Activist pushes 'Raise the Age' legislation

Activist pushes 'Raise the Age' legislation

NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - North Carolina is just one of two states that prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults for criminal charges, but a local activist is pushing to raise the age to 18.

"For those of us that were 16 or 17 at one point, I have to admit, that I wasn't too adult like and wasn't great with my decision making," Janna Robertson admitted.

Robertson said

that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. So the activist argues, 16 and 17-year-olds shouldn't be tried in juvenile court for misdemeanor charges.

“We don't let them vote, we don't let them drink, I don't see why they should be in adult prison,” Robertson explained. “We do know from neuroscience that 16 and 17-year-olds aren't better at making decisions or at least not as much better than an 8 or 9-year-old.”

Robertson is pushing for a bill called the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act that would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to be tried as juveniles for misdemeanor offenses.

District Attorney Ben David said that although he agrees with the sentiment of the bill, its structure needs some work.

David said if the change was made, thousands of additional teens would hit the juvenile system, which some reports claim could cost more than $80 million.

"I'm in favor, if three things happen; you make sure that it's adequately funded because 30,000 additional cases will hit our system, you make sure that we streamline the cases of violence so that we can still try those young people as adults for rape, murder and armed robbery," David explained.

David says the last thing he would want to see happen is raising the age for things like getting your license and dropping out of high school.

"If you're raising the age for one, you need to raise the ages for all the others, if you do all three of those things, the DA's are for it," David said.

Members of the North Carolina Sheriff's Association agreed the money for the change isn't there.

"The bill changes the law, but provides none of the needed resources, to implement the change that's proposed in the bill," North Carolina Sheriff's Association's Eddie Caldwell Jr. said.

But advocates say raising the juvenile age specifically is worth it in the long run. Robertson says it costs tax payers $140,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate, so she says the upfront costs, in the long run outweigh the long term costs of incarceration.

"I would rather that person have a second chance, some training, get a job and be a taxpayer than in the prisons," Robertson said. "I just hope we get in line with the rest of the country, let's just make it 18."

While the conversation continues, the actual bill has been sitting in a house in judiciary committee since March.

To read more about Robertson's efforts, visit:

Copyright 2015 WECT. All rights reserved.