Policy Position

Juvenile Justice

in Government Regulation
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Whereas most states have stopped treating minors as adults for criminal justice purposes, in North Carolina the age of juvenile jurisdiction remains the same as it was in 1909. This is unfortunate. Compared to what happens in other states, processing 16- and 17-year-old offenders through the adult system results in higher costs and higher rates of crime. It also results in worse outcomes for the offenders themselves. It’s time to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina.

Key Facts

  • In 41 states and the District of Columbia, the age of juvenile jurisdiction is now 18, which means that in all of these jurisdictions, 16- and 17-year-olds are ordinarily processed through the juvenile justice system.
  • In seven states the age of juvenile jurisdiction is 17, but two of them, Louisiana and South Carolina, are considering proposals to raise it to 18.
  • Only New York and North Carolina set the age of juvenile jurisdiction at 16, and in New York a reverse waiver provision makes it possible for 16-year-olds to petition for juvenile jurisdiction. That leaves North Carolina as the only state where all 16-year-olds end up in the adult system as a matter of course.
  • Minors in the adult system are at higher risk of suicide and are more likely to be the victims of both sexual and physical violence than those in the juvenile justice system.
  • Minors in the adult system have less access to education and other age-specific programming than those in the juvenile justice system, putting them at a serious disadvantage upon release.
  • Only 6 percent of minors in the adult system in North Carolina are charged with crimes of violence, and only 3 percent are charged with serious felonies.
  • Minors incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to reoffend than minors who are incarcerated in juvenile facilities. As a result, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction tends to reduce recidivism rates.
  • A study commissioned by the General Assembly’s Youth Accountability Planning Task Force projected that raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction would yield a net economic benefit to North Carolina of $52.3 million. The benefits would include reduced costs to taxpayers, reduced losses to crime victims, and increased earnings by juvenile offenders.
  • In 2015 N.C. Chief Justice Mark Martin convened the N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law & Justice to evaluate the state judicial system and make recommendations. Its Criminal Investigation & Adjudication Committee is currently working on a proposal to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina. The proposal will be published in 2017.


  1. Raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, at least for nonviolent, minor crimes.
  2. Preserve the current provision in the law that permits transfer to adult jurisdictions for minors who are accused of major, violent crimes and requires it for minors who are accused of first-degree murder.
  3. Mitigate stresses on the existing juvenile system by developing an implementation plan that raises the age in increments with a corresponding incremental transfer of resources from the adult system to the juvenile system.

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