Dear Senator Berger and Representative Moore:
We are writing in our capacity as members of the Board of the Durham People’s Alliance to strongly support the passage of House Bill 280, the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act during this session of the General Assembly.
It is an embarrassment to many that North Carolina is the only state left in the nation to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. Almost 97% of 16- and 17-year-olds convicted in North Carolina in 2014 as adults were found guilty of a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony. If H.B. 280 had been the law in 2014 these teenagers would have remained in the juvenile justice system as opposed to being prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system. As a result, they would not have incurred a criminal record.
Instead, they would have had an opportunity to engage in the more extensive community resources provided in juvenile delinquency court. This would have enabled them to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to their criminal activity, thereby reducing the potential for recidivism. Research demonstrates that 16-17 year olds that have made contact with the adult criminal justice system as defendants are twice as likely to commit another crime as those who had their charges resolved in the juvenile justice system.
Moreover, an astonishing 62% of young people in the criminal justice system are African-American. The disproportionate representation of African-American youth in our adult criminal courts makes treatment of 16 -17 year olds as adults especially pernicious. If we do not pass this bill and raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, we will condemn many young African-Americans to a grim future. North Carolinians do not want this. We want all our kids to have the opportunity to become successful adults who contribute to society, their families and their own communities.
The impact of being treated as a juvenile under the law instead of as an adult has enormous consequences for the future of our young people and our state economy. We must ask ourselves, how many of the kids convicted of a crime in adult criminal court could have succeeded if they had been given a second chance in juvenile court to learn from their mistakes in an age-appropriate, rehabilitative setting? Significant research has established that a young person's brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 years, and it is commonly accepted that youth are impulsive and don't always exercise the best judgment. Additionally, two-thirds of the young people in the criminal justice system have a disability. Access to necessary rehabilitative services will help our kids grow in a healthy, safe environment and give them the chance they need to be productive contributing members of our community.
The People’s Alliance has a long history of supporting efforts aimed at increasing racial justice and racial and economic equity in our community and state. We see H.B. 280 as an important step in the fight for greater equity and opportunity for all of our youth and a strong statement by our General Assembly that North Carolina unequivocally cares about giving all of our young people, including our youth of color, the best and brightest future we can offer.
We urge you to do all you can to pass H.B. 280.
The People’s Alliance Board
Vernetta Alston, Eric Boven, John Davis, Alexana Garcia, Gann Herman, Dabney Hopkins, Ryan Smith, Sondra Stein, Sara Terry, Magan Thigpen, Tommie Watson, Michael Young