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Raise the Age Advocates: Continue Positive Trend by Changing Outdated State Law

Raleigh, NC – The rate of locking up young people in trouble with the law dropped by 43 percent in North Carolina from 1997 to 2010 with no decrease in public safety. That’s according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Advocates of a proposal to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina say the report demonstrates that it’s eminently possible to:

  • Take a smarter approach to youth crime
  • Keep communities safe
  • Benefit taxpayers

“North Carolina is finding constructive ways to deal with children other than locking them up, and, at the same time, is seeing juvenile crime rates decrease,” said Brandy Bynum of Action for Children North Carolina, which spearheads the bipartisan Raise the Age campaign. “The logical and immensely encouraging conclusion is that alternatives to locking up kids work.  We can achieve better outcomes for our children and for taxpayers by treating 16- and 17-year-olds who commit low-level offenses as juveniles, not as adults.”

North Carolina remains one of only two states that automatically prosecutes all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, even for an infraction as minor as stealing a bag of Doritos.

A proposal fresh from favorable review by a General Assembly study committee would raise the age of youth jurisdiction so that 16- and 17-year olds who commit misdemeanors only are handled in the juvenile system.  There, they would pay their dues and eventually be able to get on with leading productive lives that contribute to society.

A study by the North Carolina Youth Accountability Planning Task Force found that the state could avoid spending $50 million a year by “Raising the Age” based on lower recidivism rates and fewer youth carrying an adult criminal record — often an obstacle to the successful pursuit of higher education and gainful employment.

Another recent report found that while juvenile crime itself is down nationally, the downward trend in North Carolina is more than double the national average. Observers credit much of this success to strengthening the juvenile justice system — a process that ‘raising the age’ would accelerate.

National Findings

Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot indicates that the number of young people in correctional facilities on a single day fell to 70,792 in 2010, from a high of 107,637 in 1995. This downward trend, revealed in data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, has accelerated in recent years.

The U.S. holds the majority of its incarcerated youth for nonviolent offenses – such as truancy, low-level property offenses and technical probation violations – that are not clear public-safety threats.

“Locking up young people has lifelong consequences, as incarcerated youth experience lower educational achievement, more unemployment, higher alcohol and substance abuse rates and greater chances of run-ins with the law as adults,” said Bart Lubow, director of the Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group.

The snapshot, which follows the Foundation’s 2011 report No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, indicates most states and the District of Columbia mirrored the national decline, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Several even halved their youth incarceration rates.

The KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot suggests several ways to continue promoting less reliance on incarceration and improve the odds for young people involved in the justice system. These include restricting incarceration to youth posing a clear risk to public safety; investing in alternatives that effectively supervise, sanction and treat youth in their homes and communities; and encouraging states – which often have financial incentives to fall back on incarceration – to seek community-based alternatives to locking up kids.

The new snapshot features the latest data for states, the District of Columbia and the nation, as does the KIDS COUNT Data Center, home to comprehensive national, state and local statistics on child well-being. The Data Center allows users to create rankings, maps and graphs for use in publications and on websites, and to view real-time information on mobile devices.

To view the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s latest KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot, visit: http://datacenter.kidscount.org/databook/Default.aspx

To learn more about the Raise the Age campaign, visit our publications or see the latest news

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