RALEIGH — The General Assembly’s compromise budget plan funds House Bill 280, which would raise the age of many juvenile offenders from 16 to 18.
The General Assembly has allocated $1 million to implement the plan, and $13.4 million to build a new juvenile detention facility. The N.C. Department of Public Safety would dispense the money over the next two years.
The policy change will be effective Dec. 1, 2019.
North Carolina lawmakers introduced the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act in March, and they’ve debated the issue over the past few months. Some legislators worried a change in the law would allow some violent juveniles to wriggle off the proverbial hook.
The final plan would classify all delinquents with misdemeanors and low-level felonies — up to the age of 17 — as juveniles. All kids who commit violent A-G felonies would be transferred to adult court.
H.B. 280 passed the House in a 104-8 vote last month. The Senate included a similar, unfunded policy provision in its budget proposal.
Negotiations were tough, but lawmakers think they’ve reached a solid compromise, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, and Sen. Shirley Randleman, R-Wilkes, said Monday in a news conference.
“We recognize that the whole system has to react here,” McGrady said. “We heard from district attorneys, we heard from clerks, so there is money in other areas that are fully supportive of the policy decision that’s being made here. There have always been policy issues, but increasingly, it’s been about the money. And that’s what I’m really happy about. Once we got the money piece right, [we were] able to do it.”
While DPS is happy legislators are backing the plan, more money is needed to support the policy change, William Lassiter, North Carolina’s deputy commissioner of juvenile justice, told Carolina Journal.
“We are hopeful that the additional resources necessary to fully implement this policy will be made available no later than the next budget cycle,” Lassiter said.
The ACLU of North Carolina also praised the General Assembly for including raise-the-age in the budget.
“We applaud legislators on both sides of the aisle for uniting behind this commonsense effort to do what’s right for the safety and future of North Carolina’s young people,” said ACLU-NC Policy Counsel Susanna Birdsong. “North Carolina’s century-old policy of sending 16- and 17-year-olds to adult jails and branding them with lifelong criminal records has been a blight on our state and done nothing to make our communities safer. It is long past time for young offenders in North Carolina to have the same opportunities as those in the rest of the country to turn their lives around through the juvenile justice system.”
The Senate on Tuesday passed the budget conference report, 38-11, and will hold a final vote Wednesday. The House has scheduled votes Wednesday and Thursday.