• Advocates gear up for fight over state's juvenile age limit

    By: Mark Becker


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Advocates on both sides are gearing up for a fight over North Carolina's juvenile age limit.

    North Carolina is one of only two states where 16-year-olds are still treated as adults in criminal cases.

    Children's rights groups have tried twice before to change that, and now they're trying again. This time, they believe they have the votes to succeed.

    House Bill 632 would gradually raise the juvenile age limit for all but the most violent teenagers from 16 to 18. Supporters say it only makes sense.

    “All you need to do is be a parent and have an adolescent for one day and you know that a 16-year-old is not an adult (and) doesn't think like an adult," said Brett Loftis, who heads up the Council for Children's Rights in Charlotte.

    The bill would phase the new age limit in over the next seven years. Despite defeats in two previous campaigns, the people behind it say they have the votes to make it happen this time.

    "This time we have a groundswell of bipartisan support -- not only legislative bipartisan support but on the local level as well," said Brandy Bynum with Action for Children in Raleigh.

    But the bill won't make it through the legislature without a fight.

    "I think they play the system and game the system now. I think you're going to give them two more years of gaming the system," said Marcus Philemon, who started Mecklenburg County's Court Watch program after his home was broken into.

    Philemon held up pictures of more than a dozen teenagers who had been arrested many times over once they turned 16, and said treating them as juveniles for two more years doesn't make sense.

    "If you give them two more years to be able to break into someone's home and give them no consequence like they have now, there's not going to be any deterrent," Philemon said.

    Opponents are also sure to point out the cost in taxpayer dollars.  A recent study said it would cost about $50 million a year to add juvenile court programs and services to handle the extra teenagers.

    But supporters argue that those programs would keep most teenagers from committing crimes in later years, and that would actually save money.

    "In reality, we're saving the system money in the long run by dealing with it in this way -- in juvenile court," Loftis said.

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