“(The juvenile system) has services that are catered to the developing mind of adolescents,” Lassiter said.
“The people that work in the system understand the developmental needs of 16- and 17-year-olds.”
Lassiter said there has been hesitance over lowering the age in the past because of up-front costs.
“This will cost money up front, but you will get long-term benefits,” he said. “You spend a little bit of money today, but it saves you down the road.”
Birdsong said the bill has received bipartisan support in the General Assembly because it gives adolescents a second chance.
“Having a permanent criminal record impacts the ability to get a job, find housing, access financial aid,” Birdsong said.
“The long-lasting effects of a criminal record is something that we’re saddling our young people with for a very long time.”
Birdsong said any initial costs will be balanced by benefits and eventual savings.
“What we know from cost-benefit analyses is that although there is an initial cost, we will reap tens of millions of dollars in benefits both because we will save money on the adult side, and we will see an increase in societal benefits when people are able to work and contribute in meaningful ways,” she said.
Luke Beyer, co-chairperson of the Criminal Justice Awareness and Action committee at the Campus Y, said adolescents are more prone to poor decision-making because their brains have not yet completely developed.
“(With a criminal record), you don’t have access to public housing; you don’t have access to financial aid in the same way. You have to check a box every time you apply to a job or university,” Beyer said.
“You could be 85 years old and still dealing with the repercussions of a decision you made when you were 16 and your brain hadn’t developed.”
The CJAA committee has hosted panels and other events as part of their Raise the Age campaign, which aims to draw attention to the issue.
“There are a lot of advocates working tirelessly to get this legislation passed,” Beyer said. “I am optimistic for the future of North Carolina in terms of viewing everybody equally and giving everybody this chance.”
Birdsong said the legislation is gaining traction this year.
“After years of education and people thinking about their own situations, there has been increased support this year,” she said.
“We are certainly hopeful that this will be the year that N.C. finally raises the age.”