The first of December marks not only the beginning of the holiday season, but also the official implementation of North Carolina’s new Raise the Age law. In 2017, lawmakers raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to 18. The legislation passed and was signed into law with the work of a bipartisan coalition and the support of law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations.
Lawmakers in the Tar Heel State recognized that 16- and 17-year-olds who end up with an adult criminal record often stall out. The consequences of a criminal record are detrimental to a young person’s development since that record will follow them for the rest of their life and lead to problems with college admissions, stable housing and future employment. The new law will alleviate many of these disadvantages.
Now, as North Carolina looks toward a bright future with increased opportunities for young people to become successful, reforms are still needed in Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin. All three of these states are poised to enact this meaningful and necessary juvenile justice reform.
In Texas, the legislature will not convene again until January 2021. In the meantime, lawmakers have the chance to study research that illustrates the remarkable benefits of raising the age. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of raising the age of criminal majority. In fact, over the last decade, after seven states raised the age of criminal majority, the number of minors routed to the adult system based solely on their age was cut in half. In other words, more young people are served appropriately by the juvenile justice system when states pass and implement raise the age legislation.
In Georgia, lawmakers are holding preliminary listening sessions to fully understand the intricacies of the issue and prepare to move forward in the next legislative session. About 6,600 17-year-olds were charged with crimes in Georgia in 2018, meaning the each of those youths are being processed and moved through the adult criminal justice system. House Juvenile Justice Committee Chairwoman Mandi Ballinger has taken the lead in filing legislation and planning educational hearings to advance changes in the Georgia juvenile code.
In Wisconsin, the juvenile justice system is facing issues on multiple fronts. A Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling recently determined that once a child is adjucated to be an adult, they will continue to be considered as such in the eyes of the court. With the state’s juvenile system in turmoil, raising the age is critically important to avoid mistreatment of youths within the system and the consequences of criminal records once released.
From North Carolina to Wisconsin, it’s clear that each state’s landscape is unique when it comes to juvenile justice reform. For those states that have recently passed Raise the Age legislation, advocates and stakeholders must support the implementation process to ensure success.
And for those last few states who have yet to raise the age, the time is now.