‘Raise the Age’ law reforms justice system for youth in Tompkins and across the state
The decision to move the case to Family Court ultimately rests with Van Houten, who said he is carefully weighing the decision by looking at the defendant’s history to decide whether it is appropriate to move the case out of criminal court.
“This is a serious decision and it is one I want to make with as much information as I can,” Van Houten said, outlining how he will obtain the defendant’s school records, speak to his family, mentors and teachers to get a comprehensive view of his background.
Following the Dec. 7 incident in the case of the three youth, Van Houten has an optimistic perspective on the result of Raise the Age.
“I think that here in Tompkins County we have a belief that I think it widely held, that we should treat juveniles very carefully,” Van Houten said. “That being said, there are times when kids commit crimes that should be treated as crimes and they should be given the appropriate sanctions and should be held accountable in a way that is similar to adults who do the same thing.”
Lance Salisbury is a supervising attorney in the Tompkins and Schuyler County Assigned Counsel Programs. Salisbury said before Raise the Age, youth’s involvement in the criminal justice system created particular issues in upstate New York in rural town courts, where they may not have been equipped with the programs to properly address the issues and needs of young adult offenders.
“You ended up with 16 and 17-year-olds getting criminal convictions that have and had the potential for permanent negative impacts on their lives. Even a seemingly simple misdemeanor conviction, especially for something like petit larceny, can be a bar to getting a decent job,” Salisbury said.
According to the National Reentry Resource Center, which includes Harvard Civil Rights – Civil Liberties Law Review among its sources of information, about 80 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks for some or all job applicants. This can drastically minimize employment opportunities for this with criminal records.
Salisbury said because Raise the Age moves many youth cases into Family Court, their records become sealed, which means their records cannot bar them from colleges, careers and the military.
Though there are challenges to work out, and difficult decisions to weigh, John said Raise the Age is a positive comprehensive approach to serving the best interest of New York’s children and youth.
“It’s been a long time coming,” John said “I think it’s a good thing.”