Sorry, delinquents: North Carolina is the worst place in the country to be arrested as a teenager.
A draconian state law dictates that sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds picked up for minor misdemeanors—littering, possession of a small amount of marijuana, etc.—are treated like adults in the criminal justice system. Every year, thousands of North Carolina teenagers start their adult lives with a criminal record because of mistakes they made before they were even allowed to vote.
This isn't the case anywhere else in America besides New York, which bests the Old North State by having a provision in place that guides such teens from the adult system to juvie under certain circumstances.
Last week, Orange County announced a move to maneuver around this law. First-time teenage offenders will now be issued a youth citation that routes them toward a ninety-day misdemeanor diversion program that includes community service and educational court sessions, which lay out how damaging (and expensive) their punishment would have otherwise been.
It's modeled after the MDP in Durham County pioneered by Chief District Judge Marcia Morey, which has a 98 percent success rate: of the 125 youths who have passed through it, only two didn't complete the program, and only four received new charges.
Morey tells the INDY that she's "delighted" Orange County has decided to adopt her model. "Although it is not a substitute for North Carolina law to be changed to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to eighteen, it is a start," Morey says.
Morey also notes that several other counties have expressed interest in starting similar diversion programs, including Buncombe, New Hanover, Guilford, Warren, Mecklenburg, and Cumberland.