Local leaders working to keep teenagers out of the criminal court system

KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – In Lenoir County, leaders are working to help their youth, stay out of the criminal court system.

The idea came to full fruition after your elected leaders passed the raise the age bill that ended the Practice of automatically prosecuting 16 and 17 year olds for crimes as adults.

When Tanya Yearwood was a teenager she was in that landed her in the court system.

“When you go stand in front of that judge, that’s when it clicks,” said Yearwood.

The next thing she knew she had a criminal record that still haunts her to this day.

“I didn’t know that you know some places go all the way back your record is forever. It prevented me from getting a job, “explained Yearwood.

Leaders in Lenoir county and Kinston say that’s what they want to avoid for the next generation.

The Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court conducted a report about juvenile reinvestment.

District Court Judge Beth Heath says the numbers are shocking.

“That report said that there were 5689 16 and 17 year olds convicted in 2014. Only 3.3 percent of those 187 were convicted of violent felonies. The vast majority of those 80.4 percent were convicted of misdemeanors,” said Heath.

The Lenoir county police department reports there were nearly 60 incidents involving juveniles between the ages 10 to 15 in the last year.

Heath said this program could bring those numbers down.

“Try to find alternative solutions for them working along with the school system and other community partners to try to address the behaviors and change behaviors, keep kids in school. Keep them from having contact with the criminal court system,” added Heath.

For now Yearwood continues to rebuild her life, but hopes to see a better outcome for the next generation.

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