In the morning of Tuesday, March 8, 2016 our bus of 35 teenagers and advocates drove to Albany to meet over dozens of people dedicated to reforming New York’s criminal justice policies towards our youth. Four exalt graduates ranging from 15 -21 years old arrived by 6:30am to show their dedication to raising the age of criminal responsibility.
As the Internship and Community Development Liaison at exalt I was able to coordinate a graduate engagement project where exalt graduates could learn about lobbying, community organizing, and get involved with a campaign that would directly affect their lives. The Children’s Defense Fund’s Youth Justice Organizer, Cadeem Gibbs led four workshops with our graduates on Raise the Age and the legislative process to prepare for Lobby Day.
As a reminder, the Raise the Age NY Campaign calls for comprehensive reform that would:
- Raise the overall age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18, which is consistent with other states
- Ensure no youth who is 16 and 17 year olds is placed in an adult jail or prison
- Ensure that parents of 16 and 17 years old are notified upon arrest and that these youth are interviewed employing youth-appropriate practices
- Better address the collateral consequences of court involvement and help youth become successful adults by sealing records and expanding Youthful Offender status to age 21
- Increase investments in front-end diversion services that keep youth in their communities rather than incarceration
- Originate as many cases of 16 and 17 year olds in Family court as possible and create Youth Parts in adult court. Apply the Family Court Act to as many cases as possible regardless of which courthouse in which the case is heard
The day launched with a press conference on the steps of the Senate House. Many legislators came to show support for the campaign, including Michael Blake from the Bronx who gave a passionate speech that resonated the hall. There were three young adults who gave their account of being arrested and incarcerated as a 16 or 17 year old and the impact that it had on their lives. Kalief Browder’s brother also spoke about how this change in legislation would have saved his brother’s life.
Exalt graduate interns met with the offices of three Senators to advocate for these reforms. The issues they emphasized in their meetings were the urgency of front-end diversion programs and alternative to incarceration programs that focus on career development; the importance of reducing recidivism; and the inequity and trauma that results from incarcerating youth in adult facilities.
In our second meeting, one of the graduates broke out into tears describing to Senator Diane Savino’s office the impact the exalt youth program had on her life. She urged the senator to invest in communities of color that are underresourced and overpoliced.
In meeting with Senator Martin Golden’s office, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that Golden was on board with Raise the Age – however emphasizing, his opposition to equal treatment for violent offenders. Another graduate explained the importance of alternatives to incarceration, such as investment in education and mentorship by relatable and positive adults. He described his experience at the youth facility at Riker’s Island as a “gladiator boot-camp”.
Despite the fact that the Governor allotted $120 million dollars for these reforms, it appears that they will not be included in the budget session, which will finish at the end of this month. In addition to the allotment of resources, there were seven pages of recommendations as to how localities will be reimbursed for implementing these reforms including to probation. Advocates remain confident that the legislative session may bring more luck as the foundation of support was mostly built last year. The campaign is starting at a different place this year – Republican Senators know about the asks of the campaign and slowly but surely are coming around. The Children’s Defense Fund will continue their targeted advocacy in Rochester (which will occur in two weeks) and in Senator Flanigan’s district in Long Island.