NC inmate safety, juvenile justice changes begin Wednesday
Some North Carolina laws that took effect on Wednesday are designed to protect expectant mothers behind bars, keep more elementary school-age children accused of misdeeds out of court and force police officers to speak up about excessive force.
The measures, among over two dozen the General Assembly approved this year that contain a Dec. 1 start date, also reduce lifetime satellite monitoring of those declared dangerous sex offenders to 10 years and allow some people to get more felonies removed from their records.
The legislation addressing pregnant women inside North Carolina's prisons and county jails — and ultimately the newborns they deliver — received wide support from across the political spectrum.
Under the new law, correctional officers and sheriff's deputies are now largely barred from using physical restraints on women serving time or awaiting trial from their second trimester through several weeks after delivery. While shackling pregnant women had been barred by state prison policy since 2017, enforcement wasn't always uniform, and county jails had a patchwork of procedures.
Once a baby is delivered, the prisoner or inmate must have time with her newborn at the hospital, and once back behind bars a prisoner can receive routine visitations with the baby in certain lower-security prisons.
Another bipartisan measure now lifts the minimum age that children can be prosecuted in juvenile courts from 6 to 8. North Carolina had the lowest age for juvenile adjudication set by law in the country. Supporters of the change said the youngest offenders lack the intellectual capacity to understand the juvenile court proceedings and assist in their defense.
Some 8- or 9-year-olds who commit the most severe felonies would still have to go to juvenile court and before a judge, who could require intensive treatment and even probation. Otherwise, children in this age range could still receive several months of counseling.
Police reform measures passed and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper contain several items also starting Wednesday. They came in response to recent deadly law enforcement confrontations with citizens around the country, including the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
One provision now places a duty on all law enforcement officers to report a fellow officer's apparent excessive force to a superior within 72 hours of the occurrence.
Another item alters the process by which family members can privately view police body camera footage of a death or serious injury in a way that removes a law office's discretion to refuse the family's request, and instead puts the issue quickly before a judge. The change stems from the aftermath of April's fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. by Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies.
A broad criminal justice measure also caps at 10 years the amount of time that a convicted sex offender could be forced to wear an electronic device monitoring their whereabouts. A lifetime mandate, with opportunities to ask a judge to end the requirement, had been in place for “aggravated offenders” and certain others convicted of sex crimes. The changes were largely in response to a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling focusing on people subject to lifetime tracking only because the person has been convicted of multiple sex offenses.
That same law starting Wednesday creates new felonies against someone who seriously injures an officer while resisting arrest.
Other laws that took effect Wednesday:
— toughen current laws that make stealing catalytic converters from a car a felony, in part by adding a $1,000 fine to anyone who buys or sells the emission control device improperly.
— increase the penalty for breaking into a law enforcement vehicle and create new felonies for stealing police equipment.
— prohibit the possession — and not just the use — of a “skimming device” that can steal financial information from a credit card that’s entered into an ATM or gas pump.
— allow people to ask a court to remove up to three nonviolent felony convictions from their record if they happened relatively close together and were settled at least 20 years ago. Previous law limited expunctions to one such felony or multiple nonviolent misdemeanors.