Gov. Cuomo points to ‘the hell that is Rikers Island’ in push to raise age of young offenders
“ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo Tuesday pointed to “the hell that is Rikers Island” to up pressure on the Legislature to raise the age at which someone can be tried as an adult.
“New York should be ashamed to be one of two states in the nation that treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for criminal liability,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The hell that is Rikers Island would be a target for human rights groups if they ever looked in their own backyard.”
Cuomo the past three years has proposed legislation to raise the age that a teen charged with a non-violent crime can be tried as an adult to 18, from 16. The measure has been blocked in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Cuomo in 2015 issued an executive order that moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and into separate facilities.
Cuomo said Tuesday many of the teens locked up in prison were convicted of non-violent crimes.
“This unfair practice places some of our youngest New Yorkers in a prison system where they are more likely to be assaulted, to be injured by prison staff, and to commit suicide than their peers processed as juveniles,” he said. “They are also far more likely to be re-arrested and re-incarcerated.”
The governor said he included the proposal in his budget plan this year to “afford maximum leverage.”
Cuomo released two statements on the issue Tuesday, which coincided with lobby day on the issue and a rally at the state Capitol by advocates supporting the governor’s plan.
In his second statement, Cuomo urged Sen. Jeffrey Klein, the Bronx Democrat who heads a breakaway group of eight Democrats who are aligned with the Senate GOP, to help break the logjam.
“Senator Klein is in a unique position to end the Senate’s historic recalcitrance on this issue and insist that Raise the Age reform be passed in the budget,” Cuomo said.
Reiterating the Independent Democratic Conference’s support for the legislation, Klein spokeswoman Candice Giove vowed that “the 8 members of the IDC will not vote for a budget in the absence of Raise the Age.”
But one Democrat noted that the GOP would still have the votes to pass a budget even without Klein’s group. Saying Klein helps control the Senate agenda, the Dem said the IDC should commit to blocking a vote on the budget due by April 1 if it doesn’t include Raise the Age.
But a source close to the Independent Democratic Conference said that while the group jointly consults with the GOP on the daily Senate agenda, it doesn’t have the power to block a budget vote.
When asked about the legislation, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) said “we’re having real adult discussions on his subject.”
He added that the talks are “much more earnest at this juncture.”
“Not to say people weren’t taking it seriously before, but now we’ve got everyone’s attention,” Flanagan said.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, whose house has consistently passed a Raise the Age bill, said he let Cuomo and Senate leaders know “how personally important this is for me to get this done this year.”
He wouldn’t say if his members are prepared to hold up adoption of the state budget.
“If the fundamental belief is, do you believe 16 and 17 year olds are children, then I think it’s not that big of a deal to get this done,” he said adding he hopes the Senate GOP comes around on the issue.
Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said her members won’t support a watered down version of the legislation.
“Let’s be clear, no half-measures or watered down options will really help our kids,” she said. “Raise The Age must be more than a slogan or a way to score political points and headlines.”
Stewart-Cousins added: “Our criminal justice system needs real reform and there are too many plans being floated around that are simply watered-down, half-measures and those cannot be considered real Raise the Age.”
A report released by the Justice Policy Institute on Tuesday found states over the past decade that enacted some type of Raise the Age legislation were able to absorb the additional teens into the youth justice system managed to cut the number of youth in the adult system nationwide nearly in half without significantly increasing costs to taxpayers.
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