This morning the new Youth Accountability Planning Task Force met with the Juvenile Justice Department to discuss whether 16 and 17 year olds are adults and, therefore, not considered juveniles under the law. WRAL reports that North Carolina currently recognizes 16 and 17 year olds as adult offenders, but the state is one of the few. The task force is considering increasing the age of adult offenders to 18. The discussion of when children become adults under the law is often marred with concerns of overloading the court system, what system best serves the offender and reducing recidivism rates.
Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby is opposed to changing the age because violent criminals are getting younger. He told WRAL, “We look at the trends of younger and younger offenders committing violent sexual offenses, armed robberies, homicides, and then we’re going to talk about raising the juvenile age and making it more difficult to protect the public? I think that concept is ridiculous.”
Some, however, disagree and insist that juveniles raise unique concerns that are not properly met by the adult system and, therefore, increase recidivism.
Recently, much attention has been given to the age of offenders and the degree of punishment administered. For the first time, the United State Supreme Court will consider whether sentencing a juvenile offender to life without parole, for a crime in which no one died, violates the Eight Amendment prohibition of cruel and usual punishment. The Court will begin hearing the case on November 9 and expects to reach a decision by July 2010.
Florida State University’s Public Interest Law Center recently reported an estimated 111 inmates, including some in North Carolina, who are serving life without parole sentences for non-homicide crimes committed as a juvenile. And the youngest age across all 50 states where a juvenile is serving a life-without-parole sentence for a non-homicide offense is in Florida and the offender is 13.
The decision determining the legal age for adult convictions in North Carolina is sure to bring new concerns. After the age is determined what is the appropriate punishment suitable to the crime committed? Considering the gravity of the High Court’s decision, I hope for a correct application and interpretation of the law here in North Carolina.