New Technologies for Changing Times: Raise the Age Implementation During COVID – 19

Monday, May 11, 2020 - 2:01pm

A technological advancement brought forth in part by the increase in the age of juvenile jurisdiction last year is allowing the wheels of juvenile justice to continue to turn, virtually, during the coronavirus pandemic.

The increase in the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 16 and 17 year old children, or ‘Raise the Age,’ occurred following a change in law in December 2019. Planning for this initiative, led by the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee (JJAC), included requests to the General Assembly to fund a unified videoconferencing system with DPS and the Administrative Office of Courts. This videoconferencing system is meant to facilitate communication between children in juvenile secure custody facilities and the courts to reduce transportation costs, improve access to the courts and improve safety. This technology also will allow the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice to establish a telehealth program, to provide primary care and psychiatric care within facility settings, and to facilitate service planning meetings and visitation.

The Raise the Age videoconferencing initiative is evidence of how juvenile justice is rising to the challenges of COVID-19. Every Juvenile Justice district and facility received a laptop with Microsoft Teams videoconferencing capability to begin the e-courts, service planning and visitation functions. 

“For the past few weeks our juveniles have attended their court hearings via videoconferencing,” said Jeff Fritz, director of New Hanover Juvenile Detention Center. “We’ve used both Microsoft Teams and WebEx for video-based court hearings and both are working very well; each platform has its own benefits, and there have been very few drawbacks. There have been no complaints from juveniles, court counselors, or attorneys so far regarding the use of videoconferencing for court hearings.” 

With the coronavirus pandemic, this technology has allowed mandatory court hearings to continue in a manner that provides safety to both the juveniles and Juvenile Justice staff.

“The utilization of E-Court and video conference(ing) have provided a way to better ensure the juveniles in our care are kept in a safe, clean environment, while still maintaining their legal rights and obligations,” said Regina O’Neal, Juvenile Justice transportation supervisor. “Preventing exposure to public places and people limits the exposure to our staff and minimizes what comes into our facilities.” 

“E-Court is just safer for staff and juveniles to prevent exposure,” said Gene Hallock, director of the Cumberland Juvenile Detention Center. “Not going to court prevents our students from being housed with others in the courtroom holding area. The youth are expressing that their anxiety is even lower now, not having to go to the courthouse to possibly be exposed. They feel safe staying here (detention center) and wearing their mask.” 

Additionally, beginning with Lenoir Youth Development Center in Kinston on April 21, new immersive videoconferencing technology from Cisco System is being distributed, thanks to hard-working teams from the Department of Information Technology, Juvenile Justice Administration, to all four youth development centers, seven juvenile detention centers and to all 30 juvenile court districts. 

Immersive technology offers enhanced video capabilities. Its high definition (HD) streaming creates a real-life, in-person experience for remote users. Its expected outcomes for Juvenile Justice include increased parental and family engagement, with visitations and service planning meetings; use of E-courts for juvenile court hearings statewide, and decreased travel time by court counselors, which saves money. 

Thanks to all the dedicated teams working behind the scenes to support staff within juvenile facilities and court services staff in local communities, Juvenile Justice has made significant progress ensuring staff, juveniles and families remain connected and safe during this pandemic.