New legislation is now on the books in North Carolina that juvenile justice advocates are calling historic. It increases the minimum age for when most children can enter the juvenile court system.

In North Carolina, a 6-year-old can no longer be seen in juvenile court for taking a candy bar from a checkout aisle. This is a real case that state officials say made its way into the system.

As of December 1, the new minimum age that most children will be prosecuted in juvenile court was raised from 6 to 10 years-old. There are some exceptions for serious violent felonies.

William Lassiter with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety says these children will be considered vulnerable, instead of delinquent juveniles.

"This law it really changes how we in the state of North Carolina should be viewing kids and treating kids and saying we want to give you a fighting chance to be successful and not hold you back by stigmatizing you or traumatizing you at a young age and throwing you into the criminal justice system,” says Lassiter.

Under the new law, younger children can no longer be put in detention, under probation or electronic home arrest. Instead, assessments will be conducted and alternative support services will be provided to help meet the child's needs. 

That could include mental health services, substance abuse counseling, or therapeutic foster care and other placements.

Lassiter says the changes mean that about 400 children will be removed yearly from the state juvenile justice system.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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