Faith Leaders from Across New York Urge Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie to Raise the Age this Session

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, June 6, 2016

Contact: Kenneth Londono,, 646-335-0420

Faith Leaders from Across New York Urge Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie to Raise the Age this Session

Call Passing Common-Sense Criminal Justice Reform a “Moral Imperative”


Albany, NY- (June 6, 2016): Clergy from across New York State released a letter today addressed to Governor Cuomo, Senator Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Heastie calling on them to pass legislation that would raise the age at which youth are charged as adults in New York.

Legislation was proposed by Governor Cuomo in his executive budget proposal but failed to make the final budget. Now the legislature and Governor Cuomo are considering legislation as the legislative session comes to an end.  Raising the age would reform New York’s juvenile justice system to create better outcomes for youth and public safety. New York is one of two states, the other North Carolina, which still prosecutes 16 and 17-year olds as adults.

“We are calling on our state lawmakers to stop turning a blind eye to our youth and pass legislation that will give them the opportunity they need to turn their lives around. We can longer condemn our children to a life of crime for a mistake they made in their youth. It’s time for New York to recognize what studies have shown, charging youth as adults is bad for their well-being and for public safety. Charging them in an age-appropriate manner would give our children the tools needed to rehabilitate and re-enter society. We cannot let New York become the last state to implement this common sense legislation,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.

“Reforming juvenile justice policy in New York is a profound moral issue. Adolescents are in fact children. Our religious affirmation of individual worth and dignity requires us to recognize that the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, adolescent behavior is often impulsive, and as children, they lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior. At this stage in their lives, they can be rehabilitated. Treating them as adults is extremely harmful. This cruel, dysfunctional practice has to stop,” said Robb Smith, Executive Director, Interfaith Impact of NYS.

“That New York is one of only two states to treat 16 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system is shameful and immoral. This kind of regressive, punitive approach does not make our communities safer, and does not work to restore these young people to being strong members of our communities. It’s time for New York to get rid of this policy and instead provide our youths with true, restorative justice opportunities. As people of faith who believe in the sacred wholeness of all people, we cannot stand by to this emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical injustice.” said Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, Presbyterian Church (USA).

“It is an outrage that New York remains one of two states in the entire country that has not recognized that raising the age is a smart-on-crime policy that improves public safety. Our archaic law causes more harm as youth are subject to negative influences that will lead them to reoffend, as well as being most at risk for violence and sexual assault,” said Reverend Lisa D. Jenkins.  “Raising the age is a moral imperative.  It will help end the cycle of crime and increase public safety.”

Full text of the letter:

Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor of the State of New York

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY  12224

Honorable John Flanagan

Senate Majority Leader

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224


Honorable Carl Heastie

Assembly Speaker

NYS State Capitol Building

Albany, NY 12224


Dear Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Flanagan and Speaker Heastie:

            As faith leaders from many backgrounds, traditions and beliefs, we write to you united by our great concern for the future of children in our communities. Too many are being swept up into the adult criminal justice system and getting trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime. We all know children who have faced down difficult circumstances and rebuilt their lives. But the lack of age-appropriate interventions for 16- and 17-year olds in the adult system, as well as the heightened exposure they face to violence and abuse, is making it difficult and in many cases impossible for even the most intelligent and capable teens to become productive and successful members of our communities.

As a state, New York is failing these children. Today, we humbly ask you to raise the age at which children are automatically charged as adults.  Currently, New York is one of two states where youth as young as 16 automatically end up in adult courts, jails and prisons.

Passing the raise the age proposal will enhance public safety and offer youth age-appropriate interventions (including, when necessary, incarceration).

In 2013, nearly 34,000 16- and 17-year olds were arrested and faced prosecution in the adult system – the vast majority for non-violent crimes. We should be better than that.

Adult prisons do not focus on rehabilitation, and are not designed to meet the needs of children. National studies show that young people confined in adult facilities are much more likely to face traumatic physical and sexual violence than those in juvenile facilities.

This lack of age-appropriate intervention and increased exposure to violence also leads to higher rates of recidivism and, as a result, higher costs for the justice system as a whole. Our current law sets young people up to become re-offenders: research has shown that young people who go through the adult system are much more likely to re-offend than those in the juvenile system.

From a public safety perspective, raising the age is about being both smart on crime and tough on crime – an approach that numerous law enforcement officials from around the state have endorsed. By creating a path to more positive outcomes for more children, raising the age would lead to crime reductions and help foster safer, more livable streets throughout the state.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. We are ready to stand by you and move forward with this important policy change. It goes without saying that all New Yorkers will be better off under this approach.