Hillsborough Mayor Pro Tem Matt Hughes was recently appointed to North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice Planning Committee, a part of Gov. Roy Cooper's Crime Commission.
The Crime Commission advises the governor and North Carolina legislators on crime and justice issues. The committee focuses on providing resources for juveniles involved in the justice system and programs for at-risk youth.
Hughes has served on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners since 2018 and will be up for reelection next year. He said he will serve on the Juvenile Justice Planning Committee for the rest of Gov. Cooper’s term and that he hopes to be reappointed by the next governor.
Hughes said more support is needed for juveniles than adults within the criminal justice system. This support can prevent re-offending juveniles and other young people from getting involved in criminal activity, he said.
"I'm thinking of it in terms of both reacting to the situations we have and then also looking at it from a proactive standpoint of ensuring that there is multi-agency cooperation to ensure that kids don't end up in these situations to begin with," Hughes said.
A large part of his work on the committee is implementing the Raise the Age law, which stopped 16 and 17-year-olds from automatically being charged as adults. Before this legislation passed in 2019, North Carolina was the last state to charge this group as adults.
Hughes said he has always had an interest in juvenile justice. Beginning in 2013, he worked for Action for Children North Carolina, now known as NC Child, where he worked with legislators and helped push for the Raise the Age law.
Since the act was passed at the end of 2019, Hughes said he thinks some things were left out of the legislation due to the impacts of the pandemic.
“I think there are probably a lot of improvements to be made and a lot more support services that are required,” Hughes said.
One of the committee's main responsibilities is bringing together stakeholders involved in juvenile justice, Adonicca McAllister, the lead juvenile justice planner, said. She supervises the committee and said it aims to ensure funds are equally distributed across state programs.
“The Juvenile Justice Planning Committee really brings diverse voices together and helps inform the governor and state’s processes on systemic issues like child welfare and child abuse,” McAllister said.
Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver said she thinks Hughes will make a good committee member because he is relatively young and has experience in other organizations that focus on children’s needs.
Weaver said, as a commissioner, Hughes has always been prepared to have thoughtful conversations about important issues.
“Matt really does his homework,” she said.
He has lived in Hillsborough his whole life, and his family has lived in Orange County for generations. He said while some people run for local government because they see a problem, he feels a sense of responsibility for the town’s success.
“I ran because I really have a sense of ownership of making sure the community I grew up in continues to thrive,” Hughes said.
He ran for state legislature in the spring and, while unsuccessful, said the experience rekindled his dedication to public service. He will run for reelection as a commissioner next year, but he said it is hard to know exactly what the future holds.
“I really believe you take opportunities as they come at you,” Hughes said.
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