Should North Carolina Juveniles be Sentenced to Life in Prison?

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North Carolina lawmakers are reaching across the aisle to push for juvenile justice reform this legislative session with two bipartisan bills aspiring to make their way to the governor’s desk that aim to change the way young people are treated within the criminal justice system, reports North Carolina Health News. One of the bills, HB 424, would eliminate life without parole for youth who commit their crimes while they’re still under 18. The other bill, SB 207, would raise the age at which a child can be held criminally responsible in juvenile court — in North Carolina, children as young as six can be declared delinquent, making it the state with lowest age threshold in the country. North Carolina passed the Raise the Age law in 2019, which prevented 16- and 17-year-olds accused of low-level crimes from being automatically charged as adults, making them the last state in the country to do so. Today in North Carolina, a judge must determine if a child should receive life without the possibility of parole “as soon as is practicable” after their sentencing. A juvenile will be denied parole if a judge believes they are incapable of redemption in the future, a legal term known as “permanently incorrigible.”

Under HB 424, if passed, a person under 18 who is convicted of first-degree murder would have the opportunity to be considered for — but not necessarily granted — parole after serving 25 years behind bars. Youth convicted of all other crimes would be eligible for consideration after 15 serving years. Both bills come in  the wake of mounting neurological research showing that young people’s brains are still developing well into their early twenties — particularly when it comes to decision-making and assessing risk in emotionally charged situations.

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