Kids and Criminal Justice Reform

How are current criminal justice reform efforts in North Carolina impacting children?

By: Tarrah Callahan | May 2021

Post Author

The criminal justice system has far-reaching implications for children in North Carolina. Children and teens are directly impacted by juvenile justice policies, as well as through policies that impact their parents and caregivers. In recent years, there has been a growing acknowledgement that these policies must be rooted in sound data and science, rather than just appearing to be “tough on crime.”

The 2018 passage of Raise the Age was a long-awaited victory for child advocates across the political spectrum in North Carolina. But our work to acknowledge the brain development and appropriate treatment of kids in our justice system is far from over.

Raising the Age

The great news is that thanks to Raise the Age, 16- and 17- year olds charged with misdemeanors and low- level felonies will remain in juvenile court, following the implementation date of December 1, 2019. But the bad news is that North Carolina remains the state with the lowest “minimum age” of juvenile jurisdiction. This means that kids as young as 6 are treated in the criminal justice system.

Recommendations for North Carolina to raise the minimum age are coming from all around the state. The Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity and Criminal Justice (TREC), the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and legislators from both sides of the aisle have flagged their support for and intention to advocate for legislative action to increase the minimum age while also ensuring that at risk children receive the services and attention they need.  A bipartisan group of House members have filed H.B. 261, Raise the Minimum Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction, to address the issue and raise the minimum age to ten.

Impacted Families

The state’s criminal justice policies not only have tremendous direct impact on our children, but also lead to huge ripple effects when a parent becomes involved in the justice system.

1 in 3 North Carolinians have a criminal records. This leads to a lifetime of struggle trying to find gainful employment, housing, and other essentials. A criminal record presents tremendous obstacles to a parent trying to provide for their family. Last year, the Second Chance Act passed both the Senate and House unanimously, making more people eligible to have their criminal records expunged.

The law also allows for prosecutor-initiated “Raise the Age” parity expunctions. This applies to people who were previously charged as an adult for a crime committed at age 16 or 17, who would now remain in juvenile court. The law now allows for their records to be expunged internally by the District Attorney. Advocates have been working with the Administrative Office of Courts and several District Attorney offices around the state to process mass relief for this group of people.

Finally, I am so pleased to share that HB 608 “Dignity for Women Who are Incarcerated,” passed the House of Representatives unanimously and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate. The bill will create standards of care for incarcerated pregnant women in jails and prisons in the state – including prohibiting shackling pregnant women. Currently these policies are not codified, and there is not a uniform standard of care for woman in jails. The legislation will also address other perinatal care needs for incarcerated women, and create provisions that aim towards keeping mothers closer to their young children.

Sound policy should always be informed by data.  Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform looks forward to continuing to advocate to ensure our juvenile justice policy reflects the science on developing brains.