by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina from 16 to 18 is likely to lead to millions of dollars in long-term savings. That’s the key conclusion in a newly updated report Texas crime experts have prepared for the John Locke Foundation.
RALEIGH — North Carolina is likely to see millions of dollars in net annual benefits over time, if lawmakers join almost every other state in making the juvenile justice system the default destination for 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes. That’s according to Texas-based criminal justice experts who have just issued a newly updated version of a Spotlight report first prepared in 2012 for the John Locke Foundation.
“On the surface, raising the maximum age of jurisdiction for North Carolina’s juvenile justice system can appear to lead to higher costs,” said report co-author Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime, a national organization devoted to criminal justice policy research and analysis. “However, evidence suggests that any short-term cost advantages of keeping 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system are ultimately overwhelmed by higher long-term costs.”
Levin and co-author Jeanette Moll focus special attention on costs in this updated version of their report. They are releasing their findings as state lawmakers consider House Bill 725, which would “raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction” to include 16- and 17-year-olds charged with misdemeanors.
Smaller caseloads in juvenile probation and lower staff-to-inmate ratios in juvenile lockups help lead to higher short-term costs in the juvenile justice system than in the adult court system, according to the report.
The juvenile system also offers more programming, and juveniles pay lower fees than their adult counterparts. That means the adult justice system appears to cost less in the short term.
“Evidence suggests that some of the same factors that lead to lower short-term costs in the adult justice system — such as larger caseloads and less programming — contribute to higher rates of recidivism and revocations among 16- and 17-year-olds, leading to higher long-term overall costs,” Levin said.
A 2011 study estimated that raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 16 to 18 for those charged with misdemeanors and low-level felonies would generate $52.3 million in net benefits for North Carolina.