Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act Offers a Step in the Right Direction

In 2017, the North Carolina Legislature passed the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act S.L.2017-57 (S 257). This act raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in North Carolina. North Carolina is one of the last states in the country to charge minors as adults for low-level misdemeanor and felony offenses. Consequently, juveniles are left with life-altering criminal records that render negative consequences for decades to come.

The majority of youth offenses happen at schools. Juveniles are charged for school fights, an offense that would once have resulted in detention and/or suspension now results in a criminal record. The majority of juvenile offenders are African American and/or Latino American. Consequently, there has been an influx of minority youth who have been tied up in North Carolina’s court system. This influx of youth offenders is directly tied to the “tough on crime” attitude of our political forefathers.

The North Carolina Legislature finally reached a tipping point in 2017. The courts were flooded, and costs were rising. Various organizations and nonprofits operating under the heading of criminal justice reform pushed the pendulum in the right direction. Although the N.C. Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act is not the end-all-be-all for juvenile criminal justice reform in North Carolina, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Under the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, the N.C. Juvenile Court will have jurisdiction over all crimes committed by 16- and 17-year-olds. However, those minors who commit Class A-G felonies are still placed in adult court. The juvenile court’s jurisdiction extends to 18 for those offenses committed before age 16. This jurisdiction extends to 19 for offenses committed by 16-year-olds. Lastly, the court’s jurisdiction extends to 20 for offenses committed by 17-year-olds. The act mandates that a juvenile’s parents are involved in the process so as to create further equity.

A plethora of issues were taken into consideration by the Legislature when it passed this act. Economics, morality, institutional racism, and public safety are some of the factors that contributed to this historic action. The state’s criminal justice system was maligned with far too many costs sustained through prosecuting minor offenders for petty offenses.

Juvenile Court leads to a reduction in crime. If minors are kept in the juvenile system, they are more likely to finish high school given the support systems and intervention programs that are offered. The adult court system does not do a good job of rehabilitating minor offenders. Consequently, our youth need a system with specific programs that are designed for them. Juveniles are then less likely to become violent criminals wrapped up in the criminal justice system.

The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act will take effect on December 1, 2019. The North Carolina court system has had two years to prepare for this pending shift. The act holds a fair number of safeguards for minors who are charged with felonies and/or may serve time. A probable cause hearing will take place for all juveniles age 13 or older who have committed a felony that could place them in adult court. Under this act, juveniles who face active time will serve it at the Youth Detention Center (YDC). Juveniles who committed offenses at age 16 will not serve time in YDC beyond their 19th birthday. For those minors who committed offenses at age 17, their commitment will not go beyond the their 20th birthday.

A sizable majority of juvenile offenses happen at school. Subsequently, the act implements School Justice Partnerships. A School Justice Partnership is a collaboration between local law enforcement, local boards of education, and administrative units so as to reduce in-school arrests and out-of-school suspensions.

Here at Kurtz & Blum, PLLC, we have a deep understanding of criminal law. The criminal justice attorneys at our office have decades worth of experience. We have seasoned attorneys who have a nuanced understanding of what this act means to North Carolinians who have been caught up in the criminal justice system. We are a unique firm that has the ability to exercise emotional intelligence in various situations. This allows us to pursue the best result for a young person who may have made the wrong choice and/or been attached to the wrong crowd but yet still deserves a second chance. Be sure to give us a call so that we can fight to keep your young one on the right track.