Clergy Push Cuomo, Flanagan, Klein and Heastie to Pass “Raise the Age” Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Contact: Kenneth Londono,, 646-335-0420

Clergy Push Cuomo, Flanagan, Klein and Heastie to Pass “Raise the Age” Legislation

Fact That New York is Only One of Two States Charging All 16 Year-Olds as Adults an “Outrage”
Passing Common-Sense Criminal Justice Reform a “Moral Imperative”

Albany, NY
—Dozens of religious leaders converged on Albany today to press the case for Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Heastie and Senate IDC Leader Klein to pass legislation that would raise the age at which youth are charged as adults in New York.  Last year, 249 members of the clergy from around the state supported “raise the age” legislation and this year they vowed to continue speaking out on the issue.  They pointed to statistics showing that “Raise the Age” would reduce the likelihood of youth being re-arrested and make communities safer.

Last year, legislation was proposed by Governor Cuomo but legislators failed to pass a bill.  Raising the age would reform New York’s juvenile justice system to create better outcomes for youth and public safety. New York is one of two states, the other North Carolina, which still prosecutes 16 and 17-year olds as adults.

“The health of our democracy is measured by how we treat young people,” said The Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director, New York State Council of Churches.  “It’s wrong that in New York State we automatically prosecute 16 and 17 year olds as adults. We know that rehabilitation works better when we use alternative approaches which include family courts and restorative justice. The adult system is simply not designed to do the restorative work required for young people, who have made a mistake or lost their way, to get on a different path.”

“Reforming juvenile justice policy in New York is a profound moral issue. Adolescents are in fact children. Our religious affirmation of individual worth and dignity requires us to recognize that the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, adolescent behavior is often impulsive, and as children, they lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior. At this stage in their lives, they can be rehabilitated. Treating them as adults is extremely harmful. This cruel, dysfunctional practice has to stop,” said Robb Smith, Executive Director, Interfaith Impact of NYS.

“Our elected officials spend a lot of time arguing with each other over their own ethics and values, meanwhile there are youth in our state, children, who are subject to the adult criminal justice system. This same system which has continually revealed itself to be abusive, racist, and harmful, especially to our youth. We need leaders who will do the right thing, raise the age of criminal accountability, and end this immoral practice now,” said Rev. Valerie Faust, Living Word Tabernacle, Albany.

“’Raise the Age’ is legislation that would expand both the protection of our society and of our children,” said Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, Rabbi Emeritus of Central Synagogue.  “It is good for us all.”

“I have a 16 year old son. Understandably, he can’t watch R rated movies or drive in New York City without an adult accompanying him. Yet outrageously–it is legal in New York for him to get arrested without parental notification and processed through the adult criminal justice system,” said Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl.  “New York is one of only two states in America that immorally tries and jails these children as adults. Studies have shown charging youth as juveniles improves outcomes and reduce recidivism.  This is the year to ‘Raise the Age.’”

“It is a continuing embarrassment and moral shame that New York would maintain such outdated and unjust policies that prosecute and incarcerate youth with adults. Every year that goes by means more youth being abused and harmed by this broken system. It is long past time for our Governor and Legislature to stop dragging their feet on this, do the right thing, and raise the age now,” said Rev. Kathy Donley, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Albany.

“Too many youth are being swept up into the adult criminal justice system and getting trapped in a cycle of poverty and crime. The safety of our communities and the well-being of our children, hurt by our criminal justice system, depend upon a comprehensive Raise the Age proposal that treats children in an age-appropriate manner, reducing recidivism, improving public safety and protecting our communities,” said Rev. Erwin Lee Trollinger, Jr., Calvary Baptist Church, White Plains.

“As Jews, we believe in the importance of repentance, forgiveness and treating all members of society with dignity and respect,” said Rabbi Ariel Naveh of Bend the Arc New York.  “We strongly support raising the age of criminal responsibility in a comprehensive manner that meets the rehabilitative needs of all children in New York State, making our communities safer. It’s time for more just and humane treatment of our young people so that they can become contributing members of our communities and not second-class citizens.”

“The faith community has been involved in many civil rights struggles throughout history, this issue is no different.  New York is considered a progressive state, but now it is only one of two states – the other is North Carolina –where youth, as young as 16, automatically end up in adult courts, jails and prisons. New York is failing these children. Today, we humbly ask New York’s leaders to raise the age at which children are automatically charged as adults,” said Pastor Jim O’Hanlon, Pastor, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, NY.

“New York State should “raise the age” for moral, fiscal, and evidence-based reasons.  We should stop automatically processing, prosecuting, and incarcerating 16 and 17 year olds as adults because they are not adults.  Scientific studies reveal the great differences in decision-making ability between teens and older people, for example.  Other states have employed many ways of addressing the needs of these youth, thereby lowering costs, crime and recidivism.  New York should do this, as well.  I expect our state to be in the vanguard, and have long been dismayed that we are behind others on this critical issue,” said Rev. Bonnie Shoultz, Dharma Teacher, Zen Center of Syracuse.

“It is tragic that New York is one of only two states that imprison 16 and 17 year old children. In so violent a society, they lack models for dealing with anger and conflict. By raising the age, our money could be more wisely invested in ways that support growth and maturity,” said M. Gratia L’Esperance, Sisters of Mercy, Rochester.

“Punishing children in the same way we punish adults is a moral outrage.  New York should be a progressive leader on these issues but instead has lagged behind 48 other states for years.  Raising the age is long overdue.  Every day that our elected officials delay this is another day that children are harmed and families are torn apart.  We demand that they raise the age this year to protect our children and our communities,” said Rev. JoAnne Scott, Co-Pastor, Word of Life Ministries, Niagara Falls and President, Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope (NOAH).

“Grounded in Jewish teachings about compassion, mercy, redemption and justice, the Reform Jewish Movement has long expressed concern about the juvenile justice system and called for humane treatment of juvenile offenders. It has addressed and spoken out on ‘the serious moral and social issues which develop out of the special legal status of juveniles’ with a particular eye toward the ‘constitutional rights and civil liberties of juveniles’ and alternatives to incarceration.

Raising the Age is a necessary step toward ensuring a fairer juvenile/criminal justice system in New York,” said Barbara Zaron, representing Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV).

About the Raise the Age NY campaign:

Raise the Age NY is a public awareness campaign that includes national and local advocates, youth, parents, law enforcement and legal representative groups, faith leaders, and unions that have come together to increase public awareness of the need to implement a comprehensive approach to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State so that the legal process responds to all children as children and provides services and placement options that better meet the rehabilitative needs of all children and youth.

New York is one of only two states in the country (the other is North Carolina) that have failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed – adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn’t work for them and doesn’t work for public safety.

Children who are prosecuted as adults are more likely to continue committing crimes in the future. Children who are treated as children are more likely to stay out of jail, and out of the justice system:

  • Studies have found that young people prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system are 34% more likely to be re-arrested for violent or other crime than youth retained in the youth justice system.
  • A study comparing youth prosecuted in New York’s adult courts to young people prosecuted for the same felonies in New Jersey’s juvenile courts found that the New York youth were more likely to recidivate. Not only were New York youth 100% more likely to rearrested for a violent crime, they also had higher re-incarceration rates and shorter time periods to re-arrest than their New Jersey peers.
  • In 2013, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission found that when the state began prosecuting 17-year-olds as juveniles, juvenile crime continued to decline. Moreover, between 2010 when the law changed, until 2013, the state experienced a 14% decrease in violent crime. Contrary to what opponents had predicted, including 17-year-olds did not overload the juvenile justice system, nor did it increase juvenile offenses.

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:

  • As the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, adolescents’ behavior is often impulsive and they lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior.
  • Because the adolescent brain is still developing, the character, personality traits and behavior of adolescents are highly receptive to change; adolescents respond well to interventions, learn to make responsible choices, and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior.
  • Raise the Age NY is a campaign that supports raising the age of criminal responsibility for all children in New York to improve outcomes for children and public safety.

For more information about the Raise the Age campaign, visit


Lead group members:

Center for Community Alternatives

Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York

Correctional Association of New York

Families Together in NYS

Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies


Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy

The Children’s Agenda

The Children’s Defense Fund – New York

The Fund for Modern Courts

Westchester Children’s Association

Youth Represent

Additional supporters to date:

1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East


Alternatives for Battered Women

American Friends Service Committee (NY)

Amnesty International

Arab American Association of NY

Association for Community Living, Inc.

Association of NYS Youth Bureaus

Association to Benefit Children

Harry Belafonte

Bronx Christian Fellowship Church

Bronx Clergy Roundtable

Brooklyn Community Services

Brooklyn Defender Services

Campaign to End the New Jim Crow

Casa Rochester/Monroe County, Inc.

Center for Children’s Initiatives

Center for Popular Democracy

Child Welfare Organizing Project

Children’s Village

Citizens Action of New York

City of Glen Cove Youth Bureau

Coalition for Asian American Children and Families

Coalition for Education Justice

Coalition for Hispanic Children and Families

Coalition for the Homeless

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

Commission on the Public’s Health System

Communities United for Police Reform

Community Connections for Youth

Community Service Society

Community Voices for Youth and Families

Crossway Church

Dignity in Schools Campaign – New York

Equal Justice Initiative

Faith in New York

Families On The Move of NYC, Inc.

First Corinthian Baptist Church

Forestdale Inc.

Good Shepherd Services

Graham Windham

Harlem Children’s Zone


Human Services Council

Incarcerated Nation Corp.

Jewish Child Care Association

Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club

Latino Justice PRLDEF

Lawyers for Children

Leake &Watts Services, Inc.

Legal Action Center

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House

Long Island Progressive Coalition

Lutheran Family Health Centers

Make the Road New York

Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.

MFY Legal Services, Inc.

Montefiore School Health Program

National Association of Social Workers – New York State

National Economic and Social Rights Initiative


Neighborhood Family Services Coalition

New York American Academy of Pediatrics, District II

New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers, Inc.

New York Center for Juvenile Justice

New York Civil Liberties Union

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

New York Society for Ethical Culture

New York State Coalition for Children’s Mental Health

New York State Coalition for School-Based Health Centers

New York State Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare

New York State Council of Churches

New York Theological Seminary

NYC Jails Action Coalition

Partnership for After School Education (PASE)

Partnership for the Public Good

Partners in Restorative Initiatives

Pumphouse Projects

Save the Kids

SCO Family of Services


Staten Island Council on Child Abuse and Neglect

S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth Inc.

Teachers Unite

The Black Institute

The Brotherhood/Sister Sol

The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES)

The Children’s Aid Society

The Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies, Inc.

The Fortune Society

The Legal Aid Society

The National Alliance for Mental Illness-New York State

The New York Foundling

The New York State Dispute Resolution Association

The Osborne Association

The Partnership For Public Good

The Resolution Plan

Tremont United Methodist Church

United Neighborhood Houses

Unique People Services

Uniting Disabled Individuals, Inc

Urban Health Plan, Inc.

Urban Justice Center

Urban Youth Collaborative


Women’s City Club of New York

Pastor Mike Walrond

William F. Ryan Community Health Network