School district leaders in two Eastern North Carolina counties are partnering with local law enforcement to keep students who commit low-level offenses out of court.
Community leaders in Lenoir and Greene counties signed School-Justice Partnership agreements on Friday, joining only a few other counties in the state that have put in place similar initiatives.
Under the agreement, students who commit low-level criminal offenses, such as disorderly conduct, simple assault or possession of marijuana for personal use, would not face criminal charges or complaints. Instead, the school would try to correct the behavior.
District Court Judge Beth Heath hears juvenile cases in Lenoir County. She says she’s been working with others in the community for over a year to develop the agreement.
“Evidence shows that when children have any contact with the arrest process or the court system, they are much more likely to not graduate from high school and end up in the adult prison system as adults,” Heath said. “So, we want kids to stay in school, and to graduate, and to go on and become successful contributors to the community.”
Data from the North Carolina Department of Public Safety shows school-based complaints accounted for almost half of all juvenile offenses reported in Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties in 2016. Heath says because a large number of juvenile offenses occur during the school day, schools can play a key role in reducing the number of youths who end up in court.
School districts across the state are required to develop School-Justice Partnerships under the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, which passed last year.