News: CJ Exclusives

House justice and public safety budget highlights youthful offenders

North Carolina’s fledgling “raise the age” policy plays a big role in the North Carolina House’s justice and public safety budget.

Lawmakers, as of April 30, had allocated a $2.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2019-20, a $34 million increase over the previous year. Notably, the budget includes $29 million in allocations to fund the state’s Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, a 2017 statute classifying all delinquents with misdemeanors and low-level felonies — up to the age of 17 — as juveniles.

North Carolina formerly was the only state to punish 16-and-17-year-olds in the adult system.

When passing “raise the age,” lawmakers allocated $1 million to implement the plan, and pushed through $13.4 million to build a new juvenile detention facility. Supporters of the law have long said the program’s success requires more money, and this year’s budget pumps millions into several categories, especially staffing, juvenile rehabilitation programs, and housing at youth development centers.

Lawmakers have back-loaded the “raise the age” budget, allocating more recurring money for 2020-21. Some of the biggest ticket items include:

Contracts for community-based programs: $6.5 million recurring and $350,00 non-recurring in 2019-20, and 11.1 million recurring in 2020-21, for contracts with community-based and residential programs for “juveniles who have been adjudicated delinquent.” The money also supports one staffing position for contract management.

Juvenile court counselors: Roughly $3 million recurring and $1.9 million non-recurring in 2019-20, and $8.7 recurring in 2020-21. Will provide for 97 new juvenile court counselors, to be phased in during the first fiscal year beginning Nov. 1, 2019. Juvenile court counselors are “the primary point of contact for all juveniles and their families as they move through the juvenile justice system.”

Administrative support: $1.7 million in recurring and $200,000 in non-recurring funds during 2019-20 for 17 full-time staffers, including 10 staff trainers, two statisticians, three IT workers, and two human resource workers. The budget allocates $2.1 million in recurring funds for 2020-21.

Facility administration: $500,000 in recurring, and $40,000 in non-recurring funds in 2019-20 for seven staffers, including one in facility management and six in field support for operations at juvenile detention and youth development centers.

Juvenile detention center capacity: $4.5 million recurring in 2019-20, and $6.7 million recurring in 2020-21. Funds will increase number of beds at youth detention and development facilities.

Transportation: $656 recurring and $1 million non-recurring in 2019-20, and $1.2 million recurring in 2020-21. Will provide 15 staffers and 29 vans to transport juveniles in custody.

Youth development center reopening: $1.5 million recurring and $322,000 non-recurring in 2019-20, and $2.3 million recurring in 2020-21. Will fund 38 staffers and operating expenses at the CA Dillon Youth Development Center, which is currently under renovation.

District attorney positions: $1.2 million recurring and 42,610 non-recurring for 2019-20, and $1.2 million recurring for 2020-21. Will fund 11 new positions, including eight assistant district attorneys, and three legal assistants.

Other noteworthy spending unrelated to “raise the age” includes $250,000 in non-recurring funds for an opioid pilot project in Wilmington, which will “address the needs of opiate and heroin overdose victims who are not getting follow-up treatment.

North Carolina’s Human Trafficking Commission, a body that meets bimonthly and recommends policies to combat trafficking to the General Assembly, received $227,869 in recurring funds for 2019-20. That number will jump to a recurring $250,000 in 2020-21. The money will cover “the executive director position and operating costs for the Human Trafficking Commission.

The House Appropriations Committee could make changes Wednesday, May 1, when it considers the budget. The numbers could be altered further during House floor debate at the end of the week.

The budget package then will head to the Senate, which either will adopt the House budget as is or — more likely — pass a tax-and-spending plan with different priorities.

After the House and Senate agree on a plan, Gov. Roy Cooper will decide whether to accept it.