Raise the Age finds north country mostly prepared, still working out details
Starting this month 16-year-old criminal suspects who previously would have been held in adult cells at county jails will be sent from the north country to Albany as they await trial.
It is a small number of offenders. Lewis County reported five would have fit the description set forth by new state law that created a new adolescent offender grouping last year and implemented Oct. 1, but county administrators and court officials statewide have had to make arrangements to follow the law.
Next year, 17-year-old offenders will also be reclassified as adolescent offenders under a “Raise the Age” legislative initiative of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“New York is moving forward with bold criminal justice reform,” Gov. Cuomo stated on Monday. “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.”
Robert F. Hagemann II, Jefferson County administrator, said the county is prepared. If a 16-year-old is detained, that teen will be driven to and held at an Albany facility.
Lewis County Manager Ryan M. Piche, said that county has a similar arrangement.
Adolescent offenders can request voluntary assessment and services from the Probation Department, and probation will be responsible for transportation to secure facilities if necessary. He said legislators last month approved hiring an additional probation officer to meet the increased activity.
The facility that counties seem to be using is the Capital District Secure Detention facility in Albany, run by Berkshire Farm Center and Services for Youth. Berkshire did not return several phone calls requesting confirmation and information about the detention facility.
Counties should not wind up losing money by implementing “Raise the Age.” According to a press release from Gov. Cuomo, $100 million was included in the state budget to support “Raise the Age.” The state will reimburse counties for 100 percent of the cost they incur, but counties have to pay up front while remaining under the 2 percent tax levy cap if they want to be reimbursed.
“There are still numerous loose ends from the state of New York on how this is going to play out,” Mr. Hagemann said. “It’s going to be a learning curve, literally day to day.”
Mr. Hagemann said there are no plans to build a facility to house adolescent offenders locally because there isn’t yet a need. He said all counties must finalize a relationship with the state. Both Jefferson and Lewis counties anticipate finalizing their plans and budgets for “Raise the Age” implementation to submit to the state, but the exact cost remains unclear. Mr. Hagemann said fewer than half the counties in the state have submitted a plan, and none has been approved by the state.
On Thursday, New York Association of Counties President Charles H. Nesbitt Jr. released a statement pointing to this trailing implementation.
He said 25 of 57 counties outside of New York City have submitted plans that are under review and the remaining counties are reviewing state guidance and answering local concerns.
“At this time, none of these plans have been approved,” he said.
Mr. Hagemann said that the counties had a number of unanswered questions about the implementation that were not quite finished by Monday.
“The practical reality is there aren’t that many staff people in Albany” reviewing applications, he said. “Legislatively, the clock kept ticking.”
Under the new plan, adolescent offenders will also end up in Family Court for all misdemeanor offenses and most felonies, just as juvenile offenders age 15 and younger are now. Prosecuting cases in Family Court is the responsibility not of the district attorney, but of the County Attorney’s Office.
“Most of them will probably come to us,” said Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen.
Mr. Paulsen said there will be some increase in the number of cases his office prosecutes, but historically the number of juvenile defendants has been fairly low — the past two years there have been around 50 such cases annually.
When adolescent offenders first appear in court, Mr. Paulsen’s office will have to have an attorney present, along with a representative of the district attorney and the Probation Department. If the case is referred to Family Court, the adolescent will first meet with the Probation Department.
“There are a number of services Family Court can provide that might divert it from even going to Family Court,” Mr. Paulsen said.
Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neill said her department is ready to deal with adolescent offenders.
“They will be treated the same as we treat 15-year-olds now,” she said. “Mostly the changes are going to fall on the shoulders of the Probation Department.”
Martin J. Morrison, director of the Jefferson County Probation Department, said the biggest increase would be in the first stage of the process.
“We believe the intake process is where we’ll have the biggest increase,” he said.
Whether adolescent offenders are arrested and arraigned in town court after hours or arraigned during the week in Family Court, a probation officer will have to be present. In the past, juvenile offenders facing misdemeanors would likely never meet with probation at all.
“Now we have to see each and every one of them,” Mr. Morrison said. “It’s a big change.”
The Probation Department will screen the adolescent offenders to see if they will be released with an electronic monitor, on their own recognizance or under supervision of probation. If they recommend this last option, then probation can refer them to various services around the community.
Ryan M. Piche, Lewis County manager, said the county was working with county fiscal adviser Venesky and Co. to make sure all extra costs are documented, as the state has promised to reimburse all increased costs. For Lewis County, this is mostly in increased hours and training, as there are not likely to be very many adolescent offenders.
“We only had five — five a year,” Mr. Piche said. “We can kind of handle it on a case-by-case basis.”
Like Jefferson County, if necessary, Lewis County can move adolescent offenders to a facility in Albany.
“We are good to go; we have our contacts in place for secure and non-secure detention,” Mr. Piche said. “We haven’t had a case yet … but when we do, we should be good to go.”
The Lewis County Attorney’s Office has been taking the lead on much of the preparation, including holding trainings with all the law enforcement agencies in the county.
“(The trainings) make sure we’re moving these kids where they need to go,” Kari Fahrenbach, assistant Lewis County attorney. “We are working on a contract with the detention center in Albany.”
Juvenile delinquents also create some precedent.
“At least from my office, we will treat misdemeanors 16 and younger the same way we treat juvenile delinquents 15 and younger,” Ms. Fahrenbach said.
In Lewis County Probation, however, the new statute has shaken things up more.
“The ‘Raise the Age’ statute has created a whole new way of doing business,” Lewis County Probation Director Mary Jo Burkhard said. “Our Office of Corrections … has modified how we do things all along in Family Court, with the juvenile delinquents it’s all going to be different.”
Before, for example, a 16-year-old arrested for shoplifting would never interact with the Probation Department.
“Now we have contact with every 16-year-old who makes a poor decision,” Mrs. Burkhard said.
She hopes to avoid sending adolescent offenders to Albany if possible. According to Mrs. Burkhard, the cost for one day in jail here is $120; in Albany it will be $1,900. And as in Jefferson County, Mrs. Burkhard hopes the hands-on approach and additional resources can divert adolescents.
“We hope all the things we do can keep kids from going deeper into the system,” she said. “We’ve certainly spent a lot of time on it — certainly more than any other statute that’s coming along.”
Several Oswego County officials could not be reached for interviews, but County Attorney Richard C. Mitchell said that county is also prepared.
“All county attorneys have been going to trainings,” he said. “We’re ready; we just haven’t had any eligible cases yet.”
Oswego County Probation Director David Hall said his department was shuffling staff and expected to hire a new officer.
“Internally we’ve added staff, increased staff for our juvenile division,” he said. “We’re anticipating possibly adding a probation officer.”
He also said the department has been conducting trainings so it can provide some of the new required services in-house.
St. Lawrence County has also prepared to handle most cases through the Probation Department. St. Lawrence County Probation Director Timothy LePage and Social Services Commissioner Christopher Rediehs told the county Legislature last month that they anticipate the majority of juvenile offenders will be supervised with electronic home monitoring. Some may be placed temporarily with other families through the county’s Department of Social Services.
St. Lawrence County currently sends 14- and 15-year-olds to juvenile detention centers in other parts of the state, but after “Raise the Age” those facilities are not expected to be available.
Franklin County District Attorney Craig Carriero noted that the legislation will result in most juvenile cases being referred to Family Court, where attorneys for the Department of Social Services will assume responsibility.
Mr. Carriero reported that he expects very few cases involving 16-year-olds to remain in the “youth part” of criminal court, noting historically low numbers of major offenders in that age group in Franklin County.
The DA’s office will continue to work with those charged with misdemeanors under state Vehicle and Traffic Law, such as DWI, but added that such incidents among 16-year-olds are quite uncommon. Mr. Carriero added that he anticipates his office will see a bigger impact on caseload next year when 17-year-olds will be considered juvenile offenders.
“In the end, most of the onus will fall on Social Services at this point,” Mr. Carriero said.