On Monday, Chief Justice Mark Martin held a press conference at the N.C. Legislative Building to offer updates and remind the public of the importance of North Carolina raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. Martin and other speakers revisited the benefits of the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, House Bill 280, which was introduced in March, and echoed the recommendations on juvenile justice reinvestment presented in the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice’s final report.
As expected, after the attention H280 received in March and the recent move by New York to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, there was tremendous support again for N.C. to move forward with the bill. Judge Martin was joined by Former Rep. Tom Murry, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, Former Lt. Gov. James Gardner, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, Former Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey, who now has a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives, along with several others in support of raising the age.
Chief Justice Martin stated that over 90 percent of parents thought that the maximum age for juvenile jurisdiction was already 18, and while there are 11 counties where young people are diverted to the juvenile system, 89 still remain where they are not.
Comparisons were made to other states, illustrating the disadvantages youth in N.C. face when measured against states such as Tennessee, where young people under the age of 18 are not automatically turned over to criminal court for minor offenses. Former Lt. Gov. Gardner even pointed out how competitive the job market already is for young people today, whether they have been involved in the justice system or not, referring to his grandson who is an Eagle Scout with no criminal record.
Sheriff Harrison stated that he believed raising the age is needed in N.C., but he also acknowledged that money would be needed to make the necessary transitions. He emphasized his belief in the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act saying, “I think this initiative will stop some crime… I know it will.”
Murry drove home the point, saying, “We already have Raise the Age in every state. Now we need to bring the promise to N.C.
Additionally, with the anniversary of In re Gault close at hand, William Lassiter, Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Justice at the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety stated, “The Gault decision was one of the precursors to raising the age. It really has effected how the juvenile justice system has been set up in our country, and North Carolina is kind of lagging behind because we haven’t raised the age. So, it would be sweet justice if we could pass Raise the Age on the 50th anniversary of Gault.”