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Joint | March 31, 2015 | Press Room | Press Conference: Representative Avila

Full MP3 Audio File

I think I'll go ahead. We've got a little bit of ground to cover today and I think two minutes will start a good reputation for us. My name is Marilyn Avila, I represent House District 40 here in Wake County and I'm here today, along with my cosponsors and supporters, to present House Bill 399, Young Offenders' Rehabilitation Act. This is actually our second presentation in the House. It was voted on unanimously and in a bipartisan strong vote in the last session and went to the Senate and sat. So we are taking it back through the House again and hopefully this time we'll make more progress in the Senate because it is a bill whose time has come. I think we've seen through the adult system with a lot of the reevaluation of our criminal justice system with Justice Reinvestment Act and things of that nature that our entire system needs to be looked at. And our juvenile justice system has been overlooked and particularly for North Carolina and New York, the only two states who still put 16 and 17-year-old defendants in the adult system, we need to change that. We have recognized the fact that, for misdemeanants, most of those charges come from a couple of different things, primarily stupidity because of the teenage brain that's just not ready for the thought process of cause and effect and rational thinking and with spur of the moment, and be able to stand up to peer pressure and unfortunately, being int he wrong place at the wrong time, in a lot of cases. We end up with young people at the at the age of 16 and 1 with a criminal record that is scarring them for future employment, education, military, anything that would reflect badly if you're asked have you ever been charged? I feel like that, as we have educated people more and more about the issues regarding this group, that we found in today's day and age our young people aren't held to a high level of responsibility early like we were in the past. We had greater responsibilities at an earlier age and some of that inability to think was more or less controlled by your environment, by your role models, by your parents, by the society around you and unfortunately too many of our children today don't have that positive influence and are suffering because of it and because we have a criminal justice system that has been set like this for decades. So we are moving forward in a very measured way. We found that 48 states who have changed their laws have done it in a number of cases the very same way that North Carolina's proposing to do it and that is on a very systematic, methodical way of introducing cohorts into the system slowly in preparation financially to be able to handle it as well as from a physical standpoint of having the right people int he right place. Because the juvenile justice system is best because it does offer quite a bit of intervention and help with youth in programs geared to what their problems might be. So one of the issues, and I know we've heard from Chief Justice Martin recently how underfunded our entire court system is and we recognize that fact, and for that reason there's a four year implementation period to prepare the system for this new influx of defendants. Surprisingly enough, however, in discussing this issue with other states who have gone about this same process, they have found that, contrary to what conventional wisdom is, that there's going to be this huge tsunami of young people entering the system and this great, huge, tremendous cost has not borne out to be the case at all. So we feel like, with four years of preparation, of studying what we have available, what we'll need, and begin to plan for that we will be very prepared and have a system that can seamlessly and easily and efficiently take these young people in, give them the services that they need, and have them set on a path for productive life as citizens of North Carolina.

I am very fortunate to have had a lot of firm support and help from my colleagues in the House and people from the community who know a lot more on the ground issues than I do. They've educated me and influenced me a great deal for a system that I didn't have any practical experience with, through my own children, of understanding what the issues are out there. They've made it very real for me and it's become something that I am extremely passionate about. I'd like to recognize my cosponsors and give them an opportunity to explain to you why they feel the way they do, and what has driven their concern for this particular area. At this time I'd like to ask Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you, Representative Avila. This is something that is near and dear to my heart. It is near and dear to my constituents as well. Since I came to the Legislature in 2003, I've had many families talk to me about family members who could not get admission to college, who could not get jobs, and indeed could not get financial assistance because of previous actions that they took or their family member took at an early age. We know that, in looking at the research, 16- and 17-year-olds are still children developmentally. In fact, their brains will not be fully formed until age 25, and they lack the ability to control impulse. So indeed, why do we treat them as if they are adults? The developmental period for all of us is an important time for rehabilitation. It is important for adolescents, in terms of being receptive to change. Unlike some of us adults, they respond to proven interventions. And indeed, they can learn to be more responsible to choices. So when we put 16- and 17-year-olds in adult prisons, we are talking about them being sexually abused, physically abused, and emotionally abused many times, if not most of the time or all of the time. We are also talking them being molded and shaped by adult prisoners who are many times life-long criminals. They are hardened criminals. So why would we want to put them in this particular situation? Studies have found that youths in the adult criminal justice system are 36 times more likely to commit suicide. And indeed they are arrested 34% more often for felony crimes than their peers in the juvenile system. To me, this deal makes sense. It makes for better outcomes for youth. It reduces recidivism. And it keeps communities safer from violent crime. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you. I have Representative Jonathan Jordan. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you. I'm glad to be here. I'm Representative Jonathan jordan. I represent District 93, which is Ashe and Watauga Counties up in the northwest corner. Most of my background has been on the Child Protective Services side, with the Department of Social Services. So I'm more familiar with nonsecure custody than secure custody. But as Representative Farmer-Butterfield just said, a lot of the children who do commit the crimes have some of these abuse, neglect, and dependency in their backgrounds. The reason I'm on this bill is for several reasons. First of all to protect public safety. Despite the changes that we are making, prosecutors and judges are still going to have the ability to transfer to the adult system 13-year-old and up that are charged with felonies. So they still have that discretion there, and I think that's one reason we need to try to bring the prosecutors on with us. The second is to reduce crime and the recidivism rates. One state study that I looked at found an 85% increase in rearrest among juveniles charged in the adult system versus those retained in the juvenile system. Another found the rate of reoffense twice as high from the adult system. And the review of several studies fond an average of 33.7% increase in rearrest rates among those juveniles in the adult court system. I think this is probably the most fiscally responsible response we can have as well. Maybe in the short term there are apparent savings. But they are going to be overwhelmed in the long term by all the costs associated with higher rates of recidivism.

And finally I think it's best for our juveniles. There is a lack of educational access in the adult system versus the juvenile system. And the minors in the adult system are 50% more likely to be attacked by fellow inmates with weapons. And as Representative Farmer-Butterfield mentioned, greater risk of suicide is suggested by limited studies. I'm glad to be on this bill with my cosponsors. Thank you. [SPEAKER CHANGES] At this time I would like to recognize another sponsor, Representative Duane Hall. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Duane Hall, Wade County. As Representative Avila mentioned, 48 other states already have some type of juvenile system. This bill is a long time coming. It's something that this Legislature has probably worked on different versions of for almost 20 years now. This is the first one I think we have a very strong possibility of passing, mainly because we have such strong bipartisan support. Last session we passed almost this identical bill through the House with a strong bipartisan vote of 77 to 33. And the limited objections we got were mainly centered around costs. So one of the paths we're going to take this time is to make it clear that this is going to save taxpayer dollars. The Conservative North Carolina Bankers Association is quoted as saying this is going to save North Carolina taxpayers money. The John Locke Foundation put that estimation at about $52 million a year. Lots of cost reasons. But beyond that, we're doing this because it's just the right thing to do. I worked as a trial attorney for a lot of years. And during that time I probably took hundreds of juvenile cases. The overwhelming majority of those cases were first-time misdemeanor offenses. Examples were the 16-year-old girl who steals a bracelet at the mall. A 17-year-old boy who gets in a fight at a high school football game. Or when either of those got caught drinking beer at a high school party afterwards. And that's what this bill is. It's just for first-time misdemeanor offenses. Even the most simple felony is not included under this bill, something like uttering a forged instrument. Writing a $20 bad check to Domino's would not be included in the bill. It also does not protect repeat offenders. If that same boy that got in a fight gets caught for drinking later, it's not covered under this bill. The reason this bill was needed in my opinion is to protect our youth against first-time youthful indiscretions. The best way to lay out that example is, a 16-year-old that is charged with something minor like that in the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee. They may have committed the exact same act. But because their state has a juvenile system, when they go to apply to college or for a job, for the rest of their life there's going to be a disadvantage here in North Carolina to the person who doesn't have a permanent adult conviction. There are lots of other practical reasons, cost saving reasons, Representative ?? behind me, my seat mate, mentioned the recidivism rate. So we're excited to introduce this bill. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you. I have a couple of people who have a lot of practical real-world experience I would love to call on today. They have educated me mightily in what the effects of what we're trying to do here could be in the positive realm of helping young people in the state of North Carolina. I'd like to ask Judge Marcia Morey. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Good afternoon. I'm Marcia Morey, Chief District Court Judge in Durham. I'm an ardent supporter of this bill. It's the right thing to do. If any of you did my job, and you would sit in the criminal court that I just left, and you see a 16-year-old in front of you. And as the Judge I would take about 60 seconds to address the plea, to tell them to go to Probation, to pay the fine, pay the costs, and good luck. I know the consequences of that. That 16-year-old does not. It is indelible on his life, his future, getting into college, of getting that first job, on a misdemeanor charge. If that same 16-year-old had been 15 years old three months earlier, I would see him in the Juvenile Court. I would look into the educational records. Hear from the parents. Do we have substance abuse issues? What are the remedial education needs this child has? We would address everything with the whole family. And we would be much more successful with that first-time juvenile in our courts that we certainly can absorb. It's a passionate issue. This is a bill about the future of North Carolina

[SPEAKER CHANGES] As children. I cannot stress how important it is. We've done it, we've argued it before, it's been delayed. This is the year, this is the time. It's for our youth. Thank you, thank you. Colombo? [SPEAKER CHANGES] I'm a little on the ch-vertically challenged side. Thank you ma'am, I appreciate the opprtunity to come again here to Raleigh to speak about this extremely important bill. I've got 30 years in the law enforcement profession. The last 14 years here in New Bern as the Police Chief. My experience in Florida, they have, they treat 16 and 17 year olds as juveniles, and when I got here, I was shocked to find out that we could just book them and be done with them. Quaint thing from a law enforcement efficiency persective. It's very easy to arrest a 16 year old, take him down to county jail, book him, and be back on the road in like 20 minutes. Much more difficult with a juvenile because you gotta worry about who they're getting turned over to and all of the follow-up issues and everything, you know. There's so many technical things that you have to worry about. so from a chief's perspective and a law enforcement perspective, you could understand the desire to keep things the way they are. So it's easy, the only trouble is easy isn't right. And that's the big problem. It's not right to take a 16 year old child-don't get me wrong-I don't think the child ought to be let loose and everything's okay, don't worry you've committed a crime. They need to pay if they committed a crime. They need to pay, but they need to pay appropriately. You know, my colleagues have a problem, some of my colleagues have a problem with this bill and the logic that I get every time I talk about it is the same. Well when I'm going to hire a police officer or a deputy, I want to know what's in their background, and if this juvenile thing goes through I'm not going to know that at 16 year old, 16 years old, they committed crimes. And my argument to you is this, the only people that get punished because of our law the way it is today are North Carolina kids that are applying for police jobs and deputy's jobs. Because if a Virginia kid or a Florida kid applies for the same job, the sheriff or the chief doesn't know about their record. They only know about the North Carolina kid's record. So the same kid juvenile background, the North Carolina kid gets punished by not getting that job and the Virginia kid doesn't get punished and gets the job. It's not, it doesn't even make sense and you know, if you're, if you think about it from a practical persepective, you would expect that with such a harsh treatment of 16 and 17 year olds, that North Carolina would be so much better in the area of those kids 16 and 17 year olds committing crime, right? We should, it should be way lower than the surrounding states. The problem is it's not. The surrounding states 16 and 17 year old crime rate is almost identical to the North Carolina 16 and 17 year old crime rate. So what are we accomplishing other than punishing our kids not just for the crime that they committed as a stupid kid because they're stupid. I mean most of them are stupid. But it's not just that, it's making them pay for that crime for their entire life. And I'll tell you what, when I started here in North Carolina with the Structured Sentencing Commission-I was commissioner on that commission-and we discussed this thing, that was 13 and a half years ago. We're still taking about it. You know what? It's time to stop talking and do this thing. it's the right thing to do. It's right for the criminal justice system, it's right for the safety of our citizens, and it's right for our kids. I saw them coming in, there's busloads of them out there, you can't miss them, right? If you don't change this law, those kids out there, bunches of them are going to commit misdemeanors and they're going to be subject to a lifelong payment of that stupid mistake that they make. Let's look at those kids and let's make this thing happen, once and for all. I've got a grandkid now, he's five. I hope that before he gets to be 16 we've settled this issue. Thank you very much and thank you ma'am I appreciate it. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Thank you Chief Colombo. At this time, I would like to open the floor for any questions from anyone. Yes Laura? [SPEAKER CHANGES] What reason has the Senate given, if any for its, its reluctance to hear this bill? [SPEAKER CHANGES] There really wasn't a reason the last time. This has been a very strategic kind of, let's hear it in committee, let's get it to the floor, let's get it out of the House, let's get it to the Senate, because it has been a very long educational process for a lot of people. We do have a lot of people who, in my party, who are very much into the you've done the crime

we do the time mentality and it's just taken time to begin to understand that, in this particular case, that we are actually doing more damage based on what we'd be able to do if we took a different approach. Any others? [SPEAKER CHANGES] What are your plans on dealing with felonies? [SPEAKER CHANGES] There will be no changes as far as felonies go. This is only misdemeanors. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Is that a long range goal there? [SPEAKER CHANGES] I'm very short-term. I want to make the change for misdemeanors. It's probably around 80% of the charges that we have in this age group anyway so I feel like our time and energy and moneys is better spent focusing on what the main issue is. Yes, ma'am? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Will there be any plan for 16 and 17-year-olds that have already been convicted of misdemeanors to go back and reverse that? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Not at this time. We're moving forward. If we see that the benefits and the way you handle crimes, the way you work with people who've committed crimes in the past, we change the ways of dealing with them, we'll look at that down the road but right now we're just taking this first step in a very cautious way and a way that I think we can work it out, improve it, and then have the success drive whatever comes after that. [SPEAKER CHANGES] How many 16 and 17-year-olds are affected each year by the current law in this state? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Let me check with, hold on just one second, Rob, do you have an idea? I haven't seen the latest numbers. [SPEAKER CHANGES] I think there's about 30,000 in the system all-together, 16 and 17-year-olds, but we don't know each year how many enter or are entering and being dealt with on an annual basis. I'll get back to you on that. [SPEAKER CHANGES] We can find a yearly type, but it is in the thousands. I've heard numbers bouncing around in my head of 6-8,000 but that's a couple years back so I'd have to get the latest data on that. Any other questions? [SPEAKER CHANGES] Any mechanism for, today how much option does a person have to expunge something from 16-17-years-old? [SPEAKER CHANGES] I haven't looked at that recently but there is a process for that. The trouble is it's a long period of time and they lose that time in terms of being able to be in an active education system and be in an active work situation while they sit and wait and time is something, when you've lost it you can't make it up, so I feel like we need to be proactive and start at the beginning, not say, "Oh, you've committed a crime, sit and wait a while and if you behave yourself we'll wipe your record clean and let you start from there." I think being proactive, or more cautious... [SPEAKER CHANGES] It takes money to get expunged. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Oh yeah, I think I've heard like $4,000. [SPEAKER CHANGES] Oh, yeah. That's another issue. It does take a legal process. Are there any, no more questions or whatever, are there comments from the audience of people? I want to take a minute and embarrass somebody. I would like to recognize Brandy Bynum in the audience. She has been my mentor I guess on this particular project and has spent an awful amount of time educating me and standing with me when I got discouraged and helping me get through the tough times with it. Thanks so much.