05/29/13 — Juvenile error: Proposal to change age limit nice idea, but bad policy

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Juvenile error: Proposal to change age limit nice idea, but bad policy

Some North Carolina leaders are suggesting a new policy that would elevate the age by which a suspect can be tried as a juvenile to 18 rather than the current limit of 16.

These limits would still be regulated based on the crime committed. More serious crimes would still allow prosecutors the option to try the offender as an adult.

This new legislation is designed for those who might be caught for less severe crimes and who might be experiencing their first round with the justice system.

The theory is that there might be some youths who are 17 or 18 who might be facing criminal charges that could change their lives forever -- and they could simply have made a mistake.

The idea is that there would be some leniency in sentencing options that could allow a young person who is caught in a criminal act in his late teens the chance to start over.

The hope is that he or she will make a change and not continue in a life of crime.

A 17- or 18-year-old who is thrown in prison meets career criminals and learns tricks of the trade. Combine that with the hopelessness that often goes along with a mistake of this magnitude and some of these kids might decide there is no other option but crime.

But we need to be careful.

Juvenile offenders are not all wayward youths who were just in the wrong place with the wrong friends at the wrong time.

Some are savvy manipulators who know just how much they can get away with -- and when their get out of jail free card expires. And many have adults using them to perform crimes because of that juvenile status.

A blanket rule change might sound good, but the consequences must be considered carefully.

In this case, a good deed could be a real serious mistake.

Published in Editorials on May 29, 2013 11:05 AM