Raise the age law comes with challenges

While barely one month into 2018, there already are myriad criminal justice system and court reforms ongoing throughout the state that are expected to have a quick impact.

The Herkimer County Legislature recently acknowledged receipt of a $30,200 state grant to be used by the District Attorney’s Office to help speed up the processing of repeat violent and serious felony offenders.

And in Oneida County, the law enforcement community is dealing with other changes — specifically, the implementation of legislation signed in April that raises the age of criminal responsibility for teens statewide.

“By raising the age of criminal responsibility, this legislation will reduce crime, recidivism and costs to the state, and help us deliver on the New York promise to advance social justice and affirm our core progressive values,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a release after the signing.

It is estimated that raising the age of criminal responsibility will prevent between 1,500 and 2,400 repeat crimes every five years, according to Cuomo’s office.

But there is work to do.

Among the challenges is how to implement the new raise the age law, which requires 16- and 17-year-old defendants to appear in Family Court rather than criminal court. Another change includes ensuring teens who commit nonviolent crimes receive intervention and evidence-based treatment. By Oct. 1, 16-year-olds will be considered juveniles, and by October 2019, the same deal will be in place for 17-year-olds.

Also, an adolescent court would be presided over by a Family Court judge but be geared toward handling violent crimes cases for the teens.

“There’s a lot of unknown questions,” Oneida County Sheriff Robert Maciol said, ”(such as) where are they going to go?”

Maciol said that at any given time there are between eight and 20 16- and 17-year-olds at the Oneida County Correctional Facility who have to be housed separately from inmates who are older than 18. The new law changes everything and once it goes into effect, those teens will be housed elsewhere.

And Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara notes that currently there are no juvenile detention facilities in Oneida County.

At a recent Oneida County Youth Services Council annual meeting, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente tipped off a discussion on the impact of the raise-the-age initiative and the efforts to develop Oneida County’s plan. He described youth incarceration as not just a challenge that is unique to Oneida County, and implementing the plan is a work in progress.

“There are so many moving parts to this,” he said.

McNamara acknowledged where teens will be sent is critical.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “There are some complications with where they will be housed.”

Contact reporter Jolene Cleaver at 315-792-4956 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Cleaver).

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