North Carolina is home to an outstanding public university system — despite the best efforts of the current boards of governors — and lush, loamy soil suitable for grapes, tobacco, sweet potatoes and anything else one might want to grow. It has mountains, and more than 12,000 miles of coastal shoreline.
It is also the only place in the entire world that charges 6-year-olds with crimes.
This fact bubbled to the surface in a News & Observer report published on Sunday: North Carolina has the lowest minimum age in the world for juvenile justice court proceedings. And that age is 6.
What this means is that at the age of 6, a child can be considered a defendant in a complaint, must answer charges in court and they, or their parents, can face penalties for their actions. Until 2015, they could be incarcerated in North Carolina, now that age is 10, the N&O piece reports, “after a 45-pound 7-year-old was put in detention for not coming to court.”
Is there anyone in this entire state who thinks that a 6-year-old is fit to stand trial?
Six-year-olds are barely out of kindergarten. Many cannot tie their shoes or do zippers. They sit in car seats. Some of them believe in Santa Claus. We don’t trust 6-year-olds to pour a glass of milk.
Naturally, the juvenile complaint process is stacked against Black children, who bore 47 percent of all juvenile complaints from 2015 to 2018, although just 22 percent of the state population is Black.
Of the 7,300 complaints lodged against children in that time frame, defined as under 12 years old, almost 300 of them, about 70 per year, were against 6-year-olds. Just 20 percent of these cases made it to court, where almost all of them were dismissed.
The cases that make it to the end of the line fall exclusively on kids whose parents can’t make court appointments, hire lawyers or skip work. But even complaints that are dismissed stay on the child’s record — it can keep a kid out of certain schools or scholarships, prevent them from playing sports, exacerbate any future charges and can even affect the housing for the kid’s family.
It’s preposterous. The state legislature should address this immediately, and any legislators who favor making criminals of small children should be called to account.
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