Commentary: Minors should not be tried as adults

This editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer.

A push to change N.C. law so teens under 18 can be tried in juvenile instead of adult courts won't get much support from some. High-profile juvenile crimes, violent teen gangs and adult criminals with a long history of juvenile offenses are proof to them that these minors must be treated as adults.

But routinely trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults – as North Carolina and only two other states do – is wrong for the teens and wrong for the rest of us. Studies show minors prosecuted as adults commit more crimes than those prosecuted as juveniles, and they're more likely to become hardened, lifelong criminals.

Last year, a U.S. Justice Department study concluded that transferring juvenile offenders to adult court "substantially increases recidivism" rather than decreases it. A report to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007 found the same thing. Experts said those tried in adult court were 39 percent more likely to be rearrested than those who went through the juvenile system. Those arrested for misdemeanors went on to increasingly violent crimes.

That makes changing North Carolina's law even more important. Nearly 86 percent of offenses committed by 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult system here were misdemeanors in 2004, the most recent year data was available, advocates for the change said.

We're not saying youthful offenders – especially violent ones – should never be tried in adult court. The change in state law wouldn't mandate that. Teens who commit heinous crimes should be held accountable.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Charlotte Observer.