October 1, 2018: As of today, the answer is 17. One year from now, on October 1, 2019, it will increase to 18. This means that youth under the age of 18 will no longer be tried in the adult criminal justice system. My organization, Westchester Children’s Association (WCA), worked long and hard with other organizations and individuals across the state to make this happen.
When New York State passed the Raise the Age (RTA) law last April, it brought our state into line with the rest of the country. Until then, New York was one of only two states that automatically charged children as young as 16 as adult offenders. Raising the age was not only important to my organization; it was important to me personally.
It is a sad fact that children of color — especially African-American boys — are disproportionately entangled in the criminal justice system. They are incarcerated at rates far exceeding their numbers in the population . Black persons 17 and under are arrested 2.6 times as often as their white peers . In Westchester County in 2014, Black 16 and 17 year olds represented 47% of the arrests for that age group . As an advocate for children, that breaks my heart. As the mother of a young African-American male, it is gut wrenching.
Raising the age was a long time coming. Way back in 2013, WCA’s reportDreams Deferred included a recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Finally, it has happened. To see the age raised after years of advocacy is gratifying, but waiting has required patience. As MLK observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
So we have finally raised the age in New York. This means that:
· Parents will be notified of their adolescent’s arrest.
· Youth will be processed in courts intended to meet their developmental needs.
· Those incarcerated (only when they must be) will be in service-rich facilities that keep them safe.
· A young person will get a second chance, without the burden of an adult record.
This past year, WCA visited Westchester’s secure detention center and worked with the department of probation, government policymakers, and community-based programs to learn about the services and supports that are in place for young offenders. Going forward, WCA will work with advocates around the state to finalize a list of indicators to evaluate the success of RTA and develop a plan to have court watchers monitor the new procedures.
We are far from done. The coalition group, Raise the Age-New York, will continue to advocate for comprehensive juvenile justice reform. One important change that needs continued investments is increasing front-end diversion services. These are programs such as youth courts and mentoring. These services keep youth in their communities, rather than incarcerated.
Reforms like these are necessary to give young people a second chance and make our communities safer. I am hopeful that Westchester County Executive Latimer and his commissioners and all New York Counties are ready to use this opportunity to create better outcomes for our youth.
1. In 2016, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners. Hispanics represented 16% of the adult population, and accounted for 23% of inmates.
(Source: Pew Research Center http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/12/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/)
2. In 1995, black youth were 2.1 times more likely to be arrested than their white peers. By 2016, this ratio increased to 2.6.
(Source: Internet citation: OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/special_topics/qa11502.asp?qaDate=2016.Released on December 06, 2017.
Data Source: Arrest estimates for 1980–2014 developed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and disseminated through “Arrest Data Analysis Tool.” Online. Available from the BJS website.)
3. Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History system (as of 11/18/2014)