Juveniles under the age of 18 who are incarcerated in North Carolina prisons will no longer be subjected to solitary confinement starting this fall, Prison Commissioner David Guice has announced. North Carolina is one of only two states in the US that currently charges 16 and 17 year olds as adults and houses them in adult prisons. The new policy, which will be fully implemented by September first, will apply to all juvenile offenders who are housed in adult prisons going forward. For right now, this will affect up to 70 juveniles who are currently housed in solitary confinement cells for 22 to 23 hours a day. Current solitary confinement conditions imposed on juveniles has long been decried by juvenile justice advocates and criminal reformers as being needlessly cruel and at odds with the goal of reforming juvenile offenders.
Long Lasting Negative Effects
Numerous studies have shown that even short term commitment to solitary confinement can cause deterioration of mental health, producing paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, aggression and thoughts of suicide. These effects can be long lasting and persist even after that prisoners are released back into the general prison population or society. Long lasting isolation may actually inhibit a person socially and cause them to re-offend at higher rates than other released prisoners.
Under the Young Offenders Rehabilitation Act, juveniles will now be treated separately from the adult population and have individual treatment plans. The hope is that by treating each juvenile offender separately, they will not reoffend once released. Discipline for rebellious juvenile inmates will be achieved by revoking privileges and as a final resort, placement in modified housing. Food, visitation and telephone privileges cannot be withheld.
Juveniles Can Be Adjudicated as Adults in North Carolina
North Carolina, like many other states, uses a juvenile justice system which differs from the criminal court system which handles adults. However, unlike almost every state, North Carolina defines an adult as being 16 rather than 18. This allows the state to try 16 and 17 year olds as adults in almost any criminal situation.
The process for a juvenile under the age of 16 is quite different from adults who are taken in custody. Adults are held fully responsible for their behavior. They are arrested, charged, tried by a jury of their peers, found guilty or not guilty and sentenced according to the seriousness of the crimes. For juvenile offenders in North Carolina, the process is quite different.
First off, juveniles are not arrested in North Carolina. Instead, they are taken into temporary custody after a complaint has been made. Unlike an adult, juveniles are not tried before a jury as they do not have that right. Instead, the accused juvenile offender will appear before a judge who will decide what consequences that the juvenile will face depending on whether or not the juvenile is undisciplined or delinquent.
The sentence that the judge passes down is not based on punishing the juvenile offender, but instead is based on a balance between meeting the interests of the states and the needs and best interest of the juvenile. The focus in sentencing a juvenile offender is the goal that the juvenile will not later reoffend, either as a juvenile or as an adult. This focus is partially the basis for the aforementioned juvenile solitary confinement reform.
Undisciplined Juveniles Versus Delinquent Juveniles
The North Carolina Juvenile Code further breaks down the types of juvenile offenders that may be brought into a juvenile court: undisciplined juveniles and delinquent juveniles.
An undisciplined juvenile is a youth under age 18 but at least six who is regularly disobedient to and beyond the disciplinary control of the juvenile’s parent, guardian or custodian. The undisciplined juvenile is regularly found in places where it is unlawful for a juvenile to be and has run away from home for a period of more than 24 hours. A juvenile who is unlawfully absent from school may also be considered an undisciplined juvenile.
A delinquent juvenile on the other hand is a juvenile who commits an offense that would be a crime under state law or under an ordinance of local government, or traffic ordinance if the juvenile was an adult.
Delinquent Acts Are Just as Serious as Adult Crimes
A delinquent act is the same thing as a crime. Delinquent acts can be either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies but still no joking matter. Depending on the seriousness of the misdemeanor committed, a juvenile may be required to be photographed and fingerprinted, required to stay at a juvenile detention center and whether or not the juvenile’s record may be eventually expunged. If the juvenile is 16 or 17, they may be tried as adults and are not afforded the same rights as other juveniles and may be punished as other adults.
A Criminal Record Is a Serious Matter, Juvenile or Adult
Although the juvenile justice system in North Carolina is moving slowly towards a focus on rehabilitation, getting caught up with the juvenile justice system can have severe long lasting impacts on a juvenile’s life. A juvenile record is a mark against a child in almost every capacity. Employers, schools and almost every part of society will hold a criminal record against a person. Opportunities can be limited for a juvenile with a criminal record or a history of delinquency. Therefore it is important that if your child has been accused of a crime or of delinquent behavior that you have the best representation possible to make sure that your child’s rights are represented to their fullest.
If your child has been accused of a crime or delinquent behavior in North Carolina, do not hesitate to seek out legal representation. Contact the law firm of Remington & Dixon, PLLC in Charlotte, NC. Our attorneys can offer you the guidance and experience that you need. We have years of experience defending the accused of misdemeanors and felonies. Do not put your future at risk by leaving your fate or the fate of your child up to the criminal justice system. An experienced NC criminal defense attorney can help get you the best outcome possible. Call us or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.
Brandon double-majored in Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He earned his Juris Doctor from Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida. Throughout his career, Brandon has received numerous awards and recognition from his peers and agencies that rate attorneys. A few of these awards are from The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Trial Lawyer in 2014, The National Trial Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40 in 2014, Nation’s Top One Percent: National Association of Distinguished Counsel in 2015, Super Lawyers: Rising Stars in 2018 and 2019, and North Carolina Business Magazine: Legal Elite in 2019, among others.