Guest Essay: Raise the Age

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From Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:

New York remains one of only 2 states in the nation treating 16 and 17 year-olds as something they are not — adults— in our criminal justice system. This archaic approach increases the likelihood of more crime, more severe crime, and seriously damages the education, employment and long-term life prospects of our youth, particularly the African-American and Hispanic children disproportionately ensnared by our criminal justice system.

We must “Raise the Age.”

In a March 23 press conference opposing the proposed Raise the Age bill, Town of Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan stated that all New York law enforcement groups oppose the Raise the Age proposal. This statement conflicts with the fact that New York law enforcement officials served on Governor Cuomo’s Commission to develop the 2014 Raise the Age proposal in the first place, and New York County District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. is on record supporting the Governor’s 2017 proposal. And while Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley raised concerns about juveniles’ records being available upon later arrest, the bills under consideration ensure that information about the earlier conviction will be available.

“Raise the Age” is a much-needed public safety measure. Under our current system approximately 80 percent of youth released from adult prisons re-offend, often going on to commit more serious crimes. It is a proven fact that our current system of treating 16 and 17-year-old children as adults leads to increased crime upon release and compromised futures. When compared to those treated as juveniles, New York youth in adult prisons are:

  • 34 percent more likely to be re‐arrested and re‐incarcerated
  • Twice as likely to be physically harmed by other inmates and staff while in prison
  • Five times more likely to be sexually assaulted
  • And 36 times more likely to commit suicide

Current Raise the Age proposals are largely limited to misdemeanors and non-violent offenses, the basis for the vast majority of children arrested, while 16- and 17-year olds charged with serious or violent felonies will be prosecuted by the District Attorney in adult criminal court.

The reason nearly every other state treats 16 and 17-year-olds as children is that the juvenile system offers more intervention options, from treatment to incarceration, which is proven to reduce the likelihood youth will re-offend.

Science shows that adolescent brains are still developing and that teens are more likely to be impulsive and to inadequately assess the consequences of their behavior. Adolescents are highly responsive to change and respond well to interventions, growing out of negative or delinquent behavior.

The research is clear: Our criminal justice system does not rehabilitate youth, and current policies do not provide the best chance for children to turn their lives around. The Children’s Agenda, The Center for Youth, faith community leaders such as Roc ACTS, the Correctional Association of New York, and more than 100 other organizations support Raise the Age and its potential to make our communities and neighborhoods safer.

We urge Monroe County residents to contact your State elected officials now to ask them to join the rest of the country by including Raise the Age in this year’s New York State budget.

Larry Marx is Chief Executive Officer of The Children’s Agenda. Elaine Spaull is Executive Director of the Center for Youth.