by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
The Citizens-Times recently published a column in which Matthew Herr — an attorney and policy analyst for Disability Rights NC — makes a powerful case for raising the age of juvenile Jurisdiction in North Carolina:
Children with disabilities make up the vast majority of the youth in our criminal justice system. At least two-thirds of the youth in the criminal justice system have a disability, and the actual number is probably much higher. Of the 200 children in North Carolina’s juvenile facilities, only one child does not have a mental health diagnosis. More than 80 percent of those children have two or more disabilities.
So, when we talk about youth in our criminal justice system, we are really talking about kids with disabilities. …
Whatever the reason youth with disabilities are more likely to interact with the criminal justice system, putting kids with disabilities though the adult criminal justice system is particularly harmful. These children already have a hard enough time obtaining housing, education and employment as they transition into adulthood. Saddling them with the 1,000 “collateral consequences” of having an adult criminal record sets our kids up for failure, increases their future reliance on government assistance, and makes it more likely that they will resort to future criminal activity. That ends up costing North Carolina taxpayers far more in the long run and makes our communities less safe.
Raising the age for adult prosecution to 18 years old would also protect kids with disabilities. When minors are incarcerated with adults, they are far more likely to commit suicide and be assaulted or raped. In jails, minors are the victims of more than 20 percent of the sexual violence, even though they make up less than 1 percent of the inmates. They are 50 percent more likely to be attacked by another inmate with a weapon, and twice as likely to be physically assaulted by staff. This only encourages our kids to align with gangs in adult correctional facilities as a matter of survival, and it keeps them from the family and community supports they need during the crucial transition years into adulthood. Without these supports, and with an adult criminal record weighing them down, it can be almost impossible for many of our kids with disabilities to grow into independent, law-abiding, contributing members of society. …
All of this shows that the time to raise the age in North Carolina is now. New York, the only other state to not yet raise the age, is already passing legislation to join the rest of the country in raising the age. North Carolina cannot get left behind. We need to protect our children with disabilities and get smart on crime. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. Raising the age will keep our communities safer, result in better outcomes for all children (and especially for those with disabilities), and save North Carolina taxpayers money.
Our current approach is broken. Fortunately, we know exactly what we can do to fix it.
Read the whole thing!