New York Passes Raise the Age!
By Brian Evans, State Campaign Director
Over the weekend, the New York State Assembly and Senate passed legislation to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. This is a huge change that will affect thousands of young people who will enjoy the developmental and educational benefits of the juvenile justice system and avoid exposure to the permanent harms of the adult system and the scarlet letter of an adult criminal record. This effort was a heavy lift that took the tireless work of hundreds of advocates, legislators, and executive staff.
The Campaign wants to highlight Elizabeth Powers with the Children’s Defense Fund for her incredible and effective leadership within a large coalition of groups like the Center for Community Alternatives, the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, the Correctional Association of New York, Families Together, Youth Represent, and many, many others.
The law will go into effect for 16 year olds on October 1, 2018, and for 17 year olds on October 1, 2019. While the legislation will still require some youth accused of violent felonies to remain in adult court and face adult consequences, these cases are now the exception and not the rule, and align with recent Raise the Age legislation passed in other states.
Of the six remaining states that have not yet passed laws to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, three have very active legislation right now. In Missouri, both House and Senate committees have heard Raise the Age bills and a vote in the House Judiciary Committee could occur as soon as this week. North Carolina’s Raise the Age bill has 68 bi-partisan co-sponsors, the backing of the state’s Chief Justice, and mirrors a comprehensive report produced by the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law & Justice (NCCALJ). In Texas, a Raise the Age bill has passed the House Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee and should be headed to the floor soon.
This momentum reflects a growing consensus across ideological and party lines that fewer children should be tried as adults. This consensus is based on the acknowledgment of a seemingly obvious fact – that children and youth are different than adults. Centuries of parental experience supporting this observation are now backed by decades of neurological and developmental research. Years of research have also conclusively demonstrated that sending children and youth to the adult criminal justice system increases recidivism and is detrimental to public safety.
The success of New York’s multi-year Raise the Age campaign shows both that this consensus continues to grow, but that it is still a huge political challenge to change the status quo. Widespread agreement that most young people do not belong in the adult criminal justice system has not been enough, by itself, to make the change happen. The dogged persistence of advocates is required, and the timely leadership of legislative champions, and in New York, the support of the state’s Governor.
Which state will be next to Raise the Age?