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New Hanover County officials hold a press conference about a new Misdemeanor Diversion Program (Photo: Sarah Johnson/WWAY)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — North Caroina is the last state in the country that continues to prosecute all 16 and 17 year olds charged with criminal offenses in the adult criminal justice system, that’s according to a release from New Hanover County officials.

New Hanover County officials held a news conference Monday evening at UNCW to discuss an Interagency Governance Agreement for a new Misdemeanor Diversion Program.

The MDP proposes first time, 16 and 17 year old nonviolent offenders who commit misdemeanors are not sent through the adult criminal justice system, but instead participate in a 90 day program that caters to help low risk offenders.

Participants will be required to attend a mock court trial.

“The 16 or 17 year old in the family will come to the courthouse for a mock trial, talking about what would have happened if you had gone to adult court,” New Hanover County District 5 Chief District Court Judge J. H. Corpening said. “And then a debrief with district attorney, with judge, with public defender, with law enforcement representatives about collateral consequences from things that 16 and 17 year olds still get in trouble for.”

Participants in the program must also complete a minimum of 10 hours of service.

A press release from officials said failure to complete the program will result in the original charges being filed.

The program will be operated by New Hanover County, the Community Justice Services Department in partnership with the courts, law enforcement, county and city leaders, as well as county and city community partners.

The MDP is currently being funded by New Hanover County for a full time coordinator and program operational costs.

Supporters hope the program will reduce the number of habitual offenders and say the program is based on a similar yet successful program in Durham County.

The program is expected to begin in about one month.

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