A group of proponents present postcards of support to state Sen. Rich Funke.
“FAIRPORT — There may be an agreement among community and state legislators in the principle of raising the age of criminal responsibility for nonviolent offenses.
But members of the Roc/ACTS criminal justice task force want to drive home what they said is widespread support for the measure.
More than 2,000 signed postcards were collected in support of the Raise the Age campaign. On Thursday morning, proponents presented the cards to state Sen. Rich Funke, R-Perinton, at his district office in Fairport.
More than 700 of those cards come from Funke’s 55th Senate District, which includes portions of Ontario and Monroe counties.
The Rev. Doug Stewart, from Incarnate Word Lutheran Church in Rochester and speaking as part of the organization’s criminal justice task force, said the Raise the Age movement is gaining momentum. The governor included the measure as part of his executive budget proposal.
“It seems that Raise the Age is going to be happening, hopefully,” Stewart said at a press conference outside Funke’s office.
Jesse Sleezer, director of communications and operations for the state senator, accepted the cards and met with the group. Funke is not at all opposed to the idea of raising the age in theory, but factors such as cost and implementation have to be addressed, Sleezer said.
County governments are worried now about bearing the costs of implementation and potential costs down the road from a plan that now is short on details such as cost, Sleezer said.
“It’s the, ‘How are we going to do this?'” Sleezer said.
Such concerns are reasonable for any legislator to have, Stewart said.
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“We share those concerns and trust that together, the Senate and the Assembly and the governor can work things out and make sure this is a workable plan,” Stewart said.
Proponents are confident it will. A state Senate Independent Democratic Caucus report shows a savings of over $117 million to the criminal justice system through reduced recidivism and other factors, once the program is fully realized.
But the effort goes beyond dollars and cents.
New York and North Carolina are the only two states in the country in which 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. Raise the Age proponents say the vast majority of these youths are African-American or Latino.
Adolescents who are in the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent more likely to be arrested again, proponents said. Youths in adult prisons are twice as likely to be beaten and sexually assaulted, Stewart said, and 36 times more likely to commit suicide.
Henry Cretella, a minister and practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist, said adolescents are at a pivotal age when they form their identity, based on who they are around.
“The last thing we want is to have them around adult criminals,” Cretella said. “From a moral point of view, I think it’s unconscionable not to do this.”
Stewart said he is thankful that Raise the Age is gaining traction, and is thankful that senators and Funke are in agreement on principle.
“This is something that we clearly are standing on the right side of history,” Stewart said.”
By Mike Murphy