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Juvenile justice reform sought

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Advocates for North Carolina’s children are seeking changes to the state’s juvenile justice system, with the goal of improving the lives of youth as well as protecting the public.

Action for Children North Carolina, a statewide advocacy group based in Raleigh, published its recommendations as part of its new report, “Putting the Juvenile Back in Juvenile Justice.”

In North Carolina, 16- and 17-year olds are processed through the adult criminal justice system, regardless of the crime committed, based on laws created in 1919.

But while older teens may resemble adults in appearance, the report says, they still have significant neurological development to undergo before they have the same judgment capabilities as adults.

And adult treatment can worsen behavior, the study says.

In North Carolina, for example, youth processed through the adult system are twice as likely to be convicted again as are those handled through the juvenile system.

That finding is echoed by a report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention that says youth tried as adults are 34 percent more likely to commit additional crimes as are kids processed through the juvenile system.

To address these issues, Action for Children recommends the state create a task force charged with determining costs, processes and statutory changes required to move 16- and 17-year olds to the juvenile system.

At the same time, the group says the existing juvenile justice system should be improved and be funded at a higher level.

And regardless of whether youth are in the juvenile or adult system, the state should provide them with research-based services and supports, the study says.

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