New York counties decry ‘Raise the Age’
ALBANY – The advocacy group for New York’s county governments said Friday the state has not provided enough information to allow local officials to prepare for requirements related to an increase in the age of criminal responsibility.
The so-called Raise the Age statute increases the age by which people can be prosecuted as adults from 16 to 17 next October. One year later, the age of criminal responsibility will rise to 18.
The legislation envisions a major role in the implementation by county agencies, including probation departments, sheriff’s departments, district attorneys and judges.
That’s because the state Office of Children and Family Services is not expected to release draft regulations governing the new law until January.
County budgets are typically completed by early December and, in some places, earlier.
“The regulations will come out and then there will be a time period for public response — 60 or 90 days,” LaVigne said. “So we’re talking about getting the final regulations next March or April, and the law goes into effect in October.
He added: “We have insufficient information to properly budget for raising the age of criminal responsibility. It is a county responsibility, but we do not have the state’s guidance for how to operationalize the new law.”
A spokeswoman for the Office of Children and Family Services in Albany, Monica Mahaffey, said her agency, along with representatives from several other state agencies, has been working closely with county leaders to provide guidance.
On Friday night, she released a prepared statement on behalf of her agency: “We are actively engaged in the planning process with a number of counties on expanding system capacity and are available to assist any other counties needing guidance so that we are all prepared when the law is fully implemented.”
There is also concern counties could lose out on some reimbursement for costs related to administering the program should their budgets exceed the state tax cap.
The concerns have prompted some counties to delay adding more money to their probation budgets, even though they may have to hire more probation officers to supervise young offenders who would no longer be sent to adult prisons.
“How can you implement this when they haven’t told us what they’re doing?” asked Otsego County Rep. Ed Frazier, who heads his county’s public safety committee.
One of the chief advocates who marshaled support for Raise the Age, Paige Pierce, director of the non-profit Families Together in New York State, said she sympathizes with the counties, and hopes the state agrees to reimburse them for all added costs regardless of whether local spending plans exceed the tax cap.
“We agree the structure of the legislature, as is, puts undue burdens on the counties because they may not be eligible for the reimbursement if they exceed the tax cap,” Pierce said in an interview.
At the same time, Paige said, she would be disappointed if the state delays implementing the program. She said the change that will be made this October is only aimed at keeping those who are 16 out of the adult offender system.
“We would not want to see the implementation slow down at all,” Pierce said. “We don’t expect there is going to be that much of a need for new bricks and mortar (for detention facilities)” in the coming year.
State officials pointed out that even counties whose budgets exceed the tax cap could qualify for full Raise the Age reimbursements if they can demonstrate a hardship.
They also noted that counties could partner with one another to develop regional detention centers as it is not required that each county has its own such facility.
The state is estimating that from about 1,000 to 1,400 residential beds will be needed to accommodate upstate youths expected to be held at detention centers once the law takes effect next October.
The state Legislature has the authority to amend the statute, which was championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The measure was opposed by some county prosecutors.
It was unclear Friday if lawmakers, who are not now in session, will be inclined to revisit the law when they return to the statehouse in January.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.