Juveniles In The Criminal Justice System

North Carolina is finally taking a step in the right direction in regards to their treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system. The North Carolina General Assembly has  passed a law raising the age of majority in North Carolina from 16 to 18, which would prevent these individuals from being tried as adults in this state. North Carolina is one of the last states to still treat 16 year olds as adults in the eyes of the law.

This reform stems from an inward gaze into the incarceration epidemic in the United States. The cycle of incarceration is well known: people small commit crimes and are imprisoned in some capacity. However, upon their release they find it near in possible to find gainful employment because of their criminal records. Their un or underemployment often leads to high levels of depression among these individuals, coupled with a problem making ends meet. These factors tend to force parolees to turn back to illegal activity. They are arrested again and prove the statistic that people who are released from prison are exponentially more likely to return there.

The beginning of this cycle is seldom discussed, but helps to shed light on the incarceration problem facing this country. It is theorized as the “school to prison pipeline”, which hypotheses that public schools tend to treat certain individuals, often impoverished and often minorities, in a certain way that gives them a disposition towards being “lifelong criminals”. Briefly, students as young as middle school age receives severe punishments for relatively minor infractions, like swearing or fighting with other students, resulting in suspensions from school and even expulsions.  This causes these students to fall behind in their classes and become isolated from their classmates, giving such students low self-esteem and a feeling like there is no place for them in “normal” law abiding society. This causes them to turn to alternative groups where they will feel more welcome.

There is hope that this new law represents a chance to treat the youth of this state like human beings as opposed to criminals destined for lifelong imprisonment. At the very least, it represents a real measure to treat the incarceration problem in this country.