Crucial weeks ahead for NC ‘Raise the Age’ implementation

Updated: Apr. 22, 2019 at 5:20 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On Dec. 1, 2019, North Carolina will become the final state to implement “Raise the Age” legislation. It will make it where the criminal justice system treats 16 and 17-year-olds as juveniles for a majority of the crimes that are committed.

The concern from some advocates is the potential funding for the roll out of a system change like this one.

“Kids are our most important asset. If we do not invest in them or the programs that meet those needs, we will pay for it many years after in a negative sort of way,” said Frank Crawford with Children’s Alliance. “There has to be a good number of community resources and groups out there that will be needed to help kids.”

The Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee, JJAC, was created by the state to help with the roll out of the legislation. Part of their responsibilities is to recommend funding numbers to the Governor and the General Assembly.

The proposed Governor’s budget comes in well below what was recommended by JJAC.

“You are going to have the size of system almost double in size, but you won’t have adequate resources in the community and when that happens things go south,” said Crawford. “I really believe that we will see some adverse, unintended consequences if this bill is not adequately funded.”

According to William Lassiter, the deputy commissioner of Juvenile Justice in the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, the Governor’s office was restricted with the budget this year, despite wanting to allocate more.

However, the Governor’s office did take steps to try and help the roll out in the proposed budget by delaying the start of several positions and facilities that will be needed. Lassiter also says the Governor’s office has committed to adding more funding in year two.

Now, the General Assembly will reveal their budget over the next couple of weeks.

“We have the commitment from lawmakers that depending on the numbers we see, they will make adjustments,” said Lassiter. “Committing to a policy is also committing to the funding of that policy.”

Lassiter wants to see state legislators give the Department of Public Safety the flexibility to spend the money and move the money when needed depending on what happens in the beginning of the implementation.

Depending on what the House and Senate set as a proposed budget, several advocacy groups are concerned it may not be enough.

“From the conversations that I had the Department of Public Safety has been very clear that they think they can do this with the governor’s proposed budget. I have concerns about how effectively they can make it work,” said Rob Thompson, the Deputy Director of N.C. Child.

Thompson says there may be issues with the idea of ‘phasing in’ money to different groups and organizations that will be involved in the juvenile system.

“We have to give them the money in advance of that so they can scale up their programs, hire staff and make sure they have the resources to do that effectively,” said Thompson.

Crawford argues that if there is inadequate funding come Dec. 1, it may create a snowball effect.

“What happens is you have kids that are on waiting lists and on backlogs. They don’t get in to get the services they need,” said Crawford.

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