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Cuomo Plans to Raise the Juvenile Criminal Responsibility Age in NY

January 30, 2014

 New York is one of only two states that prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. This has a major societal impact because nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested in New York annually.

In his State of the State address earlier this year, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Cuomo’s hope is that keeping young juvenile offenders in the juvenile system will make rehabilitation more likely.

One of the major problems with the current law in New York is that it makes no distinction between violent offenses and non-violent offenses. This means that judges and prosecutors have no discretion when deciding whether to prosecute a 16-year-old as an adult. NY prosecutors must prosecute all 16-year-old offenders as adults, even when the crime is a misdemeanor.

Instead of receiving the help and counseling they need, juveniles are sent to adult jails and prisons. Being housed in adult prisons can have a number of negative consequences, including:

  • Recidivism: Juvenile offenders are more likely to be trained and become “hardened” criminals when living in close quarters with adult criminals.
  • Emotional damage: Juveniles who are separated from the adult prison population and placed into solitary confinement emerge from incarceration with emotional problems.
  • Suicide: A study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that the suicide rate for juveniles in adult jails was 7.7 times higher than for juveniles housed in juvenile detention centers.
  • Sexual abuse: A juvenile offender is at greater risk of sexual abuse if he or she is the youngest inmate on the block.

Another negative consequence of the current NY law is that minorities are disproportionately impacted by the lower age limit. Data from arrest records indicates that roughly 30 percent of black men have been arrested by the age of 18. Additionally, according to the NY Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), 70 percent of children arrested in New York are black or Latino.

Cuomo recently indicated that he expects a newly created Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice to study the effects of raising the age and submit a plan by the end of this year. However, in the meantime, 16- and 17-year-olds will be automatically prosecuted as adult offenders in NY courts.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense in New York, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Mark J. Sacco. Call 866-642-3807 for your free initial consultation.

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