One year later, ‘Raise the Age’ law getting mixed reviews

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jacqueline Lewis said it was a mother’s intuition that told her that her son was gone. Her son, 30-year-old Cinquay Ferrer, was shot and killed on the street in front of their north Charlotte home just two nights before Christmas.

One of the men police charged with killing Ferrer was only 16 years old.

Lewis said she was heartbroken when she learned that someone so young was involved in her son’s murder, but what really hurt was finding out that under a new law, the man was charged as a juvenile, which means his name and criminal history are protected for now.

“All I really can say is that our system is failing us,” she said. “Our court system, our justice system, is failing us.”

It’s been more than a year since the new so-called “Raise the Age” law went into effect in North Carolina. It’s designed to keep most 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile court system and give young offenders a second chance to keep them from committing more serious crimes.

Michelle Duprey is an attorney with the Council for Children’s Rights. She says there are still a lot of misconceptions about the new law, and that some people believe 16- and 17-year-olds are getting a free pass.

“A parent should never have to suffer the loss of a child, and in an ideal world that would never happen,” she said. “This isn’t a situation where we raise the age and there’s a young person who’s getting off. That young person will actually be indicted and will be transferred to adult court, and they are going to be treated as an adult.”

Channel 9 obtained a state report that showed in the first year of the new law, 16- and 17-year-olds accounted for 51 murder charges, 206 armed robberies and 60 serious felony assaults – 15% more serious felonies than analysts had expected.

The report also showed the number of low-level felonies and misdemeanors was only 53% of what the same analysts had projected.

“I think it’s still early to say whether this is working or not,” said Charlotte Police Chief Johnny Jennings.

Jennings told Channel 9′s Mark Becker that he is worried about the rise in teen violence in Charlotte, but he believes many teenagers who make a mistake deserve a second chance.

“We owe it to society to try and turn these kids around and save them, and make them into productive citizens,” he said.

Major C.D. Youngblood oversees Mecklenburg County’s new juvenile detention center. It’s a place where young inmates, even those charged with murder, wear khakis and sport shirts instead typical prison uniforms, and they have access to a library, and even a barbershop.

She thinks the program is working.

“I would say that many of our kids come in broken,” she said. “So no, I don’t see it as coddling. Sometimes, I see that this might be what that juvenile, that kid, needs in their life at that moment. We’re on the right track with it.”