Nassau DA Rice, LI Advocates, Clergy, Civil Rights Groups and Formerly Incarcerated Young Writers Join Diverse Statewide Campaign in Calling for New York to Raise the Age
From Press Release:
Group calls for state to be smart on crime, highlights ineffectiveness of law that is out of step with every state except North Carolina and impact on public safety, Long Island youth
Mineola, NY – This morning, a diverse coalition of stakeholders from across Long Island were joined by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice on the steps of the Nassau County Supreme Court to highlight the damage that treating children as adults in the legal system has on public safety and youth, and called for New York to “Raise the Age.” New York is the only state other than North Carolina where all children 16 and older are automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system, often ending up in adult jails and prisons.
“Treating each and every teen offender as an adult criminal is an unconscionable disregard for basic brain science and what we know about adolescent development,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice. “Automatically steering teens toward an adult justice system rather than redirecting them to law-abiding futures is a waste of our tax dollars and a drain on our law enforcement resources. The human, financial, and public safety costs of this archaic system are staggering, and I’m working with this diverse coalition to do something about it.”
“Treating young teenagers, whose prefrontal cortex has not fully developed, as adults in the criminal justice system is shortsighted – it is counterproductive to public safety and the well-being of children,” said Ed Roldan, a retired New York City police officer, current Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), and Long Island Latino Teachers Association member. “There’s no reason for New York to lag behind nearly every other state in our country. If we want to improve public safety, we need to be smart on crime, consider proactive practices, and venues that allow our children the opportunity to grow surrounded by positive role models and when they make negative decisions, as some will do, we need to stop treating them as adults in the legal system.”
In highlighting the situation facing thousands of youth in Long Island every year, the group called on local state legislators to support bringing New York into line with the rest of the country in treating all children as children in the criminal justice system.
“Herstory supports the Raise the Age Campaign, urging our lawmakers to treat 16 and 17 year olds in the criminal justice system as youth not as adults,” stated Serena Liguori, Herstory Writers Workshop advocacy and social justice program director. “Herstory supports young people, giving them the opportunity to recognize and take responsibility for their mistakes and then giving them a stronger chance to become productive members of our community.”
Studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34% more re-arrests for felony crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system. Around 80% of youth released from adult prisons reoffend, often going on to commit more serious crimes. Research shows that children react better to developmentally-appropriate interventions available in the youth justice system.
“After all I have been through, I refuse to remain silent when more young people will be treated in a similarly inappropriate way as me and railroaded into a system that doesn’t serve them,” said Denise Irby, a formerly incarcerated resident of Long Island. “Children should face appropriate treatment for their mistakes, so they have the best chance to turn their lives around before it’s too late.”
Irby and Anjie Wadlington both share the experience of being teenage girls in adult correctional facilities through Herstory’s writing workshops. Wadlington is now on full scholarship at Suffolk Community College, and Irby is applying to attend Queensboro College.
“We are excited to release the stories of our young people from the Long Island jails in our newest publication, ‘Taking Back Our Children,’ which is aimed at giving a face to the young people who find themselves in adult prisons and jails,” said Erika Duncan, founder and artistic director for Herstory Writers Workshop. “They deserve to be in programs that meet the unique needs of children.”
In 2010 alone, there were 2,704 Long Island youth between the ages of 16 and 17 years old arrested. The overwhelming majority of those arrests (88.8%) were for non-violent offenses or misdemeanors. Statewide, the vast majority of arrests of 16 and 17-year-olds are for minor offenses – 75.3% are misdemeanors.
“In almost any other state, I would have been treated as a child and placed somewhere with girls my own age and appropriate services, rather than with adults,” Wadlington said. “I know the negative impact of being a child in an adult jail and no more children should be placed in that situation.”
The adult legal system fails to provide children with the effective interventions and services to which they are most responsive. Too often, this leads to them committing new crimes when they are released, and far more often than those kept within the youth justice system. Studies show that prosecuting children in the adult criminal justice system, even without incarceration in adult facilities, leads to worse outcomes for both youth and public safety.
“Based on everything we are learning about children and how they are impacted by their treatment within our criminal justice system, it is clear that the age of criminal responsibility needs to be changed,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine. “As a society, we must look to ourselves as to what makes sense based on the studies. Young adults, 16-17, should be given an opportunity to rehabilitate. Prison does not provide that chance.”
“Our children are growing up in an inequitable society,” said Barbara Allan of Prison Families Anonymous. “They should face consequences when they do wrong, but placing them in the adult legal system and adult facilities is simply shortsighted. All children deserve a fair shot at rebuilding their lives. I know from personal experience how many roadblocks the adult system creates for young people.”
Treating children in the adult legal system also places them in adult facilities where they are subject to being victimized by violence and denied the treatment to redirect them. Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon than children placed in youth facilities. Young people are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.
“Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system not only increases the likelihood that they will recidivate, it also places them in serious danger and is detrimental to their mental health,” said Senior Rev. Paul Johnson of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Shelter Rock. “We are here today as leaders from many sectors of Long Island’s communities to say enough is enough: no more criminalizing our children. They are sacred and our state must no longer treat them as disposable but give them the services they require.”
Research into brain development underscores that adolescents are in fact children and that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. As the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, their behavior is often impulsive and they lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior. The ongoing development of their brains also makes their behavior and character highly receptive to change, and they are more likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior.
“Adolescence is a stage of life and cannot be exclusively defined by chronological age,” said Dr. Ronald Feinstein of the American Academy of Pediatrics – New York State and Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “It is a period of rapid growth and development through which each individual uniquely progresses. This is why 16 and 17-year-olds are more receptive to age-appropriate interventions and punishment rather than an adult system ill-suited to meet their developmental needs.”
“Nassau County, like the rest of New York State, recognizes that 16- and 17-year-olds lack the cognitive and emotional maturity needed to legally purchase alcohol; vote; get married; or even get a tattoo,” said Angelo Pinto, Raise the Age Campaign Manager at the Correctional Association of New York. “Yet, our state allows these same young people to be questioned by the police without parental consent, incarcerated alongside adults in adult jails and prisons, and permanently stigmatized with the mark of a criminal conviction. It is time to do what works for both young people and public safety: Treat youth like youth, and Raise the Age of criminal responsibility in New York.”
For more information about the campaign, visit www.raisetheageny.com.
Supporters of the statewide Raise the Age New York campaign include:
Center for Community Alternatives | Children’s Defense Fund – New York | Citizen’s Committee for Children | Correctional Association of New York | Families Together in NYS | Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies | NAACP | Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy | Westchester Children’s Association | Youth Represent! | 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East | Association for Community Living, Inc. | Harry Belafonte | Bronx Christian Fellowship Church | Bronx Clergy Roundtable | Brooklyn Defender Services | Casa Rochester/Monroe County Inc. | Center for Popular Democracy | Coalition for Asian American Children and Families | Coalition for Hispanic Children and Families | Coalition for the Homeless | Community Connections for Youth | Community Service Society | Crossway Church | Dignity in Schools Campaign – New York | Equal Justice Initiative | Families Together in New York State | First Corinthian Baptist Church | Graham Windham | Herstory | Human Services Council | Lawyers for Children | Make the Road New York | National Economic and Social Rights Initiative | Neighborhood Family Services Coalition | New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, Inc. | New York Center for Juvenile Justice | New York Civil Liberties Union | New York Society for Ethical Culture | NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, District II | Partners in Restorative Initiatives | Pumphouse Projects | Teachers Unite | The Brotherhood/Sister Sol | The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES) | The Children’s Agenda | The Children’s Aid Society | The Legal Aid Society | The New York Foundling | Tremont United Methodist Church | Unique People Services | Pastor Michael A. Walrond
In his State of the State address Wednesday, the governor said New York was one of two states that treat 16-year-olds as adults in criminal court and called for a commission to plan raising the age. Some Republican lawmakers were wary but Kathleen Rice, head of the state District Attorneys Association, hailed the announcement. Read More
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