Locals advocate to raise the age for juvenile prosecution

KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – Local advocates are pushing the General Assembly to change the way young people are prosecuted.

Right now, North Carolina is one of only two states in which 16 and 17-year-olds are tried as adults, but a bill making its way through the General Assembly would change that.

Thousands across North Carolina are working to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 for low-level felonies and misdemeanors.

“These are my friends and peers and classmates that are affected by this law. A young person can make a bad mistake or a bad decision and now have a permanent scar with them for the rest of their lives,” said Kinston Teens Founder and CEO Chris Suggs.

“Minor offenses a lot of times, a lot of times it’s reactionary, a lot of times it’s just impulsive behavior. And it could affect them going into jobs, possibly going into the military, or even going to school,” said Department of Public Safety Eastern Area Administrator Joe Testino.

Dozens of community members came together Tuesday night in Kinston to support House Bill 280, including Tiffani Koonce of the Kinston-Lenoir NAACP.

“I get to see juveniles actually incarcerated going through it who are not at a capacity to really understand what’s going on with them and then on the other end I see babies who if legislation doesn’t change this, who face this system if they make a mistake,” Koonce said.

After watching a short film called Raise the Age created by the Youth Justice Project, they held a panel discussion to talk about the local impact.

Department of Public Safety representative Joe Testino says the movement has more support than ever before.

“A lot of people in the communities as you’ve seen here tonight are trying to make this a good possibility and we believe it’s the right time and it’s going to be probably the best time for us to get this done,” Testino said.

House Bill 280 has 68 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle right now, so it is expected to pass. State representatives will vote on April 27. If passed, it would then move to the Senate.

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