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ADVOCACY

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Juvenile Justice

Editorial 
 
Support DJJDP Top 3 Legislative Priorities
5/8/24

The Juvenile Justice System in North Carolina is receiving significant attention. That attention revolves around rising crime rates, a lack of available detention beds, and Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (DJJDP) staffing problems. The offending youth often return to our communities not equipped adequately for successful re-entry due in part to a lack of sufficient occupational, educational, and therapeutic programming. The many public and private leaders in the Juvenile Justice System want nothing more than to have these youth succeed, reduce juvenile crime, and contribute to our communities.   

 

We must acknowledge we have a crisis concerning the system created to rehabilitate and heal children and youth who find themselves in that system. Let's be clear:  many of these youth have had challenges most of their lives. Many are born into poverty. Many lack the parental support to navigate our complex world.  Also, kids, who are still in their developmental stages, sometimes make bad choices. The most dedicated and caring parents sometimes find that when given additional freedoms, their child sometimes does not handle it as well as hoped.

 

Regardless of how a child might enter the Juvenile Justice System, we must be honest and acknowledge that our "system," does not always work the way it should. The system was designed to respond to kids who make mistakes and provide them with rehabilitative and therapeutic interventions.

 

The system itself often fails to recognize the inherent potential for children to change.

Across the state, the DJJDP system has been woefully understaffed. Overall, there is a 31% vacancy rate in staff dedicated to addressing the needs of youth when they come into court. When youth are held in custody, there is inadequate staff to provide day-to-day supervision and support. The current vacancy rate is 45%. Part of the reason for these significant vacancies is that these positions are underfunded, making it extremely difficult to attract and retain staff.  

 

Several state prevention and support services provide youth diversion programs that keep kids out of the court system.  However, those dollars do not go far enough, and efforts to increase funding for these programs have been slow. What is important here is that these programs produce incredibly good outcomes and cost far less than serving youth in the juvenile court system. Our community should prioritize funding programs that are proven effective in prevention rather than more costly programs after the problem has become significant.

North Carolina is in the process of creating its budget. In discussions with child advocates and stakeholders, we have found that funding proposals being considered for this year's state budget only partially fulfill DJJDP priorities. Without significant investment, we will continue to see crisis in our Juvenile Justice System. 

 

DJJDP has three top legislative priorities for this year's budget cycle:

  1. To fund the S.A.F.E. (Secure All Firearms Effectively) campaign, which takes a public health approach to reducing the availability of unsecured firearms. 

  2. To increase funding for community-based prevention and early intervention programs which are proven effective. This funding, in part, also provides remediation services to return capacity to youth to stand trial. 

  3. Focus on staff recruitment/retention/compensation to strengthen staffing across all programs. 

 

Without adequate funding, the problems outlined above will continue and worsen. North Carolinians must demand that we properly fund our Juvenile Justice System so it can do its work. If we do not, we can expect more tragic stories. We need to adequately serve youth when we have their attention, so they do not become burdens to the adult systems. They will be over-represented in adult prisons, mental health facilities, and adult social service systems, costing taxpayers millions of additional dollars. 

A society (or community) can be best judged by how it treats its most vulnerable populations. This applies to ALL our children and youth.  We MUST do better.  Our Legislators MUST act properly NOW or pay the price later for their inactions.

 

We ask you, our community, to contact your state legislators and tell them they must fund the DJJDP priorities as requested. 

 

 

Members of The Children's Alliance of Mecklenburg County
A collaborative of public and private agencies serving at-risk children & youth in Mecklenburg County

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas  l Care Ring l Child Care Resources Inc. l Communities in Schools l Congregations for Kids l Council for Children's Rights l Crittenton Services l Crossnore Communities for Children l Families Forward l Foster Village Charlotte l Frank Crawford l Freedom School Partners l Guardian Ad Litem l Jewish Family Services l  Kids Need 2 Parents l Life Connections l Levine Children's Hospital l Life Connections l Mecklenburg County Children’s Developmental Services l Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services – Youth & Family Services  l  Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office l Mecklenburg County Community Support Services l  OurBridge l  Pat's Place Child Advocacy Center l Right Moves for Youth l Safe Alliance l  Seth Langson  l  Smart Start of Mecklenburg County l Teen Health Connection l Thompson Child & Family Focus l  YMCA of Greater Charlotte

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