ROCKINGHAM — A bill making its way through the state legislature would change the age at which teens could be tried as adults.
There are some in Richmond County who think it’s the way to go.
“As the teen court supervisor for Richmond County and an advocate for children and families, I am very excited about the passing of the raise the age bill in North Carolina,” April Cline said in a email to the Daily Journal on Thursday. “Although North Carolina was the last state to pass the bill, this opens new doors for 16- and 17-year-old youth in our community.”
Cline said brain development, impulse control and reasoning ability to understand actions and consequences are sometimes not fully developed in the minds of juveniles. Raising the age, she believes, will prevent teenagers from having to carry the weight of an adult criminal record into their future.
“Young adults with a criminal record are often prohibited from employment opportunities, housing opportunities and even educational opportunities,” she said. “It is very unfortunate that a 16- or 17-year-old makes a mistake and is punished their entire adult.
“I think it is important to note that there are resources within our local community to help juveniles who are displaying at risk behaviors,” she continued.
If the bill garners Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature, Cline said teens will now become involved in juvenile justice programs and will have more access to those resources.
“The local juvenile court counselors work closely with local community agencies to ensure that juveniles are being linked to services and treatment is being coordinated to address the symptoms and issues that are contributing to the behaviors being displayed,” she said, adding they will “have the opportunity to be linked through juvenile justice to mental health, behavioral health, and substance-abuse treatments offered locally and there can be a more rehabilitative approach which is beneficial to our community not only the youth.”
The bill, now on it’s way to the state Senate, passed the House 104-8.
Both Reps. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, and Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, voted for it.
Goodman said there were just a few Republicans who voted against it because they felt it let some teen criminals off too easy.
But, he pointed out, the bill doesn’t include heinous crimes, like murder.
“I think there’s a lot of momentum for it,” he said, adding he was optimistic it would pass the second chamber.
One thing this bill includes is funding for additional resources, he said, adding, “I think it will save the state money in the long haul.”
Like Cline, Goodman said he doesn’t think a bad decision should haunt a teen forever.
“If a 16-year-old does something like kids do, he has criminal record for the rest of his life,” Goodman said. “They shouldn’t have to pay for the rest of their lives.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.