North Carolina was the last state in the U.S. to end the automatic prosecution of juveniles of 16 or older as adults when, in 2017, the NC General Assembly passed the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (JJRA).
As a result, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with non-violent crimes on or after December 1, 2019 will fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system, pursuant only to specific exceptions.
Colloquially referred to as “Raise the Age,” the new law is overseen by the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee tasked with ensuring its effective implementation. That group’s comprised of court counselors, judges, human services professionals, law enforcement, juvenile law experts, and others with years of experience related to juvenile justice. Ultimately, however, successful implementation hinges on the presence of adequate funding.
At the start of the legislature’s budgeting process, the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee recommended state funding in the amount of $65.9 million for FY 2019-20, $80.3 million for FY 2020-21, and $57.3 million on an annual basis thereafter.
In addition to $15 million initially and $14.1 million annualized to address existing court deficiencies, the breakdown includes funding for court services, detention operation, educational and vocational training and related career planning and support, and juvenile crime prevention councils.
A signature component of “Raise the Age,” juvenile crime prevention councils are localized, community-focused groups in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, overseeing state juvenile crime prevention dollars and reviewing the needs of juveniles in the county who are at risk of delinquency or who have been adjudicated delinquent. The councils review existing services and make determinations about service and resource gaps to address youth needs, and evaluate program performance in order to ensure appropriate and effective resources exist to meet identified needs of system-involved youth, with the ultimate goal of preventing interaction with both the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.
So far, proposed budgets fall millions short of full funding for “Raise the Age.”
The Governor’s proposed budget sets aside $27 million in FY 2019-20 and $38 million in FY 2020-21 for the implementation, with $26 million and $36 million, respectively, focused on court services, staffing, facilities, programming, and transportation. Meanwhile, $1.2 million and $1.6 million, respectively, is earmarked for juvenile court administration for the anticipated increase in juvenile case load. The Governor’s proposed budget also includes six positions to support the work of the local councils, and funding to renovate a youth development center in Perquimans County, located in northeastern North Carolina.
At $29.2 million for FY 2019-20 and $49 million for FY 2020-21, the proposed House budget is a significant step toward realizing full and adequate funding of the JJRA. In addition to funding for increased administrative and legal staffing associated with implementation of the legislation — juvenile detention funding, and juvenile court counselors — the proposed House budget provides $4.7 million in FY 2019-20, and $ 9.2 million in FY 2020-21 for the administrative support and implementation of the local councils. These councils make up one of the most integral parts of the legislation: to successfully intervene and provide the support needed to prevent youth from becoming involved with the adult criminal justice system. The proposed House budget also includes funding for renovations to youth centers in Perquimans and Richmond counties.
Unfortunately, the proposed Senate budget fails to match the funding recommendation of the House proposal. Rather than growing the outlay in Fiscal Year 2021, the Senate merely repeats the 2020 appropriation and is noticeably light on funding for local crime prevention councils, as well as educational and vocational resources. These missed opportunities undermine the call of the legislation.
It is crucial that the final state budget follow the recommendations of the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee in order to maximize Raise the Age’s potential for reducing recidivism, supporting children in order to prevent them from becoming involved in the adult criminal justice system, and reaping the cost savings associated with detention and a reduction in rates of re-offense.
Heba Atwa is a Policy Advocate at the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center.