ALBANY, N.Y. — State lawmakers have agreed to raise the age at which those suspected of crimes can be charged as adults, part of a sweeping agreement reached Friday night on the state’s $150-plus billion budget.
New York was one of two states in the country that charged 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes as adults. Critics of the policy said it ensnared some vulnerable teens in a life of crime and was overly punitive to developing teenagers.
However, opponents of raising the age were concerned it would let teenagers accused of serious crimes off the hook. The particulars of what crimes would still potentially result in prison sentences were one of the main reasons the state budget was seven days late this year.
Members of the state Assembly have brought so-called “Raise the age” legislation in Albany for at least 12 years before finally being agreed upon Friday night.New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office released a statement with the details.
He said, under the new law, cases involving 16- and 17-year-old defendants will go through the following process:
- Civil violations like possession of small amounts of marijuana vehicle and traffic misdemeanors like DWIs will still be handled in local court;
- Other misdemeanors will be handled in family court;
- Felony charges would originate in a newly established “Youth Part” of the criminal court, presided over by a family court judge, and defendants will be given access to “intervention services and programming”;
- Non-violent felony charges will be sent to family court, unless the district attorney moves to retain the case in the “Youth Part” in criminal court in “extraordinary circumstances”;
- Violent felony charges would remain in the “Youth Part” and subject to a three-part test that “weights the seriousness of the offense” to determine whether the case will be eligible to be moved to family court; and
- Cases that can’t be removed to family court will be treated as adult cases in sentencing, though the court will be directed to consider defendants’ ages when imposing a sentence.
The agreement also deals with the removal of 16- and 17-year-olds from county jails and state prisons. That has implications for the Onondaga County Justice Center, for example, which is dealing with a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of teens subject to solitary confinement while detained at the jail.
Heastie cited “serious incidents that have resulted from the detention of juveniles on Rikers Island and other correctional facilities in the state” as reason the law deals with teens’ removal from county jails.
Under the agreement, inmates at county jails under age 17 by Oct. 1, 2018, and inmates under 18 will be moved by Oct. 1, 2019. They will be sent to “local youth detention facilities” run by the Office of Children and Family Services.
Teen inmates at state prisons will be housed in an “adolescent offender facility” operated by the state corrections department with programs provided by OCFS.
The agreement also allows defendants of any age convicted of “certain non-violent offenses” to apply to courts to have their records sealed 10 years after their sentences are completed.
“A widely recognized obstacle for past offenders in their efforts to move on and live independent, law-abiding lives is the ‘scarlet letter’ of criminality that follows them post-conviction and incarceration,” Heastie’s office said in a statement about the need for the reform. “Other than a limited ability to have certain drug offenses sealed following court ordered treatment, there is currently no opportunity for persons with non-violent criminal convictions to ever have their records sealed.”