A coalition today pushed for legislation in which teenagers under the age of 18 would be legally treated as children in the criminal justice system.
New York is one of two states in the country that has a law in which 16 and 17 year-olds charged with felonies are sent to adult prisons. The Raise the Age group includes law enforcement, national and local advocates and legal groups who want to push the age to 18 when a teen can be charged as an adult, Gannett’s Ashley Hupfl reports.
Currently, a teen charged with a misdemeanor has mandatory youthful offender status, which seals a teen’s record after 19 and cannot be made public. The law allows for the judge’s discretion if the teen is charged with a second offense or charged with a felony.
“In my experience as a judge of for 28 years … the laws we currently have are ineffective and undermine the opportunities that we can engage families on the resolution of these issues,” said Michael Corriero, a retired judge and executive director of the Manhattan-based New York Center for Juvenile Justice, at the news conference.
In New York, if a 16 year old is arrested for a crime, there is no obligation for the police to notify the teen’s parents or be told of the rights their child has.
The coalition cited studies that show the teenage brain is not fully developed and teens cannot fully appreciate the consequences of their actions or fully understand their rights under the age of 18.
Megan Kurlycheck, from the Criminal Justice school at SUNY Albany, said research found that recidivism rates are 33.7 percent higher in juveniles sentenced to adult facilities than those sentenced to juvenile facilities.
Youth in juvenile facilities are provided with more resources like education and counseling then those in adult facilities. Consequently, juvenile facilities cost the state more money to house juveniles. The coalition believes the cost is a factor in the state’s current policy.
Robert Carney, district attorney of Schenectady County, is receptive to the idea in theory, but said it would difficult to change the system.
In Schenectady County, a medium sized county, only 4.7 percent of teens were convicted of felonies and sent to an adult facility in 2010.
“We have to keep in mind that these are 16 and 17 year-olds that do very dangerous things. And I think the sad truth is, we haven’t yet devised a solution that would make that kid better that is superior to the community’s right to be protected from that person. There will be people who, unfortunately, have to be incarcerated,” Carney said.