What Happened With Raise The Age?

After the end of a long session that dragged nearly a week past its scheduled conclusion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a tentative deal yesterday, June 23rd, 2015. Unfortunately there was no legislative consensus in respect to raising the age of criminal responsibility. However, to address the issue Governor Cuomo will pass an executive order to move move state prison inmates ages 16 and 17 to separate facilities that are managed jointly by the Department of Corrections and the Office of Children and Family Services. Cuomo stated that “this was a very difficult year,” Cuomo said during the press conference to announce the deal. “There were extraordinary developments. I don’t think you could find another year in the state’s history where you saw the number of changes and the major changes that were made from the legislative year.” There were not many criminal justice reforms included in the final deal and not much mention in the news but City & State, Time Warner Cable’s State of Politics, the Gothamist, and The New York Times referred to this executive order without providing any further details.

May 28, 2015-Coxsackie, NY--  Governor Andrew M. Cuomo tours the Special Housing Unit of the Greene Correctional Facility.

May 28, 2015-Coxsackie, NY– Governor Andrew M. Cuomo tours the Special Housing Unit of the Greene Correctional Facility.


Unfortunately, this potential mandate does not adequately address the concerns of public who strongly believe in raising the age of criminal responsibility. Alexandra Cox writes that “Teenagers charged with crimes are currently being treated as bargaining chips in a New York state legislative battle over raising the age of criminal responsibility. Democratic lawmakers want to raise the age from 16 to 18, but seem poised to make a compromise with Republican lawmakers who want to create a prison for this group of teenagers charged with felonies – where they would be segregated from adults in prison, but prosecuted as adults. This could have serious and damaging consequences for the safety and survival of these teenagers and does not promote public safety.” To read more, click here.

The Marshall Project published a piece that critiques Cuomo’s actions even further stating that 13 – 18 year olds charged with violent felonies are not being appropriately addressed in the proposals that arose this session. “These are often the kids we don’t want to talk about,” said Krista Larson, director of the Center for Youth Justice at the Vera Institute, a nonprofit that helped staff Cuomo’s commission. “We want to talk about the kid who stole the Snickers bar and ended up confined. It’s an easier reform conversation. But these kids”—those accused of armed robberies, assaults, and homicides—“are kids too. They have whole lives in front of them. That said, these are real crimes, with real victims.” Read more about this argument and the story of one young man impacted directly by our lack of legislation, click here.


There still remains a desire for reform in this area. Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, for example, a former county sheriff who helped negotiate the juvenile justice issues, said the issue should continue to be discussed next year. “It’s appropriate we continue the conversation,” Gallivan said. “I don’t think anybody can make the argument that we provide sufficient programming and rehabilitation services for 16 and 17 year olds, and as a matter of fact all of the peple who are going to return to society.” Gallivan stated in this State of Politics article, that “he did not oppose the governor issuing an executive order, in part because New York is already out of compliance with federal law by housing 16- and 17-year-olds with an adult prison population.”


Rikers Island Reform


In the wake of Kalief Browder’s death, the public has refocused their critical eye on Rikers Island. Many advocates have written to the New York Times with their thoughts on Mr. Browder and the importance of raising the age.  “Last year, the city eliminated solitary confinement for adolescents at Rikers. The court system has put in place a new plan to shorten court delays and to prevent people from being held for lengthy periods without trial.” According to The New York Times “these are important changes. But a serious, legally enforceable reform plan will be needed to remake what a damning Justice Department report issued last August described as a “deep-seated culture of violence” at the jail. The report called for a thorough overhaul of Correction Department operations and also recommended that adolescents be removed from Rikers and placed in a facility elsewhere.” To learn more, see here.

Still, some remain unconvinced of the court system’s ability to implement these important changes. “Throughout the hugely inefficient system, delays are routine — caused by everything from scheduling conflicts among prosecutors and defense lawyers to failure of witnesses to show up and too few judges to hear cases…As of last month, more than 400 people at Rikers had been locked up for more than two years without being convicted of a crime, according to a report on Tuesday in The Times by Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip. The plan can succeed only if judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections officials and other participants in the justice system stop blaming one another for court delays and work closely together to do away with them.” Read more.

On June 17th, 2015 the City Council held a hearing on  proposed reforms to the bail system such as a proposal to allocate $1.4 million for bail for poor defendants. “At the same time, state court administrators released data showing that judges had made progress in reducing the backlog by moving cases to trial or working out plea bargains… Judge Lawrence K. Marks, the first deputy chief administrative judge, said that in the first two months of the initiative, judges sitting in special courts set up to address the backlog had cleared 42 percent of the 1,427 cases that Judge Lippman and Mr. de Blasio targeted. That has led to a 10 percent reduction in the number of defendants at Rikers who have been waiting more than a year for trial, officials said.” Learn more about the progress that has been made.


Groundswell Mural in Rikers Island


“Groundswell, in partnership with the NYC Department of Correction and NYC Department of Education, celebrated a mural unveiling at a dedication on June 11th, 2015. Designed by a talented team of young women at the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island, the mural imaginesrestorative futures for themselves and other women who have been or are incarcerated. To create this mural, entitled “The Freedom Within,” the team of young women artists reflected on their personal experiences during an intensive public artmaking program, presented with the support of the New York City Council through its STARS Citywide Girls Initiative. Lead Artist Jessica Poplawski and Assistant Artist Lauren Baccus led the programming for the youth, and as a team they created the message and design that reflected the transformation necessary to create positive restorative futures.”

Groundswell, New York City’s leading organization dedicated to community public art, brings together youth, artists, and community partners, to make public art that advances social change, for a more just and equitable world. Our projects beautify neighborhoods, engage youth in societal and personal transformation, and give expression to ideas and perspectives that are underrepresented in the public dialogue. To learn more, visit www.groundswell.nyc. Photo credit: The New York City Department of Corrections.


Juvenile Justice Reform

“A recently introduced pair of bills in Congress may try to address the plight of juveniles for the first time in 13 years. Piggybacking off of a bipartisan Senate bill that would strengthen youth programming, promote safer detention conditions, and emphasize community-based alternatives to detention under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) just introduced a bill that would re-establish a set of guidelines for the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system. Should the new bill make its way through Congress, it will mark the first time since 2002 that the system will enforce national standards for young people behind bars.” To read more about the potential juvenile justice reform, click here.


Police-Community Relations and Race

The New York Times published an article on June 20th, 2015 entitled From Ferguson to Charleston and Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building. The author positions recent acts of violence against young black men and the recent massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC in the context of institutionalized racism. The author states that “America is living through a moment of racial paradox…It has become commonplace to refer to the generation of young people known as millennials as “post-racial.” Bryan Stevenson, referenced in this article stated that “all of these examples in some ways are really misleading in what they represent…We have an African-American president who cannot talk about race, who is exposed to hostility anytime he talks about race. These little manifestations of black artistry and athleticism and excellence have always existed. But they don’t change the day-to-day experience of black Americans living in most parts of this country.” To read more of this very insightful article on the role of historical and institutional racism and its impact on the criminal justice system, click here.


Perhaps as a result of the very public acts of violence by the NYPD, Bratton intends to return to the “neighborhood policing” style. The City Council approved a budget that will increase the size of the police force across the five boroughs. Mr. Bratton said, patrol officers across the city will be assigned to fixed areas of their precincts and given time to address neighborhood concerns without being interrupted by 911 calls. “It is not a program,” Mr. Bratton said of the new approach. “It will be how the N.Y.P.D. intends to, over the coming years, police the city.” To learn more, read this article and this other article on the negotiations that led to this policy.