NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County held a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday for the new Division of Juvenile Justice building, located at 138 N. Fourth Street in downtown Wilmington.
The new building will house juvenile court and support functions, like NC Department of Public Safety court counselors, and several Juvenile Justice, Clerk of Court and Community Justice Services staff.
The three story, 38,875-square-foot building was finished ahead of schedule, in just over a year, and a little under the $16.8 million budget.
The need for an upgraded building came after the “Raise the Age” Law was passed in 2019.
In December 2019, North Carolina raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction for nonviolent crimes to age 18, so 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically charged as adults, increasing the number of cases heard in juvenile court. Evidence has shown that the juvenile court system has a better outcome for reduced recidivism when compared to teens charged and tried as adults.
“The Raise the Age law really pushed this project forward, knowing that we would need a better space to accommodate the increased number of cases in juvenile court,” Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said. “Thanks to our collaboration with the court system, we have certainly achieved that. This new building will allow us to better serve our community’s youth through crime prevention and intervention programs, and my hope is that the work of our dedicated team inside and outside these walls will give our youth the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
“To me, this building tells the youth in our community that we care about you, that you’re important to us,” Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said. “We want to make sure you have first-class accommodations when you come in and get services. We want to do everything we can to get you that second or third opportunity to have a great life in our community.”
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Chief District Court Judge J.H. Corpening echoed the importance of partnerships and what this building means, saying: “This project has been a testament to the power of collaboration, because so many people came together across our judicial system, across county government, and in the community to make this a reality. My hope is that this building will be a beacon of hope and healing for the children and families we serve.”
District Attorney Ben David says he hopes the building will be a place for children and families to get a second chance after mistakes are made, saying many in the juvenile justice system have significant issues with childhood trauma.
“They are simultaneously acting out as defendants but they’re really victims who need treatment,” David said. “My team working with so many people in this building from judges, to court counselors, to the defense bar, we’re all united in trying to work on therapeutic justice and rehabilitation.”
David reassures there will still be a time and place for juveniles to be tried as adults for serious offenses.
The new building will officially open on Monday, March 1.