House Bill 725, the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act, cleared a hurdle in the North Carolina House of Representatives yesterday, passing the Judiciary Subcommittee A. It is now heading to the Appropriations Committee. Also known as the “Raise the Age” bill, this legislation seeks to modify the court’s classification of a minor to include 16- and 17-year-olds for misdemeanors. (A minor is now classified as someone under 16 years of age). Felony charges for 16- and 17-year-olds, however, would still remain in adult court.
Representative Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, a sponsor of the bill, kicked off the discussion by noting several reasons she believes the bill is needed in North Carolina. Avila cited the psychological development stages of an adolescent, juvenile crime reduction statistics from other states who have adopted raise the age legislation, and the small percentage of felony crimes committed by juveniles as compared with the large percentage of misdemeanors.
Durham District Court Judge Marcia Morey, also an outspoken advocate for HB 725, brought to the committee several case examples of teenage misdemeanor crimes that have appeared before her recently. These crimes included offenses such as open container violations, possession of marijuana, and trespassing. Through these examples, Morey tried to depict an image that misdemeanors are “non-violent” and that these teenagers don’t deserve to be classified as criminals at the ages of 16 and 17.
In response to this argument, Marcus Philemon of CharMeck Court Watch countered Morey’s examples with some of his own. These offenses by teenagers included assault with a deadly weapon, simple assault, and assault inflicting serious injury. More opposition came from other quarters, including the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, which questioned the allocation of resources to support this policy change.
Representative Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, an avid supporter of the bill, undercut his own stance on the legislation by pointing out that the current juvenile system is overcrowded, underfunded and under-resourced. Since there would be costs for revamping the system, opponents say, adding 16- and 17-year-olds into it will only create a more complicated and ineffective rehabilitation system. Critics of the bill say that the state’s first priority should be to focus on funding and improving the juvenile system as it is now.
As conservatives here at Civitas, we advocate for strict, tough policy on crime. Not only does this bill weaken that policy, but it also ignores certain issues that need to be addressed before the policy should go any further. Much of the reason for opposition is due to the nature of unanswered questions regarding the bill: How will the state treat juveniles who repeatedly commit multiple misdemeanor offenses? How will the state be equipped with enough resources to sustain the population increase in juvenile containment centers, especially with the House and Senate versions of the new budget proposing to close certain juvenile facilities? How will this affect costs in the court system and law enforcement, and how will it impact us as taxpayers?
Before North Carolina moves forward with this bill, its sponsors and supporters need to work out some of the kinks and loopholes. Our juvenile justice system needs whole-hearted reform that can be implemented successfully and completely; we can’t avoid answering the important questions that arise from this shift in policy. Whether you support or oppose this raise the age legislation, North Carolina deserves answers.