Blog: DPS Dispatch

The school year is well underway with challenges brought forth by the pandemic and in-person vs. remote learning.  Youth who enter the state juvenile justice system also are participating in classes that look similarly to any classroom outside of a Juvenile Justice facility. Coursework is challenging and follows the North Carolina standards, no matter the learning level of the juvenile. Highly qualified staff evaluate every youth for their level of knowledge and are available to provide personalized instruction. 

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Michael O’Key is one of millions who walked onto a college campus this fall. However, his journey to get there was far from typical. O’Key did not allow one mistake as a youth to define him, nor hold him back from following a path toward his personal and professional goals. And thanks to support received from North Carolina Juvenile Justice staff, the 23-year-old focuses on what is ahead of him instead of being consumed by the memories of the 3½ years he spent at Dillon Youth Development Center in Butner for an aggravated assault charge at 11 years old. 

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not provided many outlets for fun for juveniles and staffers within Juvenile Justice’s secure custody facilities. Though youth development centers and juvenile detention centers offer as many creative and educational activities as possible, in the facilities there are limited opportunities for the youth (and staff) to “blow off steam.”

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Dr. Eric Barnes was surprised and honored when he was notified of his selection as the Juvenile Justice section’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. After all, he felt plenty of teachers were worthy of the honor not only at Lenoir Youth Development Center, but at every statewide facility that worked during a pandemic.

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The North Carolina Juvenile Justice Section is continually increasing and improving opportunities available for juveniles to return to their communities following commitment in youth development centers. The importance of proper reentry was heightened over the past 17 months when the age of youth potentially housed in juvenile hustice facilities was raised to 18. This change meant older teenagers and young adults involved in non-violent offenses could receive more focused and age-appropriate rehabilitation and reentry services.

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Tangi Jordan doesn’t know why she stopped her car in the rain and cold Feb. 18 morning on her way to work at the Lenoir Youth Development Center in Kinston. She just saw someone who needed help. The facility director noticed several cars pulled off on the side of the road near State Highway 11 as she drove from her home in Winterville toward Greenville and Kinston. Jordan initially thought an accident had occurred but then she saw a large elderly man lying on the ground and a group of women near him. 

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The World Health Organization designated 2020 as the “International Year of the Nurse” in honor of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. If there is a group of nurses that represent the courage and care needed to deal with the pandemic this year, it definitely includes the nurses who work for the state’s Juvenile Justice section.  

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After years of planning, North Carolina implemented the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act (S.L. 2017-57) on Dec. 1, 2019. More commonly known as “Raise the Age,” the law redirects 16 and 17-year-olds who committed misdemeanors and low-level felonies from automatically being charged in the adult criminal justice system. North Carolina was one of the last states to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction for most offenses to 18. By including 16 and 17-yearolds under juvenile jurisdiction, the state endorsed a practice that is not only effective in reducing crime but also is cost-effective. 

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Partnerships between agencies are important in state government. Problems at one agency may be easily solved by another if there was a way to bring everyone together. The Office of Strategic Partnerships, through the Office of State Budget and Management, works to increase and enhance partnerships between state government and North Carolina's research universities and philanthropic sector.

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A major change has arrived in the Juvenile Justice section, for the second time in just nine months. Last December, North Carolina’s juvenile justice system began implementing “Raise the Age,” providing most youth aged 16 and 17 who commit crimes with access to services through Juvenile Justice, rather than adult court. Some offenses, however, must by statute be heard from beginning to end in the criminal court (adult) system.

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