NC Conference: Update

More on the powwow in Greensboro to consider raising the age at which teens can be tried as adults, from the Raleigh News & Observer:

The Greensboro gathering, which continues today, brought together more than 200 juvenile justice practitioners for the N.C. Central University Juvenile Justice Institute’s seventh annual conference. Topics covered included not just the question of whether to raise the cutoff age, but what effect that would have on juvenile and adult justice systems and how any change might be implemented.

North Carolina and New York are the only states where 16-year-olds are tried as adults. A third, Connecticut, is in the process of raising its cutoff age to 18. In 38 states, that age is 17.

In North Carolina, judges have the discretion to try youths younger than 16 as adults for the most serious crimes, such as murder.

Melissa Sickmund, a chief researcher with the Pittsburgh-based National Center for Juvenile Justice, urged that the debate over the proper cutoff age be used to initiate a broader discussion.

“If you make a dramatic change like that, that’s an opportunity to make other positive changes as well,” Sickmund said in an interview. “I look at it as a huge opportunity to sit down and look at what your juvenile justice [system] is about. Because if you’re just about punishing them, you’re going to end up with a bunch of younger criminals.”

In North Carolina, the issue gained traction after a 2005 bill by state Rep. Alice Bordsen, an Alamance Democrat, failed. The measure called for a process for first-time teenage offenders to expunge minor crimes from their records. She reintroduced the bill last year, and it passed in the House and moved to the Senate.

Bordsen pointed out that the state has numerous laws defining what teenagers can and cannot do “because they don’t have the perception to make that decision.”

“But on the criminal side, it is a complete conflict,” she said. “How do you reconcile these two things? There is an injustice there.”

A two-year study completed by the N.C. Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission last year supported raising the cutoff age, but it recommended additional research on cost and implementation. The Governor’s Crime Commission was recently granted permission to study the matter further. Its final report, which will help sway lawmakers either way, is expected early next year.

Full story here.

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