The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association strongly opposes –
as we have for years – legislation that would raise the
juvenile age from 16 to 18.
The state’s present juvenile justice system cannot handle an
influx of 16- and 17-year-olds unless the state spends hundreds
of millions of dollars to provide new facilities and programs.
(See cost estimates below.)
It would be irresponsible and dangerous to change the juvenile
age without providing the necessary resources.
The sudden injection of 16- and 17-year-olds into the juvenile
justice system would present a significant danger to younger
juveniles – some of them aged 13 and 14.
Also, the younger children would be at risk of learning
criminal behavior from the older offenders.
North Carolina’s sheriffs support real rehabilitation programs
that help juveniles who have committed crimes turn their lives
around. However, raising the juvenile age from 16 to 18 with no
programming, no facilities, and most importantly, no additional
funding is a recipe for disaster and would hurt the children we
are trying to help.
House Bill 632, Juvenile Age to 18, introduced in the 2011
Session of The General Assembly, would raise the juvenile age
over four years: during the first year from 16 to 16 1/2, in the
second year from 16 1/2 to 17, in the third year from 17 to 17
1/2, and in the fourth year from 17 1/2 to the age of 18.
The same bill was introduced in 2009 as House Bill 1414, The
Youth Accountability Act. The fiscal note prepared by the
legislative staff then said: “DJJDP seeks to separate the older
juvenile population from the young offenders. DJJDP estimates
the need for six additional 64 bed facilities to meet the needs
of this expanded population.” Each 64 bed facility will cost the
state $8.1 million to construct, for a total construction cost
of $48.6 million, plus added annual operating costs for the
facility and staff to manage it.
The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association urges the legislature
to consider the following and to not mandate such a dramatic
The original Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention (DJJDP), former Winston-Salem Police
Chief George Sweat, and Linda Hayes, current Chief Deputy
Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety
Division of Juvenile Justice and former Chair of the Governor’s
Crime Commission, both have said publicly that the Division of
Juvenile Justice has always been underfunded and cannot provide
adequate resources for the children in their jurisdiction now.
Supporters of the bill do not say how this massive project will
be funded. Division
of Juvenile Justice funding has been cut from $160 million and
1,973 full time employees in 2008 to $135 million and 1,602 full
time employees in 2011 with another $4 million in cuts expected
in 2012 – an overall loss of $25 million and 371 full time
positions in the last four years.
There are no juvenile justice programs in place to serve 16- and
Programs for 13- and 14- year-olds are dramatically different.
Adequate funding for additional programs will be needed.
New facilities will be needed to house 16- and 17-year-olds.
Otherwise, shared housing will become a training ground
for younger children to learn criminal behavior from older
Supporters of raising the juvenile age argue that brains are not
fully developed at age 16 or 17; however, to say that is to
argue that young people should not be allowed to get a driver’s
license, take the SAT (in preparation for college) or take a gun
hunting until they are 18.
Law enforcement officers, district attorneys and other criminal
justice professionals know that many young criminals start what
becomes a career criminal path at age 12 or 13.
By the time they are 16 or 17, the
juvenile justice system has no significant leverage over them.
In the 2009 bill, House Bill 1414, The Youth Accountability Act,
the fiscal note showed the actual cost to the state:
In the fourth year of implementation, it would cost the state a
total of $120.7 million
each and every year
to maintain 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system.
For Additional Information Contact:
Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Last Updated: May 18, 2012