||POLICY QUESTION (p.1)
How can the case for increasing juvenile-status age in North Carolina be presented
most effectively in the political arena?
I. INTRODUCTION (p.1)
North Carolina is one of two states (the other being New York) that end juvenile jurisdiction
at age sixteen. This means that all sixteen and seventeen-year olds are processed
as adults in the criminal justice system. Trying and sentencing youth as adults
in the criminal system has serious and broad consequences for the offenders, their
families, the criminal justice systems, and society at large. Youth in adult facilities
are more prone to abuse; are less likely to receive health treatment and educational
services; are more likely to join gangs and engage in violent behavior, and are more
likely to recidivate. Further, adult convictions hinder access to employment and
educational opportunities—two key sources that reduce the tendency to engage in criminal
II. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT (p.4)
The age of juvenile court jurisdiction in North Carolina is an old and contentious
issue with much at stake. North Carolina set the maximum age of juvenile jurisdiction
at age sixteen in 1919, over 90 years ago. The juvenile-status age has been looked
at a number of times; however, all proposals to increase the status age have failed
(See Figure 2, pg. 16 for synopsis). Most recently, proposals in 2007 and 2009 faced
opposition from district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs, and the Retail Merchant
Association. Opponents cited the high financial costs to transition the 16 and 17-year-old
cohort to the juvenile system, arguing that the juvenile system is already overcrowded,
underfunded, and understaffed. Although the two separate cost-benefit-analyses conducted
indicated a substantial long-term net gain from increasing the juvenile-status age,
no change was made.
The policymaking process is adversarial, where competing agendas and conflicting interests
and perspectives can transcend rational or objective solutions to particular problems.
Influential actors and interest groups often oppose policy initiatives irrespective
of what evidence and policy research indicates. Opposition to raising the age in North
Carolina is indeed still significant and presents a legitimate barrier to successful
III. POLITICAL ANALYSIS (p.17)
A Political Analysis involves looking closely at the actors in the policy environment,
disaggregating them, identifying how they exert influence towards or against policy
initiatives, and developing strategies to effectively communicate and interact with
them. Thus, by examining the primary actors in the policy environment (through in-depth
targeted stakeholder interviews) and disaggregating and identifying their values,
concerns, and the interests that motivate their positions, I gained insight into the
kinds of compromises and political bargaining that can be made to effectively present
the case for increasing the juvenile status-age in the political arena.
The primary stakeholders and influential actors identified are district attorneys,
sheriffs and police chiefs, and the Retail Merchant Association. The conclusions derived
from the political analysis are organized into three categories: (1) Resources & Hollow
Promises, (2) Different Perspectives: Different Realities, and (3) Access to Records
Resources & Hollow Promises (p.18)
A resource-constraint has been a consistent barrier to legislative action in regards
to raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. Shifting sixteen and seventeen year
olds to the juvenile system from the adult system will indeed cost a lot of money.
This was detailed in the CBAs from 2009 and 2011, and proponents certainly acknowledge
the cost issue. Despite this acknowledgement however, interview data reveals a stringent
skepticism toward the General Assembly in regards to providing necessary funding and
resources. This skepticism is based on multiple previous experiences where the legislature
failed to follow through with their agreements.
Indeed, opponent skepticism toward the General Assembly in this light is a legitimate
issue that proponents need to address appropriately and effectively in order to gain
support from key influential stakeholders.
Different Perspectives: Different Realities (p.20)
In addition to citing an underfunded juvenile system, opponents also referred to the
system as too lenient, alluding also to its poor performance in rehabilitating young
offenders. There is a strong perception that being in a youth facility and in the
custody of the juvenile system is “easier” than being in an adult prison—which, accordingly,
encourage criminal behavior for young offenders. This could indeed be a matter of
perception, and more research should be conducted in regards to claims and counterclaims
about the actual “toughness” of the juvenile system.
There is also the concern of violent young offenders avoiding adult court if the status
age is increased. The current legislation that is to be heard however, does not suggest
this to be the case. Violent offenses can still be transferred to the adult system.
This demonstrates, in part, that opponents do not fully understand the Raise the Age
bill, which addresses misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Judge Morey suggested that
despite all the education that has taken place over the last decade, law enforcement
and district attorneys still do not all realize that violent offenders can still be
automatically tried and sentenced as adults. In turn, this signals a failure by proponents
to adequately communicate and educate opposing stakeholders on the bill and what it
Access To Records (p.22)
The Retail Merchant Association is an influential player in the political arena regarding
this particular issue. The Association’s opposition to increasing the juvenile-status
age is based on a legitimate issue, representing a particularly unique challenge in
gaining their support to raise the age. The North Carolina business community is accustomed
to having access to the criminal histories of the 16 and 17-year-old cohort. If the
juvenile-status age were increased to 18, business entities would not have access
to 16 and 17 year olds’ criminal histories—an age group that many businesses in North
Carolina rely on—because under the law, juvenile records are sealed.
Another component to issue involves tort law. Juries have previously held businesses
liable for not screening their employees appropriately. Thus, having the ability
to conduct background checks and screen potential employees is of paramount importance
to the business community in North Carolina.
IV. CONCLUSIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS (pp.24-26)
There have been a series of proposals to change the age of juvenile jurisdiction over
the last century. Opposition to changing the juvenile-status age has varied by group
across time, but the lack of resources—funding, facilities, facility capacity and
capabilities, personnel and related workforce, or any combination of these—has routinely
formed the basis for excluding sixteen and seventeen year olds from the juvenile justice
system. A resource-constraint issue is still at the heart of the debate today and
there is a strong skepticism toward lawmakers among district attorneys and members
of the law enforcement community in particular, based on past funding abandonments
by the legislature. Perceptions of a lenient, underfunded and ineffective juvenile
system among opposing stakeholders are also prevalent. District attorneys and the
Retail Merchant Association are two of the strongest opponents to raising the age.
Both coalitions have legitimate concerns regarding the bill to raise the age; however,
their opposition can be neutralized using strategies of modification—a process that
involves altering the policy proposal to align with stakeholder interests and preferences
as a way to build support and neutralize opposition. This can occur through compromises
and political bargaining.
To present the most effective case for increasing the juvenile-status age in North
Carolina, I recommend Ms. Katzenelson and the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy
Advisory Commission do the following:
(1) Tie legislation to an Appropriation
Without the proper funding, increasing the juvenile-status age will not succeed in
achieving its purpose. Shifting 16 and 17 year olds to the juvenile system to receive
treatment and have access to educational opportunities will reduce recidivism and
save taxpayers millions of dollars. However, the programs need to be implemented
and supervised accordingly in order to make the impact they are designed to have.
Requiring the “raise the age” bill to be tied to an appropriation will help satisfy
legitimate concerns about inadequate resources.
(2) Utilize Prosecutorial Waivers
Modify the bill to appeal to prosecutors—a strong and influential coalition that currently
opposes the bill. Enhancing DA discretion in their prosecutorial duties will give
them more flexibility and control, satisfying their primary concerns. Gaining DA
support will also help the implementation process. This recommendation should be considered
carefully and the Committee should investigate the states that use this waiver.
(3) Negotiate Terms & Conditions for Access to Criminal Histories for the Business
Providing employer access to juvenile records under certain terms and conditions would
substantially reduce opposition from the Retail Merchant Association. Access to records
is their only and primary concern. Negotiating a practice that gives employers access
while also protecting the privacy of the offender will not only eliminate this particular
opposition, but it may also create buy-in and support. This modification represents
a significant concession on the part of proponents and if not considered carefully,
it could represent a pyrrhic victory where the fundamental purpose of raising the
age is jeopardized.
(4) Communicate & Educate
Advocacy efforts must continue to educate all stakeholders, with special attention
geared toward law enforcement. There are still a number of misperceptions, such as
the leniency of the juvenile system and its ability to help rehabilitate young offenders.
Stakeholders need to be convinced that these programs work when implemented and executed
Constant attention should be paid to the way advocacy groups in North Carolina discuss
and frame this issue. In Connecticut, the campaign to raise the age faced similar
opposition with members from the law enforcement community. One of their strategies
was framing the issue in terms of public safety and investing in kids. While adolescent
brain development is an important issue that supports increasing the status age, it
is an argument that appeals to some, but not all stakeholders. Interview data suggests
that this argument is not compelling for members of law enforcement and DA’s because
it does not directly coincide with their primary concerns and daily activities.