Cuomo finally raises the age

It took some years, but activists have pushed the governor to raise the age. But is it enough?

This week, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the Raise the Age law went into effect. The legislation removes 16 year olds who have committed a crime from the adult criminal justice system and places them in age-appropriate facilities. Those held on Rikers Island were transferred to juvenile detention centers in the five boroughs.

Cuomo called the new legislation the end of an era of unfair practices against the state’s youth offenders.

“By raising the age of criminal responsibility, New York is putting an end to an injustice that falls disproportionately on people of color and once again proving that we are the progressive beacon for the nation,” said Cuomo in a statement. “In New York, we will never stop fighting for a more equal and more just society for all.”

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he made Raise the Age and criminal justice reform a top priority, and this week’s news pushes his agenda along.

“Evidence shows that 16 and 17 year olds should not be treated the same as adults—in the courts or in our prisons,” said Heastie in a statement. “Passing this legislation and removing youth from Rikers are significant steps that give young people a second chance to grow up and pursue meaningful rehabilitation for nonviolent mistakes without forfeiting their futures.”

Teens were transferred from Rikers Island to the newly renovated Horizon Juvenile Detention Center. At Horizon, the teens will allegedly have better access to services such as education and counseling. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration also invested $8 million in programs such as case expediting, supervised release and intensive mentorship in the hopes of reduces recidivism.

Capital funding in the amount of $329 million was dedicated to upgrading juvenile facilities for Raise the Age. More than $100 million was devoted to the work at Crossroads and Horizon, two detention facilities run by the Administration for Children’s Services.

The Raise the Age NY campaign, made up of dozens of diverse organizations around the state, released a statement celebrating the new law going into effect.

“We celebrate our shared victory to raise the age of juvenile accountability in New York State, to require parents be notified of their adolescent’s arrest, to process youth in courts intended to meet their developmental needs, to house youth in settings that keep them safe and to permit more young people to move forward without the burden of adult criminal records,” read Raise the Age’s statement. “We are proud that our work together has transformed the juvenile justice system for thousands of youth and families throughout New York State.”

Part of Raise the Age’s implementation involved New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration completing the overhaul of the Horizon facility, including the reconstruction of housing units, intake, administrative facilities, staff service areas and upgraded recreational areas as well as new building systems. Horizon will also offer ACS program counselors, correction officers and DOE staff. Over the next 18 months, the Department of Corrections will gradually phase out correction officers and ACS will take over administration of the facility completely.

But although this development is seen as an improvement and should be celebrated, New York City Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the Committee on the Justice System, said corrections officers shouldn’t be anywhere near the new facilities for teens.

“While Raise the Age is critical reform for New York’s criminal justice system, I have serious concerns that the city’s use of DOC staff in juvenile correction facilities will fundamentally undermine goals and spirit of this landmark legislation,” said Lancman. “Officers trained in adult jails should not be supervising kids.”

Lancman’s sentiments were shared by Corrections Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen. He told the AmNews that correction officers support the spirit and intent of the Rage the Age legislation, but the actual practice left something to be desired.

“The corrections officers should not be involved with this effort in any way shape or form to make this happen,” Husamudeen said. “Since they’ve been there, we’ve had more than 10 incidents of fights and use of force by corrections officers and attacks they were unprepared for. Currently, the place is still under construction inside and out.”

Husamudeen said taking the young inmates off Rikers but bringing the corrections officers with them was just “changing the ZIP code.” He wants Horizon to be staffed with mental health workers, youth development counselors and other kinds of counselors. He said the corrections offices are the only ones there on top of construction not being finished at Horizon.

“And because everybody wanted to be able to put out a press release and brag that we are not a state that tries 16 and 17 year olds as adults, but not actually paying attention to the people the law was made for,” said Husamudeen.

Nevertheless, officials such as New York State Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul praised the Raise the Age legislation as a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“New York is leading the nation with our bold progressive agenda, while the Trump administration and Republicans in Washington continue to threaten our progress and our values,” stated Hochul. “Now we must extend justice and fairness to those who are held before trial simply because they cannot make bail. We will continue to fight to ensure that people of color and individuals in high-needs communities are given equal opportunities to live their lives to the fullest.”

Link to full story: http://m.amsterdamnews.com/news/2018/oct/04/cuomo-finally-raises-age/?page=1