Jail is not for kids: raise the age for crime responsibility

“New York State gets one big thing right: It has one of the nation’s lowest crime rates and locks up a relatively small percentage of its population.

With a glaring and outrageous exception that must finally be corrected: Children as young as 16 still get dragged through the punishing adult justice system, even when their infractions are minor.

Enough already. Forty-eight American states know better than to put high school sophomores and juniors through the grind of adult courts and jails when they are charged with minor crimes.

Only New York and North Carolina are outliers, and for no good reason.

For the third year in a row, Gov. Cuomo wants change. Under his proposal, 16- and 17-year-olds would be treated as 15-year-olds are now. Meaning, if charged with a violation, misdemeanor or nonviolent felony, they’d get put through Family Court, where 15-year-olds now are sent.

As for 16- and 17-year-olds charged with rape, assault, murder and other violent felonies, they’d still get put straight into the adult system, as is appropriate given the severity of their alleged crimes.

The clear case for reform is made first on humanitarian grounds. The well-known tragedy of Kalief Browder lays bare the stark toll of treating young people who make small mistakes like career criminals. Charged at 16 with stealing a backpack — an accusation he vehemently denied — he was incarcerated for three years on Rikers Island.

Physically and psychologically crushed there, he was finally released, only to kill himself in 2015.

Research shows that 16- and 17-year-olds are physiologically and physically still maturing; their judgment and decision-making processes aren’t yet fully formed.

But this is also smarter criminal justice policy.

Putting a young person into an environment where he can be abused and corrupted by older inmates typically only teaches him to become a hardened criminal.

When Connecticut raised the age in 2007, recidivism plunged and overall arrests of 15- to-19-year-olds dropped by over 50%, by far the largest drop of any age group in the state.

And it just so happens that the state would save as much as $100 million by not locking up teenagers with adults.

Right a moral, fiscal and pragmatic wrong. Raise the Age.

Original Link (NY Daily News):

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/jail-not-kids-raise-age-crime-responsibility-article-1.2986355