Treat youthful offenders as youths

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Try to imagine a typical 16-year-old. He’s barely old enough to drive. He can’t vote or join the military. He certainly can’t legally buy or consume alcohol or cigarettes. He’s not even supposed to have a tattoo.

But if he’s found guilty of committing a criminal misdemeanor in North Carolina, he will carry that conviction on his permanent, public record.

Sure, kids sometimes do bad things and need to be disciplined for their actions. But should a 16- or 17-year-old face adult consequences for such mistakes?

The N.C. House of Representatives last week passed the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act, which would change state law to make anyone under the age of 18 who commits a criminal misdemeanor punishable as a juvenile offender and not as an adult.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about murder or bank robberies here.

Anyone under the age of 18 who is charged with a crime that serious may be tried as an adult, the House legislation not withstanding.

The Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act has bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled House. The conservative John Locke Foundation put together a report in 2012 that found serious negative consequences for kids who have adult convictions on their records. Many go on to commit even more serious crimes. Few finish high school. The suicide rate among such offenders is higher than normal.

With new resources and more attention on 16- and 17-year-old offenders, supporters of the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act hope to steer these kids back to a law-abiding life – one in which they can succeed for the betterment and safety of the rest of us.

The bill now goes to the N.C. Senate, where we hope it will receive a favorable response, as well.

Kids who commit criminal offenses need counseling and punishment. But there are better alternatives than adult consequences for kids who are barely old enough to drive.