Expert Commentary

Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina

2011 study by the Vera Institute of Justice on the potential benefits of treating criminals under 18 as juveniles and not as adults.

In response to heightened perceptions of youth crime, in the 1970s a number of U.S. states passed laws allowing the prosecution of more teenagers as adults. While many such decisions were subsequently reversed, some states continue to send certain juvenile offenders to adult courts.

At the request of the North Carolina General Assembly, in 2011 the Vera Institute of Justice issued a report, “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction” (PDF). The state had allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults and the analysis, conducted in July 2010, assessed the economic impact of raising the age to 18. It also looked at the costs of transferring teenagers who had committed only misdemeanor or nonviolent felony offenses, and who are currently in adult prisons, into the juvenile system.

The study’s findings include:

  • The annual benefit of raising the age from 16 to 18 for alleged misdemeanants and low-level felons is estimated to be $52.3 million.
  • Recidivism for 16- and 17-year-olds would be reduced by at minimum 10%  by transferring that population to the juvenile system.
  • The reduction in recidivism will prevent approximately 1,700 victimizations associated with misdemeanor arrests and 737 fewer victimizations related to felony arrests.
  • Due to fewer victimizations, raising the age will avoid nearly $4 million in associated costs annually.

The author’s findings strongly indicate that raising the age of juvenile prosecution, as well as transferring juveniles out of adult prisons, will ultimately produce greater benefits than costs.

Tags: crime, law, prisons, youth