It’s time to “Raise the Age” in New York

On March 10, Every Child Matters went to Albany to join hundreds of activists from all over New York State to ask state lawmakers to “Raise the Age” so that youth are no longer tried and incarcerated as adults. New York remains one of just two states, along with North Carolina, that houses 16- and 17-year-olds in adult prisons.

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The practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for nonviolent crimes – and housing them with rapists, murderers, and other criminals – does not make New York safer and wastes resources that could better used on education, job training, and substance abuse treatment.

Research into brain development underscores that adolescents are in fact children, and that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. Because the adolescent brain is still developing, the character, personality traits and behavior of adolescents are highly receptive to change. Housing youth with violent adults makes them much more likely to commit violent acts in the future. By contrast, when Connecticut raised the age to 18, research found that 16-year-olds tried in family court were being rearrested at a rate 39% lower than youths their same age who had been previously tried as adults. They cut the number of young adult prisoners–ages 18 to 21–in half in just six years.

I’ve been in prison with 16- and 17-year-old kids. It crushes them. –Maurice Hines

Nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in New York’s criminal court each year – the vast majority for minor crimes (75.3% are misdemeanors). More than 600 children ages 13 to 15 are also prosecuted in adult criminal courts – destroying any hope for their future before even entering high school. Do these incarcerations ensnare New York’s youth equally? Of course not. Over 70% of the children and youth arrested are black or Latino. Of those sentenced to incarceration, 80% are black and Latino.

The goal of the criminal justice system should be to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes while protecting public safety. That does not happen in New York State. Youth confined to adult facilities are more likely to suffer physical,sexual, and emotional abuse and to commit future crimes, often much worse than what they were initially arrested for. Young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system have approximately 34% more re-arrests for felony crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system. Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.

He hit me from this way, another one hit me from behind. That was after being there for 2 1/2 days. –Ismael Nazario, sent to Riker’s Island at 16

Governor Andrew Cuomo is saying enough, and has proposed a plan to raise the age in his budget. Every Child Matters joined with advocates around New York in urging the legislature to join the 48 other states that have raised the age to 18.

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If you live in New York and want to get involved, click here to write your state legislators.