MAY 15, 2012 / BY MATT NELSON ACTION Tell the NC State Legislature: stop jailing our children

North Carolina is one of two states in the nation where all 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults --even for low-level, non-violent offenses. Black youth are more likely to be arrested for minor offenses and treated more harshly than white youth at all stages of the justice system. They bear the brunt of policies that prosecute youth as adults.

Below is the email we sent to North Carolina ColorOfChange members today. We're asking them to call on their state legislators to vote this month to stop prosecuting children in the adult criminal justice system. Please take a look and pass along to someone you know in North Carolina. Together, we can get the state legislature to do what's right and raise the minimum age.

Dear Member,

North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically prosecutes all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults — without exception — even for low-level, minor offenses. Consequently, youth who are forced to go through the adult system are more likely to commit more crimes as adults1, and many are then branded with permanent adult criminal records, limiting their future employment, educational, and civic participation opportunities.2

This month the North Carolina State Legislature could vote on a bill (SB 434) that would raise North Carolina's age of adult criminal prosecution from 16 to 18 for minor offenses, bringing the state in line with almost every other state in the country. 

Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system especially impacts Black youth and youth of color, who are more likely to be arrested for minor offenses and treated more harshly than white youth at all stages of the justice system.3,4 

Please join us in calling on the North Carolina State Legislature to stop prosecuting children accused of minor offenses in the adult criminal justice system. It takes just a moment:

North Carolina’s "Youth Incarceration" law has been on the books since the turn of the century and of the thousands of minors processed in North Carolina’s adult system, 80% are accused of minor crimes; of the 31,000 arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds in 2007-08, 94 percent were for nonviolent offenses.5

The state-appointed Youth Accountability Planning Task Force studied the issue for almost two years and in January 2011 recommended that this outdated law be changed so that youth accused of low-level crimes are handled in the juvenile system.6 Adult courts rarely provide youth with the resources they need, while juvenile court programs that focus on rehabilitation can provide them access to education and therapy.7

Black youth are already highly criminalized and most negatively affected by policies to prosecute youth as adults. Key findings show overrepresentation and disparate treatment of Black youth and raise serious questions about the fairness and appropriateness of prosecution in the adult criminal system.8 

Please call on the North Carolina State Legislature to demand that 16- and 17-year-olds accused of minor offenses should not be forced into the adult criminal justice system. And when you do, please ask your friends and family to do the same:

Thanks and Peace,

-- Rashad, Gabriel, Dani, Arisha, Matt, Natasha, Kim, Kira, and the rest of the team
May 15th, 2012


1. "Children in Adult Prison- Reform and Re-Entry" Equal Justice Initiative November 14, 2011

2. Report: Criminal Justice System Unfair to Black Youth” Chicago Defender October 1, 2008

3. Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served?Juszkiewitcz, J. (2000).Washington, DC: Building Blocks for Youth Initiative

4. “The Brain’s Impact on Youth Justice” Chicago Reporter, September 7, 2010

5. "Action for Children North Carolina 2012 Legislative Agenda for Children" Home in Henderson, January 31, 2012,

6. Youth Accountability Planning Task Force: Final Report to the General Assembly of
North Carolina." January 2011

7. "NC task force: Raise juvenile age to 18 for some crimes", Jan 14, 2011

8. States Prosecute Fewer Teenagers in Adult Courts" NY Times, March 5, 2011