North Carolina Raises the Age!
By Jeree Thomas, Policy Director
The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) is thrilled that after nearly 100 years of treating 16 and 17-year olds as adults, the North Carolina legislature has passed a budget bill that includes raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 in North Carolina. Although Governor Cooper vetoed the budget bill due to other policy concerns, the bill has enough support in the legislature to override the Governor’s veto.
This is a significant and historical policy shift for North Carolina. In 1919, when the legislature passed the original Juvenile Court Statute the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction was set at 15 years olds. Starting in December 2019, that upper age will officially rise allowing the majority of 16 and 17-year olds to start and remain in juvenile court.
CFYJ congratulates the hundreds of members and supporters of the Raise the Age NC Coalition, families and youth who advocated for change, and the tenacious leadership of groups like the ACLU of North Carolina, the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC Child, the NC Office of the Juvenile Defender, and Council for Children Rights for its long-term commitment to raising the age.
Under the budget bill, SB 257, 16 and 17-year olds will start in juvenile court; however, if they have allegedly committed an offense that is a Class A through G felony, after notice, hearing, and a finding of probable cause or a bill of indictment, the juvenile court judge must transfer that youth to adult court. This is called a mandatory waiver/transfer provision, because the juvenile court judge does not have discretion to determine whether the youth is suitable for rehabilitation in the juvenile system after the judge finds that the youth is a certain age and there is probable cause to believe the youth committed the offense. 14 states across the country have mandatory waiver provisions. North Carolina has always had a mandatory waiver provision for youth ages 13 or older who have committed Class A felonies.
In addition to the mandatory waiver provision, for 16 and 17 year olds who commit H or I felonies there is a discretionary transfer mechanism which will allow juvenile court judges to decide whether to transfer those youth to the adult system. While a number of youth are still eligible for transfer under the new law, based on North Carolina’s most recent data, a vast majority of youth, approximately 80.4%, of 16 and 17-year olds charged with misdemeanors will never touch the adult court system.
After 100 years, 16 and 17-year old youth will finally be treated as youth, and in 2019, for the first time in America’s history with a juvenile court system, no 16-year olds will be automatically treated as an adult simply because of their age.