Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Report: Don't try nonviolent teens as adults

North Carolina and New York are the only states that automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, a report from the N.C. legislature's Youth Accountability Task Force said last week. But the bipartisan task force, that has been meeting for two years, wants to change that. It is recommending that North Carolina raise the age at which it prosecutes teens as adults to 18.

The change would affect 16- and 17-year-olds who are charged with misdemeanors and low-level nonviolent felonies, such as drug possession. That amounts to about 30,000 teens each year.
The cost of the change would be about $50 million a year, according to the task force, which includes law enforcement officers, judges, elected officials and other experts. The costs would come from higher law-enforcement, court, and detention costs, the report said.
But the group found there would be long-term recurring savings to offset those costs. Studies show that children in the juvenile system are less likely to return to jail. Also, juveniles sent to juvenile facilities rather than adult facilities wind up being able to get better jobs and better taxpaying citizens. At the same time, the juvenile system is actually tougher on young offenders - making them pay restitution to victims and keeping tabs on their progress in a way the adult system cannot.

What do you think? Should juveniles charged with misdemeanors and low-level nonviolent felonies be tried as adults or in juvenile court?