang-related offenses to still be processed in the adult system.


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