U.S. Senators Support “Raise the Age”

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Just weeks after the NC House passed bipartisan legislation to “raise the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction to 17 for misdemeanor offenses (HB 725), US Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have given NC a new incentive to enact this bill. According to this press release, Senators Paul and Booker have introduced the REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act, which proposes major criminal justice reform by removing non-violent juvenile offenders from the adult criminal court system and improving employment opportunities for non-violent adult offenders.

A key provision of the bill encourages states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 by offering those states a preference for federal community police grants. The REDEEM Act would also:

  • Create a process for adult, non-violent offenders to seal their criminal records;
  • Limit information available to employers via FBI criminal background checks;
  • Automatically expunge or seal juvenile records for non-violent offenses;
  • Restrict the use of solitary confinement for juveniles; and
  • Restore welfare benefits to low-level drug offenders who have served their time.

The bill’s sponsors have called it common sense legislation designed to reform a costly and “broken criminal justice system,” citing research, long advanced by “raise the age” proponents, which shows that rehabilitating youth in the juvenile justice system costs less, reduces recidivism, and removes barriers to employment caused by having an adult criminal record. In short, they claim it will save taxpayers money.

NC has twice studied the fiscal impact of raising its maximum juvenile court age, and reached the same conclusion. Currently, juveniles in NC are automatically prosecuted as adults starting at age 16. G.S. 7B-1604(a). In 2009, the Governor’s Crime Commission Juvenile Age Study reported that raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 could result in a net benefit of approximately $7.1 million to the state. In 2011, that number was increased to $52.3 million in a report by the NC Youth Accountability Planning Task Force, which recommended prosecuting 16 and 17-year-old misdemeanants and low-level felons in juvenile court. The cost savings, according to both reports, would largely result from reduced recidivism, which eliminates future costs associated with youth “graduating” to the adult criminal system, and increased lifetime earnings for youth who will not have the burden of a criminal record. As a result, the Task Force concluded that because more youth will become law-abiding, productive citizens, rather than a hindrance to the state, the long term benefits of treating more kids in the juvenile justice system far outweigh the costs.

Yet, the Task Force also estimated that moving 16 and 17-year-olds to juvenile court would initially cost NC taxpayers approximately $70 million per year, an investment opponents say the state can’t afford right now. This article also cites opposition from some law enforcement groups as another reason why NC has yet to “raise the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction.

NC remains one of only two states in the nation that prosecute 16-year-olds in adult criminal court. NY is the other state with this distinction, but it has a “reverse waiver” law that permits a defendant to petition the court to be tried as a juvenile. Eight states send juveniles to criminal court at age 17, but the overwhelming majority of states (40 plus the District of Columbia) set their respective ages of criminal responsibility at age 18.

Illinois, one of the most recent states to “raise the age” to 18, has reported results that tend to support the reasoning behind the REDEEM Act. Three years ago, Illinois became the first state to increase its juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds who commit misdemeanors only. However, in July 2013, the state passed a law to include all 17-year-olds in the juvenile court system upon finding the initial change was less costly than anticipated, did not overwhelm the juvenile justice system, and actually resulted in a decline in juvenile crime, as detailed in this report by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

Although early reports show the REDEEM Act is unlikely to succeed this session, it is another example of the momentum gained by the “raise the age” campaign as more policymakers embrace new evidence that shows removing youth from the adult criminal system makes sense from an economic and public safety perspective. Of course, the campaign has also been propelled by a wave of U.S. Supreme Court decisions recognizing that children are categorically different from adults, which must be accounted for by the courts. See Miller v. Alabama, J.D.B. v. North Carolina, and Graham v. Florida.

As for the fate of HB 725, NC’s “raise the age” bill, it is also unlikely to obtain passage during the short session. Since it arrived at the Senate, the bill has been fatally marked – “Held in Senate Clerk’s Office” – which is likely its final resting place until the short session adjourns. However, if the REDEEM Act becomes law, it could help to “redeem” HB 725 next session.

9 comments on “U.S. Senators Support “Raise the Age”

  1. I’m okay with some of the provisions, but sealing records of “non-violent” offenders and limiting information to employers are two I hope do not pass.

    Larceny is a non-violent offence, but would an employer want to hire somebody if that is on their record (particularly if there are multiple counts)?

    Identity theft is a non-violent offense, but would a hospice care provider or financial institution want to hire somebody with that as part of their background?

    Writing worthless checks is not a particularly violent criminal offense, but if a landlord is checking on the background of a prospective renter, why should that information not be available?

    The list goes on.

    There’s a happy balance between easing the permanent albatross a criminal record puts around one’s neck and frivolously wiping the slate clean. Some of these proposal lean too far toward the latter.

    • These are good points, J.C. I suspect that many lawmakers will have similar concerns and that the bill will go through several amendments, if it has any chance of passing.

      The proposed version currently defines a “covered nonviolent offense” as a federal crime that is neither a crime of violence or a sex offense.

      There is also an exception in Sec. 3633(f), which would permit the disclosure of information about a sealed record for background checks related to law enforcement employment, military enlistment, or any employment that requires government security clearance.

    • It’s a pretty binary decision. Unfortunately, there is very little middle ground between a life-long millstone around your nec (and we as a society naively sitting by and allowing such unjust nonsense to continue) versus allowing criminal records to haunt someone for the rest of their lives.

      The line at non-violet offenses makes sense.
      I can accept not permitting record expungement for serious violent offenses, sex offenses, predatory offenses but yeah. Someone who does some stupid theft when they’re younger, do you seriously advocate that person be denied the ability to get a job by it 5, 10, 20, 40 years later? Because that’s precisely what’s going on. There is no frivolity here. Drawing the line at non-violent offenses is perfectly sensible. This needs to pass but probably won’t because ‘the public’ in the United States is OK with weaponized information, until they’re the one on the wrong end of the barrel.

  2. They need to make it 21. You are not an adult until you are 21 in this draconian state. (See drinking Age). You can vote, die in the military, marry, contract debt, BUT heaven forbid them a drink thanks to the evangelists.

    • This “draconian” state is just like the other 50- the minimum drinking age is 21 in every state. In 1984 the US government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which mandated that all states raise their drinking age to 21 or lose 10% of federal highway funds. They all did so. Blame the government, not the evangelists.

      • And who do you suppose pushed the Fed to create such a policy? The manic mommas and evangelists maybe?

        The point is that if the drinking age can be set by the Fed ‘or State under a pretext of adulthood, maybe we should consider the voting laws, marriage laws, employment laws, enlistment laws, driving laws, and all other laws of contract as well.

        There seems to be a conflict concerning adulthood. A person is either an adult at 18 or they are not.

        Young people at times do make mistakes, but so do adults. A large part of the problem is that ‘arrest records’ show past arrests even if there is no conviction or plea agreement. I don’t feel anyone should have access to any arrest record the only records that need to be kept are ‘convictions’ and or plea agreements.

  3. While the distinction between misdemeanors and felonies is worth considering, we must also realize that people who commit certain crimes should not be in certain jobs. People who commit larceny, financial card theft, etc. should not work in banks. Likewise, those who contribute to the delinquency of minors, assault children or neglect children shouldn’t be qualified to care for children in child care settings, but if the FBI can’t find these crimes on criminal background checks that are required before a person is allowed to begin work in child care, who knows who will be caring for our children!?! Similar concerns exist for those who care for the elderly and disabled who are abused and robbed in nursing homes and rehab centers.

  4. […] non-serious delinquent act. The bill appears to be identical to HB 725 from 2013, which I discussed here on the Criminal Law […]

  5. […] would participate in juvenile court rather than adult court, and is in line with a bipartisan national trend towards raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction.  The article from the Times notes that […]

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