New York and North Carolina were the last two states to treat offenders under the age of 18 as adults. However, in the past two years, both states have begun to implement reforms that will distinguish the ways that juvenile offenders are processed, treated and housed.
Back in April 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that changed the treatment of 16- and 17-year-olds by raising the “age of accountability” for offenders. The law offers a tiered rollout: as of October 1, 2018, 16-year-olds will not be charged (or processed) as adults, and as of October 1, 2019, 17-year-olds will no longer be charged as adults. Further, under this new law, no 16- or 17-year-old will be sentenced to or detained in a facility with adults. Among other things, this provision meant that young offenders who had been sentenced to Rikers Island (and other adult facilities) were relocated.
Similarly, in 2017, bipartisan legislation in North Carolina raised the age of charging for most criminal offenses. Under this law, teens younger than 18 can still be charged as adults for murder, arson, rape and other violent offenses.
The calls for juvenile justice reform are based on several factors, including the growing recognition that young people in adult prisons are twice as likely to be physically assaulted as are adults and that incarceration in adult facilities may lead to long-term, severe mental health problems. Further, charging young people as adults has meant that offenses committed as teens could affect their records, and their employability, for years to come. By enacting legal reforms that recognize the challenges faced by young offenders during and after their incarceration, New York and North Carolina have taken strides toward helping teens who commit non-violent crimes rejoin society.