Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would name a commission that would develop a plan by the end of the year for raising the age of adult criminal prosecution.
New York is one of only two states in the USA in which 16 year olds are automatically tried as adults. This is the case, even though there is overwhelming evidence that sending children into adult courts, rather than the juevenile justice system, needlessly endangers the lives of these children, and may even result in turning nonviolent youngsters into hardened criminals.
The commission will recommend changes in laws, and procedures.
To give you some background information, the New York law originated in 1962, when the state created the juvenile justice system under the Family Court Act. At the time, lawmakers were unable to agree on the age which offenders should be declared adults, and as a result, they set it temporarily at 16. This was done, pending further hearings. But, unfortunately, “inertia,” resulted in this temporary policy becoming permanent.
The result of this precedent is that New York funnerls nearly 40,000 adolescents a year into adult criminal courts – most charged with nonviolent crimes, like fare-beating in the subways, marijuana posessions, and shoplifting.
This law has been especially toxic to black and latino children, who are overrepresented among those arrested.
This change in regulations is long over due. Federally financed studies have shown that minors prosecuted as adults commit more violent crimes later in life, and are more likely to become career criminals. Those sent through juvenile courts, are less likely.
Neurological science has shown that adolescents are less capable of assessing risks and making mature decisions that keep them out of trouble.
In order to truly have reform, policy makers need to shift the focus from lockup, to rehabilitation, and reducing arrests.
In Connecticut, the age of adult criminal prosecution was raised from 16 to 18, in 2007. Criminal courts in Connecticut stopped taking cases that involved nonthreatening adolescent misbehavior, like posession of tobacco. Instead, the state invested in counseling and intervention programs.
Reform is long over-due in New York.