In a little over a week, on June 17th, 2015 the New York State Legislative session will end. Yet we are unclear whether any legislation will pass resulting from the recommendations by the Governor’s Commission for Youth, Public Safety and Justice. I have compiled below a timeline of “raise the age” news from the last two weeks.
May 26th, 2015:
According to Capital New York Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat who heads the Assembly codes committee, “introduced a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which would change the age at which minors may be tried as adults for various felonies, as well as the way courts handle juvenile delinquent cases. The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Velmanette Montgomery, would also try minors in family court rather than criminal courts.”
Republican senators told Capital New York that they’re concerned how the implementation of the proposal would affect already overburdened family courts. “We’re still believing that the impact of the implementation needs to be further analyzed and put forward to the Legislature before we can enact this,” said Nozzolio, a Republican from Seneca County.
The Legislature has approved $135 million for the program but the money will not be spent and will carry over into the next session if the Legislature doesn’t approve the proposal by the end of the session. According to Morris Peters, a spokesman for the division of budget, $25 million is allocated for the raise the age program and an additional $110 million is for facility upgrades for the Office of Children and Family Services when they would absorb youth transitioning out of the adult system.
See the whole article here.
May 27th, 2015:
The New York Daily News released a piece by Governor Cuomo, advocating for “increasing the state’s age of criminal responsibility as an adult to 18 and providing more appropriate handling of young defendants’ criminal cases.
He describes his role in pushing forward juvenile justice reform since he has been in office citing Close to Home and the Governor’s Commission of Youth, Public Safety and Justice. Cuomo discusses the changing juvenile justice landscape as well: “We know far more about brain development in adolescents today than we once did. We know that the part of the brain that controls impulsive behavior and weighs long-term consequences develops last. As a result of these differences, young people are less culpable than adults, and they hold greater promise for change. The Supreme Court has relied on this research as the basis for recent decisions outlawing juvenile death penalties, prohibiting juvenile sentences of life without parole for all crimes except homicide and outlawing mandatory life without parole for any juvenile.
Read more, here.
May 28th, 2015:
Governor Cuomo visited the Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie and urged the Legislature to reach an agreement on a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility. The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association estimate that there are roughly 100 sixteen and seventeen year old inmates in state prisons; these inmates would benefit from a “hybrid” facility run by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Office of Children and Family Services, advocated by Governor Cuomo. Read more.
May 29th, 2015:
Times Union covers the Governor’s visit at the juvenile correctional facility. In the aftermath, the state Conservative Party sent a memo on the proposal to lawmakers, urging them to vote ”no” since they believe it would send the wrong message. Assembly Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb said the following:
The risks associated with tying the court’s hands are enormous. Trying young adults in Family Court for serious crimes as opposed to Criminal Court will mean those criminal actions will not carry the same consequences for offenders who continue to commit serious crimes. Records that are sealed in Family Court will require judges and prosecutors to treat subsequent crimes as first offenses, even though these offenders may have a history of committing violent crimes. Young adults should be expected to be accountable for their behavior.
The author of this piece comments that “being badly outnumbered by Democrats, the Assembly Republican opposition may not count for much. But with Senate Republicans living with the nagging fear that some of their more moderate members could face primaries by competitors with Conservative backing, the proposal could continue to be held up in the legislature.”
June 2nd, 2015:
Governor Cuomo faces dissent from the Democractic-led Assembly regarding his proposal to house minors in the criminal justice system in new facilities separate from the adult population.”
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan hinted at splitting the proposal and acting on the governor’s “hybrid” facility. O’Donnell, head of the correction committee, said that if the governor and Republican-led Senate took up the housing proposal but not the portion to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which also seeks to try minors in family courts rather than criminal courts, that they would be “missing the point.” “The problem with our system is that it’s antiquated and it’s not in line with what the rest of the country does,” said O’Donnell, a Democrat from Manhattan. “So if you intend to keep on convicting children as adults but you say ‘we’re going to house you differently’ that doesn’t address the problem.”
Assemblyman Joe Lentol says he’s worried that if the Assembly acts on the proposal, the Senate will be done with the issue. He says “I’m afraid that Senate will just finish the issue if we do just that, rather than a more comprehensive legislative approach. … I would welcome a facility that would provide needed services to children so that they can get them. But without a meaningful legislative proposal to raise the age it’s hard for me to consider it.” To read this entire Capital New York article, click here.
The Raise the Age Lobby Day also occurred on June 2nd, 2015 at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y.
Sarah Yergeau, Program and Policy Associate of the Westchester Children’s Association, one of the organizers of the event, spoke with me on June 4th, 2015 about the event. The event was organized as well by Raise the Age NY and funded by the Children’s Defense Fund. The goal was to have meetings with state lawmakers about raising the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York.
Organizations like Justice League NY and Youth Represent attended and brought community members to the event. Ms. Yergueau estimated that there were around 100 attendees ranging from Long Island, Albany, Westchester and New York City. The event began with a press conference where different speakers shared their personal accounts. Speakers included Cadeem Gibbs, a formerly incarcerated youth at Riker’s Island, and Alicia Barazza, an Albany mother whose son committed suicide during a 17-year long sentence for arson while placed in the general population section of an adult prison. Advocates met in small groups with the representatives of their areas following the press conference. Long Island Senators Flannigan and Martin were amongst those in attendance. To read more about the event, see here.
Photo Credit (below): Sarah Yergeau. Left to right, Cadeem Gibbs (advocate), Allison Lake (Deputy Director, Westchester Children’s Association), Paige Pierce (CEO, Families Together of New York State), Charles Nuñez from Youth Represent.
Ms. Yergeau explained that all the Democrats in the Assembly are now supportive of reform but Republicans are concerned with appearing soft on crime as well as the costs of implementing changes to the current system. She believes that if legislation is not passed this session then it will be next year.
The consequence of delaying reform is that legislation will not be retroactive and there will be no justice for the youth impacted by the criminal justice system in this upcoming year. According to the Raise the Age NY Campaign “nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court each year – the vast majority for minor crimes (75.3% are misdemeanors).”
The collateral consequences of delaying reform are tragic and extreme. Each year, about 1,600 minors in New York are saddled with criminal records that will create barriers to success for the rest of their lives in terms of employment, access to higher education and civic engagement. These young people in the adult prison system are also much more likely to be sexually and physically assaulted during their incarceration. As a result of this trauma many young people are unable to re-enter society after their incarceration. ‘
The New Yorker recently told the story of Kalief Browder, who spent three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. Mr. Browder was arrested at age 16 for robbery and while awaiting trial he spent about two years of his three year tenure in solitary confinement. He suffered horrible abuses during his incarceration and when released he wanted the world to know what he had gone through. Despite gaining public support and experiencing some success in his pursuit of higher education, Kalief still suffered from lingering trauma. He committed suicide this year, after many previous attempts. To read this emotional story, click here.
New York state is able to and must pass effective and smart legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Our communities need to support our neediest young people instead of adhering to draconian laws to punish rather than rehabilitate them.
While there remains little time to change our Legislators’ minds, Sarah Yergeau encourages the public to get the word out about why we must change the age of criminal responsibility in New York. Post on your social media accounts, organize and send petitions and letters to put pressure on your legislators. The Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York has posted a campaign letter to legislators urging them to pass comprehensive raise the age legislation this session. To read and sign the petition, click here.