Juvenile break-in laws not tough enough, Forsyth DA says

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Juveniles have made up nearly half of the home break-in arrests in Winston-Salem this year, but the Forsyth County district attorney said his hands are tied under current state law.

Winston-Salem Police said more than 120 people have been arrested in connection with home break-ins since the beginning of the year. That's up 20 percent compared to the same time period last year.

More than 50 of the arrests have been children 16 and younger, police said.

"Surprising. You'd think they would be in school," said Janae Joyner, who lives off Murray Road in the northern part of the city.

Joyner said home break-ins have dominated the neighborhood watch emails as of late, and she now arms her security alarm system even when she's at home.

DA Jim Oneill also knows the problem firsthand.

"On my own block where I live, we have had two break-ins in the last month," Oneill said.

And within the last month, Oneill has assigned a special prosecutor to juvenile break-ins. However, Oneill said state law allows only minimal punishment for juveniles--often a few hours of counseling no matter how many times they've been charged.

"It's often no more than a slap on the wrist, and it doesn't necessarily deter them from future bad behavior because they know the first time they've got nothing more than a lecture in court. And then they can come right back out and do the same thing again," Oneill said.

There is a new law that allows those convicted of break-ins multiple times to be charged as habitual felons. However, Oneill said it doesn't apply to anyone under the age of 18.

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