A subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee in the North Carolina Legislature unanimously approved legislation that would place juveniles charged with a misdemeanor in the juvenile justice system.

Under current law, North Carolina’s age of juvenile jurisdiction ends at 15. All youth ages 16 and up are automatically tried as adults, making the state one of only two that tries 16 year-olds as adults. (The other state, New York, has a generous reverse waiver provision in which juveniles can request transfer to a juvenile court, leaving North Carolina alone in its exclusive adult court jurisdiction of 16 and 17 year-olds.)

The legislation approved by the subcommittee would put 16 and 17 year-olds charged with a misdemeanor in the juvenile court system, while those charged with a felony would remain in the adult court system.

Right on Crime partnered with the John Locke Foundation, a free-market think tank in North Carolina, to provide research on juvenile court jurisdiction over minors. The findings included:

  • Adult court jurisdiction and adjudication of youths does not deter crime;
  • Recidivism rates for youths adjudicated as adults are substantially higher than for those handled in the juvenile court system, even when controlling for offense severity and other risk factors; and
  • Adult prisons and criminal justice processes can be unsafe for youths and unproductive for rehabilitation purposes.

Putting 16 year-olds in the adult court system for very minor offenses also saddles them with a permanent criminal record, which significantly impacts their ability to obtain employment and higher education. With this legislation, North Carolina looks to ensure that its youngest low-risk offenders have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and go on to live productive, law-abiding lives.