New York and North Carolina Automatically Charge Teens as Adults

Most states keep kids charged with crimes in the juvenile court system, designed specifically with young people in mind, unless a judge decides that the serverity of the crime warrants being tried as an adult. But not in North Carolina and New York, where every 16- or 17-year-old charged with a crime as automatically sent to the adult courts. Challenges to both laws are brewing for 2011, however, and we could soon see these states come in line with the rest of the country.

The North Carolina legislature earlier this year formed a task force to look at the issue and the group will send its final report to the state legislature in January. The organization Action for Children North Carolina has been following the issue, and will likely advocate for a change in the law after the task force report comes out. Visit their “Raise the Age” campaign site to get involved and stay tuned here on as the legislature returns. We’ll be following this issue and doing what we can to ensure that all 50 states try juveniles as juveniles.

In New York, the arrival of new Gov. Andrew Cuomo could mean progress for the state’s embattled juvenile justice system. In one of his first acts after winning office, the governor-elect visited the empty Tryon Center for Boys last week to make a point about government waste. The facility is empty — its last prisoner was moved out in June — but it still has 30 staffers thanks to arcane union-friendly rules that slow down personnel changes. (I last wrote about the facility, and the state’s bloated juvenile justice system, in June.)

An article in the Pace Law Review earlier this year examined the history of juvenile ages of delinquency nationwide and held forth a strong argument for New York to join the rest of the country in directing 16- and 17-year-old kids to youth courts while leaving discretion in the hands of judges. Under new leadership in Albany, it could happen.

And while these two states need reform, so does the federal justice system. More than 15,000 readers have urged the federal government to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Act, which direct federal funds to states that comply with regulations aimed at avoided the detention of young people in adult facilities. With a few days left in the Senate session, urge your Senators to call for a vote on the JJDPA (S. 678) now.

We’ll post updates on New York and North Carolina here after the legislative sessions begin in 2011.



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