House Passes 'Raise the Age' Bill Reforming Juvenile Justice

Raleigh, N.C. – Legislation that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina to include 16 and 17 year olds accused of non-violent crimes passed the state House of Representatives on Wednesday by a 104-8 vote.

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House Bill 280 Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act is sponsored by Reps. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson),  David Lewis (R-Harnett), Duane Hall (D-Wake) and Susan Martin (R-Wilson).  Its provision to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction applies to crimes committed on or after December 1, 2019.

For serious crimes classified as A-E felonies in North Carolina, 16 and 17 yea olds could still be tried as adults in the state court system.  Violations of motor vehicle law would also remain excluded from juvenile jurisdiction.

“The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, I believe, will improve the justice system’s response to teenagers under the age of 18,” said lead-sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson).  “Studies show recidivism is lower when teens are handled in the juvenile system than the adult system. “

The bill’s fiscal impact is estimated to cost about $25 million per year in FY 2017-2018 and $44 million by FY 2020-2021.

“We can afford this,” McGrady continued.  “Part of the issue in the past was we were trying to raise the age at a time the budget was in pretty poor shape.” 

North Carolina recently reported a $580 million budget surplus and has saved over $1.2 billion in its savings reserve account after the Republican-led General Assembly paid down more than $2.5 billion in debt since 2011.

“Children with disabilities already have a hard enough time successfully transitioning into adulthood, and our current approach makes it more difficult,” said primary sponsor Rep. Susan Martin (R-Wilson) in support of the bill.   “More than half of those referrals come from schools.” 

The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act also provides victims an opportunity to request reviews of decisions not to file juvenile petitions and increases information available on juveniles for court proceedings,.

House Bill 280 further authorizes statewide school-justice partnerships, requires juvenile justice training for law enforcement officers, provides enhanced sentencing for offenses committed as part of criminal gang activity and establishes a Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee.

Rep. David Lewis released the following statement:

"I am glad to announce that the House has passed HB280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, also known as the 'Raise the Age' bill. A large issue in our current criminal justice system is that 16 and 17 year olds who commit low level felonies are likely to receive unsupervised probation in adult court. However, these charges are taken very seriously in the juvenile system and the offenders are required to undergo many steps towards rehabilitating their behavior. As such, I feel that this bill is a step in the right direction as it gives young offenders all across our state a second chance and a way to reach their God-given potential."

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