As North Carolina prepares to become on Dec. 1 the 50th state in the union to stop treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, Chief District Court Judge Calvin Hill launched an effort to reduce the involvement of local juveniles with the court system as a result of school misconduct.
On Oct. 29, Hill convened a group of judicial, law enforcement, school and community leaders to discuss the formation of a school justice partnership for Buncombe County.
“There is no way we can say we are serious about the success of our children and ignore the staggering statistical information concerning the negative effects that sending kids to court can and does have,” Hill told the group.
While some students will continue to require court involvement, he wrote in an invitation to the meeting, the goal of the proposed partnership is to reduce the number of student interactions with the justice system to those that are “absolutely necessary.”
According to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, 55% of juvenile complaints in the Buncombe County court system during the 2017-18 school year were related to school-based incidents. That’s compared with a statewide average of 42%. Those numbers, the organization points out, only reflect youths under 16, since those 16 and older were and continue to be automatically charged as adults until the Dec. 1 change.
Hill cited statistics that reveal large racial disparities in youth involvement with North Carolina courts, including that youths of color are more than 2 ½ times as likely to come into contact with juvenile court and 1 ½ times more likely to be confined to secure detention facilities as white youths.
Those statistics, Hill said, “are really scary if you are concerned about our children in Buncombe County being successful.” Therefore, he continued, the proposed school justice partnership — which will involve the creation and implementation of a nonbinding memorandum of understanding among community partners including law enforcement, schools and the justice system — is “something that we cannot fail on. We have to be successful with this school justice partnership. Many other jurisdictions in North Carolina have implemented [them], so I know that they can be done and I know that we will do it in Buncombe County, because we care about the success of our children in our schools.”