NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - District Attorney Ben David says Raise the Age is the most important law change he has been a part of in his 20 years as a prosecutor.
“North Carolina is the very last state in the US to charge 16 and 17 year olds as adults in court," David said. "This new law is a welcome development.”
Starting Dec. 1, North Carolina will implement Raise the Age legislation, which mandates that 16 and 17-year-old individuals who commit crimes will no longer automatically be charged in the adult criminal justice system. In 2017, lawmakers raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to age 18 following years of research, study and education.
David says only 3 percent of crimes committed by 16 and 17 year olds are felonies, and he doesn’t want that small percentage to dictate what happens to the other 97 percent.
“For the 3 percent — I want to be clear — if we are talking about murder, armed robbery, rape, if there are 16 and 17, even 14 and 15 year olds, my office is going to still try to treat them as adults," David said. "But for the others, we don’t want to have their futures ruined by having a scarlet letter on their neck for life.”
Proponents like David and Juvenile District Court Judge Jay Corpening say the new law will in turn keep communities safer.
“When we have people who make mistakes as young people, if they learn from them and are given a second chance, they are far more likely to stay in school, get jobs go into the military, maybe even college,” David said.
Under the Raise the Age law, juveniles can apply for college without a felony on their record, become eligible for student loans, and apply for public housing.
However, the new law could double the amount of juveniles in the court system, requiring more resources to manage local youth.
“We have already been doing a soft opening of this program," David said. "We have hired more court counselors. We have a pilot program in the works, and I’m confident we will be ready by Dec. 1.”
Making the switch won’t be cheap. The Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee that the legislature put into place said the cost to fund this new law is estimated to be around $60 million.
However, it would help save money that is pumped into our prison systems to house these juveniles, according to David.
“In the last seven years, [North Carolina has] closed 11 prisons," David said. "We have reduced the prison population by 10 percent, and saved $500 million.”