Departing RTA Campaign Manager Angelo Pinto on Why – and How – New York State Must Raise the Age

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mg_6327Angelo Pinto joined the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project in July 2012 to oversee our Raise the Age Campaign, which seeks to increase New York State’s age of criminal responsibility, end the practice of housing children in adult jails and prisons, and ensure that children in the justice system receive appropriate rehabilitative services.  New York remains one of only two states, along with North Carolina, that still prosecutes and incarcerates 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

During his tenure, Angelo has brought  his considerable skills as a legal mind, grassroots organizer, activist, public speaker and  youth advocate to not only increase awareness  among the general public of the need to raise the age, but has also been a key player in educating lawmakers about their responsibility  to protect children from harm. In addition, Angelo’s deep connection with youth – and their families – who have been directly impacted by this policy has provided the opportunity for the most authentic voices to be elevated, heard and acknowledged.  

In this brief interview,  as we approach a new legislative session in New York State and continued calls  to Raise the Age,  Angelo shares his insights,  perspective, and advice on how the CA and  our partners in this fight can most effectively advocate for this much-needed policy change.
CA:  You’ve worked on the statewide campaign to raise the age that a young person can be prosecuted as an adult.  What do you feel are the most significant gains that have been achieved thus far and what has been the CA’s particular contribution and impact?

AP: The most significant has been the convening of a commission, The CA pushed for this and it allowed for all of the information about the issue to be amassed in one place where people could access it. Also, when the CA started working on this campaign, people we not talking about this issue.  Four years later, there are dozens of organizations and initiatives – funded and unfunded—which work to rise the age of criminal prosecution in New York State, and there is funding to support the work.  We also created a high level of engagement across the state. Hundreds of individuals are involved on the issue in some capacity—whether that is through coming out to events or some deeper engagement. Finally, we really mobilized directly-impacted young people and their families.  For some, this was their first time talking about their experience and engaging in advocacy, and it served as a catalyst for their involvement on other important issues for young people, like solitary confinement.

CA: You have a brother who as a young person was prosecuted and convicted as an adult in NY. As an advocate whose family is directly-impacted by this issue, what do you want the public and lawmakers in particular to understand about issue that they may not learn in policy talking points?

AP: We do not talk enough about the impact of this issue on a family, and further the impact on multiple families, and, therefore, the cumulative impact on a community. My brother never talked about his experience until I started doing the RTA campaign work.  This is also true of my mother, who now engages in public speaking, writing and other advocacy on the issue.  For the individual young person, there is shame, stigma and lived trauma.  For example, to be under 18, strip-searched and made to stand naked in front of an officer in an adult prison when a young person is still growing and learning now to embody themselves as a person is a form of sexual trauma the impact of which we do not really understand.  How does a young person process this?  For parents, it is the feeling of helplessness when they are supposed to be the most helpful person for their child. To know that your child is being abused, tortured and as a parent you can do nothing to stop it –this type of helplessness is tremendously traumatizing and disempowering.  It is like an aspect of them is dying.

CA:  What is essential for 2017 as advocates regroup and continue to push this issue forward, and how can the CA continue to play a key role in reform efforts? How will you continue this work?

AP: The key moving forward is continuing to influence the Senate Republicans and the IDC.  I think also more direct interaction with Governor Cuomo is important as well. The CA should continue to play a lead coalition-building role—it is one of a few funded to actively do so, and the CA’s work out in Long Island has been important and effective.  We need to continue our base-building, especially among faith groups and students, and move to make this issue more central to the overall movement to end the excessive uses of incarceration.  If we can affirmatively impact this issue at the front-end and divert young people from the beginning, we will go a long way in impacting the overall number of individuals who will otherwise spend decades in our prisons.  As for me, I will continue my work on the ground building the base. I am also interested in rebranding some of the messages and strengthening the framing of this issue within the broader movement to end mass incarceration.

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