Lawmakers in the state of New York voted on Sunday to raise the age of criminal responsibility as part of a $153 billion budget deal that was worked out nine days after the fiscal year began.
AM New York reports that the budget was approved after debates between lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over key issues in the budget caused the longest delay since Cuomo took office in 2011.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and other Democrats made raising the age of criminal responsibility for 16- and 17-year-old offenders a top priority, according to the Associated Press, and that was one of the sticking points for the budget.
The measure, which will be phased in through October 2019, specifies that teenagers under the age of 18 will no longer be housed in adult jails and prisons. They will instead be sent to juvenile facilities where they can receive rehabilitation and treatment.
In 2018 the age of criminal responsibility will be raised to 17, and in October 2019 it will be raised to 18.
In addition, nonviolent offenders would be eligible to apply to have their records sealed after a 10-year waiting period.
North Carolina is the only other state where 16- and 17-year-old offenders are tried as adults regardless of their crime. AP notes that similar reforms have been proposed in that state, too.
Over at ThinkProgress, Carimah Townes shares some important data:
According to Raise the Age New York, a campaign that has pushed the state to change the age of criminal responsibility, the reform will impact approximately 28,000 16 and 17-year-olds who are arrested annually. In New York, more than 70 percent of underage arrestees are Black or Latino, as are 80 percent of those who are ultimately locked up.
Juvenile justice researchers have long documented the adverse consequences that come with criminalizing youth. The risk of sexual assault is five times higher in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities. To reduce the likelihood of abuse, in compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, prison staff often throw youth into solitary confinement, which has disastrous psychological and physiological effects.
Remember what happened to Kalief Browder, who, as a 16-year-old, was accused of stealing a backpack and spent three years on Rikers Island, New York City’s notorious jail complex, because his family could not afford bail. Browder eventually had his case dismissed, but not before he literally spent years awaiting trial, with permanent damage done to his psyche and body.
In 2015 Browder committed suicide as a result of his ongoing depression from his experience on Rikers Island. In his time at Rikers, Browder spent more than two years in solitary confinement, which has been proved to trigger psychotic breaks and suicidal thoughts. His lawyer maintains that before he went to Rikers, the teen had no mental-health problems.
Juvenile-justice reform like this is a good thing.
If only it had come in time to help Browder.