NC public safety consolidation worries advocates

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 04:09 PM

Some child-welfare advocates are worried a consolidation of North Carolina adult prison and juvenile justice offices could reverse recent positive trends involving young people and crime.

The Department of Public Safety announced this week the merger of its adult correction and juvenile justice divisions, which department Secretary Frank Perry said will streamline upper-level activities and enhance support in some areas. "There will be no mixing of juveniles and adults under supervision, in facilities or in community programs anywhere," Perry said in a release.

The decision essentially brings state government full circle on how to house juvenile justice programs. At the behest of then-Gov. Jim Hunt, the legislature passed a law creating a stand-along Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 2000. Gov. Beverly Perdue consolidated the department and two others into the new public safety agency in 2011.

Rob Thompson with the Covenant with North Carolina's Children said he's worried about a de-emphasis on youth-focused programming. The juvenile crime rate declined 27 percent between 2000 and 2011, according to Thompson.

Durham County District Court Judge Marcia Morey, who served in the 1990s as executive director of a state commission whose recommendations formed the basis of a juvenile system overhaul, said the recent consolidations aren't good for those who enter the system. The net effect will dilute the focus on juvenile crime and prevention efforts, Morey predicted.

"It is almost like we are punishing the youth for the success we had with the juvenile crime rate," Morey said.

David Guice, the former adult correction division and leader of the new consolidated agency, said leaders still understand how working with juveniles is different from managing adults. "I want to emphasize that we will continue to let our experts in the field do what they do best," he said.

"Our juvenile justice and correction professionals are continuing to make great strides in community-based programs that are proven to reduce recidivism," said Guice, a former probation officer and state House member.

The adult correction system currently includes about 38,000 prisoners. The number of adjudicated juvenile delinquents committed to youth development centers has fallen dramatically over the past decade from 660 in 2001 to 216 in 2012, according to state data provided by legislative staff researchers.