‘Ain’t Our Children, Children?’

by May 2, 2017

Right now, in North Carolina, there is a piece of legislation pending in the House of Representatives that would raise the juvenile age for jurisdiction to 18. What does that mean? It means that all 16 and 17-year-olds who get in trouble for misdemeanor offenses or for low-level, non-violent felony offenses would be treated like the children they are. Sojourner Truth asked “ain’t I a woman?”   In this moment, we need to pose the question “ain’t our children children?”  Shouldn’t our babies have the opportunity to blossom and develop to their full potential? Shouldn’t our children have every opportunity to soar even after they have stumbled? I say to you, a resounding yes.

When America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia. As of late, we have seen scores of research articles and data that support this position. We, Black America, never needed any data or research to know that this was true. We have always known that our road is riddled with more stumbling blocks and potholes.

In North Carolina, the last state in the United States of America to prosecute  16 and 17-year-old children as adults, not only do Black adults carry this burden, but the anchor of disadvantage is also yoked around the necks of our Black children.  The statistics bear out this truth.

Black account for 62% of the children prosecuted in adult court in North Carolina. Black children are 9 times more likely to receive an active sentence in adult prison than white children in North Carolina.  As of June 30, 2015, 69% of youth between the ages of 13 and 18 serving active adult sentences were Black.   I implore you to yell, scream, and shout from every rafter and every rooftop in North Carolina that our general assembly needs to raise the age of adjudication as an adult for misdemeanors and low level non violent felonies to 18 years old.

We could spend a lot of time talking about accountability and being tough on crime and how much these types of programs will cost.  However, these arguments fall flat. In 2015, minority youth were over two and half times more likely to have had complaints filed against them at Intake from law enforcement and citizens than white youth. Almost 80% of all children charged as an adult in North Carolina face misdemeanor charges.  More importantly, only 3% of all children facing adult charges in North Carolina are accused of committing serious, violent felonies.

Raising the Age will generate $52.3 million in benefits every year from the combined perspectives of taxpayers, youth and victims. Over time, Raise the Age will generate $97.9 million in long-term benefits as a result of 16-and 17-year-olds not having an adult record.  Still, the fact that raising the age is fiscally responsible, does not fully embrace why we should fight for the passage of this bill.

We must demand that the juvenile age be raised because it is our moral responsibility to ensure that Black children who find themselves in difficult situations are not burdened with those mistakes for the rest of their lives.

I hope after reading this, you will pick up the phone and call your judges, District Attorneys, sheriffs, local law-enforcement, and ask them the same question. “Ain’t our children children?”  Explain to them that we are willing to put our votes and our voices behind protecting our children and raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina. If their response is anything other than yes, the next question you need to ask yourself is why are we giving that official our support and vote?

Attorney Dawn Blagrove is the Executive Director, Carolina Justice Policy Center justicepolicycenter.org

 

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