Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte: NYS Assembly Passes a Budget that puts NY Families First and the Historic Raise the Age Legislation

(ALBANY) Saturday, April 6, 2017, the Assembly passed a $153.1 billion budget (see below for appropriations) and the historic Raise the Age legislation that had been before the NYS legislature for over a decade.

“Today is a historic day for families and children across the State of New York with the passage of legislation, which raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 and 17 years of age to 18 years of age. The concessions that were made were difficult and heartbreaking when it came to negotiating the reforms to change the penal law language to protect our children,” said Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte . As legislators, especially when we have a broken government it becomes challenging to pass a real progressive agenda. In the case of the Raise the Age legislation, although it’s not perfect it is the right step forward in preventing 28,000 16- and 17- year olds on an annual  basis from being charged and prosecuted criminally like adults. So while it has been really tough to vote for this budget as there were items I did not support like the 421a tax abatement, which has no real plan for affordable housing and a fake free college tuition bill proposed by the Governor that doesn’t help most families but instead increases tuition by $200, I had to weigh the positives in this budget. This would include $1 billion in funding for supportive housing t o combat the homeless crisis  in New York, an increase in funding for our public schools, an increase in funds for tenant protection, free legal services for the poor  and the historic criminal justice reform bill around raising the age  of criminal responsibility, so I decided to put my support behind this bill.”

Raise the Age

Final negotiations around the Raise the Age legislation were not perfect. While the Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and the Assembly fought to have all juvenile cases begin in family court, in the end it was decided that all felony cases (including for non-violent felony charges) would start in the youth part of the criminal court and be waived down to family court in the event that there was no physical harm involved, no use of a weapon, and no sexual assault.

According to a recent article in the Times Union, New York City teens constitute an overwhelming majority of juvenile offenders and are mostly placed in facilities upstate. More than half of the juvenile detention admissions in 2013 were from New York City, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Instead of trying our children as adults, there are proven alternatives, which are more effective such as the Close to Home program. Close to Home was designed for youths whom Family Court judges determine do not require a secure placement and are allowed to be near their families while receiving intensive rehabilitation services.

The Raise the Age legislation occurred within the context of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, which were enacted in 1973, and was outdated. These laws mandated extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs – two sugar packets worth. In the same way that these laws were amended, these reforms around raising the age were long overdue. We had an opportunity to negotiate for stronger reforms however due to the broken nature of our State government, the Senate Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) weakened the negotiations because they were not involved.

Some other facts about Raise the Age
– Incarcerating young people 16 and 17 years old has a devastating impact on their mental health. For one, youth in adult jails and prisons do not have access to the same age-appropriate rehabilitative services that are available in juvenile facilities, and they are 36 times more likely to commit suicide. [1]

– Incarceration also impacts their development in that it has repeatedly been proven that being placed in an adult jail increases their likelihood of committing crimes or violent acts in the future. They are also less likely to graduate high school and more likely to end up back in prison. [2]

– 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. [3]

– 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. [4]

Under the new law, cases involving 16 and 17 year-old defendants will be adjudicated as follows:
  • Civil violation charges, such as open container violations and possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well as misdemeanors under the Vehicle and Traffic Law, such as DWIs, would continue to be handled in the local court;
  • All misdemeanor charges under the the Penal Law would be handled in Family Court;
  • All felony charges would begin in a newly established Youth Part of the criminal court, presided over by a Family Court judge, where offenders would have access to additional intervention services and programming;
  • Non-violent felony charges would be transferred to Family Court, unless the district attorney makes a motion and demonstrates extraordinary circumstances that justify retaining the case in the Youth Part of the criminal court;
  • Violent felony charges would remain in the Youth Part of the criminal court and be subject to a three-part test that weighs the seriousness of the offense to determine whether the case will be eligible for presumptive removal to Family Court;
  • Juvenile cases not eligible for removal will be treated as adults for sentencing purposes, though the court will be directed to consider the defendant’s age when imposing a sentence of incarceration.
Additionally, a defendant of any age who is convicted of certain non-violent offenses could apply to the court for a sealing of their record after a 10-year waiting period following the completion of their sentence.

 

You can learn more about the Raise the Age Legislation here.