Advocates urge age change

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Anjeliique Wadlington, incarcerated as a youth, speaks at Raise The Age NY press conference
Photo credit: John Carl D’Annibale/Times Union

Formerly incarcerated youths and their family members stood with advocates at the Capitol Tuesday to share their firsthand interactions with the criminal justice system and hoping to convince lawmakers to raise the state’s age of criminal responsibility before the end of the legislative session in June.

New York remains one of two states to automatically charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Cadeem Gibbs, 24, and Charles Nunez, 25, said at age 17 they spent the last years of high school in Rikers Island, where vulnerable youth interact with more hardened and older criminals who rule the prison with threats and violence.

Anjelique Wadlington, 29, said that at age 17 she spent 10 months in an upstate adult prison constantly looking over her shoulder, seized by fear.

Alicia Barraza said her son, a mentally ill 17-year-old, was sent to an adult prison, where he was sexually assaulted. He reached a point where he had enough, she said, and eventually took his life in his prison cell.

They said raising the age could help prevent what they endured from happening to others. Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a proposal to raise the age in his budget bill after the measure was recommended by his Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice.

State lawmakers who spoke with the Times Union earlier this year expressed reservations about the proposal. Republican Sen. Michael F. Nozzolio, chairman of the Senate Codes Committee, was concerned about leniency that may be given to youths who commit violent offenses. Republican Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican and former NYPD officer, said there could be some leverage for lesser crimes, but that for harsher crimes people should go to prison regardless of their age.

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