by: Tenikka Smith Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - North Carolina and New York are the only two states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
Child advocates believe the age in North Carolina should be raised for teens who commit minor crimes.
Those advocates spent the day presenting their case to a legislative subcommittee in Raleigh. Frank Crawford, with the Children's Alliance, is behind the effort to push North Carolina lawmakers to change how teens are prosecuted.
"Generally speaking, 16- and 17-year-olds fare better when you treat them as kids rather than adults,” he said.
Right now, 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically tried as adults. Child advocates are pushing for a law to raise the age to 18 for youth who commit misdemeanors. Those accused of felonies would still be tried as adults. Crawford said moving those cases over to the juvenile justice system would offer young offenders more support to rehabilitate.
"Sixteen and 17-year-olds don't have the cognitive capacity or fully developed capacity that an adult has, and therefore their thinking about, 'If I do this and this happens' -- their thinking is not quite the same as a 21-year-old," Crawford said.
As it stands now, Crawford said teens will have to deal with the long-term consequences of having a permanent criminal record for a minor offense or bad decision they made as a child.
"North Carolina is doing harm to its kids by treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults," he said.
Some law enforcement agencies and district attorneys have concerns about the proposal, mainly the costs.
Adding 16- and 17-year-old minor offenders to the juvenile system would cause it to double in size.
A 2011 study found raising the age would cost taxpayers about $71 million a year, but it would generate $123 million in recurring benefits long term -- partly due to less crime and lower incarceration costs. Advocates are hopeful this bill will be introduced early in the 2013 legislative session.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe has weighed in on the issue. Eyewitness News got a copy of a letter Monroe co-wrote with the Children's Alliance in support of the bill.
It read, "We want kids in North Carolina to have the same opportunities as kids in 48 other states. This bill is best for our youth, our state and our economy."
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