Sunday, February 25, 2024

New Hanover County looks to tear down and rebuild Juvenile Justice Center in downtown Wilmington

New changes are coming in regards to how the court systems handle 16 and 17-year-olds charged with crimes. Instead of charging them as adults, more crimes will be dealt with in the juvenile justice system --- that will mean doubling the number of juvenile cases.

The County wants to tear down the current Juvenile Justice facility and construct a new one more than twice as large (Port City Daily/Google)
The County wants to tear down the current Juvenile Justice facility and construct a new one more than twice as large. (Port City Daily/Google)

WILMINGTON — New Hanover County is looking to expand its Juvenile Justice Center in Downtown Wilmington by more than double its current size — but despite being located within New Hanover County, the City of Wilmington must first give its approval on a requested special use permit.

The current building, located at 138 North 4th Street, sits on just .42 acres and houses an existing 15,100-square-foot facility operated by New Hanover County. If approved, the redevelopment project would consist of a new 38,455-square-foot building.

According to the request, “This proposed redevelopment project allows the county to meet the expansion needs for the current use (resulting from the state’s mandate for inclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds in the juvenile court system,)” according to submitted documents.

Why the change?

Currently, laws dictate that some teenagers — specifically 16 and 17-year-olds — are tried as adults for crimes. But, soon, that will change statewide.

According to the request, “In December 2019 North Carolina will join the rest of the nation in raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction so that 16 and 17-year-olds are not automatically tried as adults for most crimes, with the exception of some felonies and traffic offenses. Keeping the teenagers under the juvenile court jurisdiction will prevent them from having a permanent criminal record that could create a barrier to employment, college, military service, and participation in some programs like high school sports.”

The request notes that it is proven that the juvenile court system has a better outcome for reduced recidivism when compared to teens charged and tried as adults.

So what does this mean for the court system?

“This change is expected to double the number of juveniles currently under the juvenile court jurisdiction which will impact the number of county and state employees needed to provide this service,” according to the request.

So why not just renovate the current building? The county says that tearing down the current building and rebuilding is the best option.

According to New Hanover County spokesperson Jessica Loeper, “This law goes into effect in December of this year and will necessitate increased service requirements for the juvenile court system. With this anticipated growth and need for additional services, the county is constructing a new juvenile justice building to replace the current facility located on Fourth Street. The new building will be three stories and 35,000 square feet and will house court and support functions related to the juvenile court system.”

Loeper added, “In 2018, New Hanover County contracted with Bordeaux Construction Company to provide Construction Manager at Risk services for this new building. The project is currently in the design and permitting phase, and is expected to be complete in early 2021.”

The budget for the expansion has not yet been finalized.

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