Let’s rethink juvenile justice

Thank you for your article "Tried and Through" in the July 13 Xpress about raising the age of criminal liability to 18. I just moved to Asheville from New York, which shares with North Carolina the dubious distinction of prosecuting youth as young as 16 as adults. I am in strenuous support of raising the age of criminal liability, so I was heartened to hear that the political will for this policy change exists in North Carolina.

However, the fear that an influx of 16- to 18-year-olds would overrun the juvenile system unless greater funding and programs are allocated is a serious obstacle to change. While I support increasing resources to make the change possible, a better path in the long term is a broad rethinking of how we do juvenile justice. We need to move toward a "positive youth development" model, which utilizes evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism. Systems that minimize incarceration, keep youth in their communities and provide a continuum of services consistently produce better outcomes for youth and public safety alike, because, as your article pointed out, "There really aren't many violent offenders" in the system. Missouri's approach is a good model to look to in this regard.

My message is this: continue covering this story, but please do not get stuck in the binary of "raise the age and overrun our facilities" or "keep the age the same because we can't afford the change.” There is a third way: de-institutionalization! Done right, it saves money and does right by our youth.

— Julie Schneyer
Asheville

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