Browder’s ordeal shone a national spotlight on the grim reality faced by 16- and 17-year-olds stuck in New York’s adult criminal justice system. Ultimately, his anguish tragically resulted in suicide.
Every year, thousands of teens, disproportionately teenagers of color, move through the state’s adult system, and it serves no societal benefit.
In fact, when 16- and 17-year-olds are mixed up with adults, they are more likely to be sexually assaulted, attacked and, upon release, to repeat their crimes.
Incarcerated teens talk about terrifying experiences.
Lywan Reed, incarcerated at 16, told the Independent Democratic Conference in December that he constantly prepared himself for the looming threat of a fight with adult prisoners at the Greene Correctional Facility. At the end of his sentence, he received no more than a bus ticket and a few bucks. Our system released him into a state of hopelessness.
Which explains why this year, the IDC spearheaded the fight in the state Senate to change this policy so that our teenagers have a second chance at life.
A criminal record follows you, and tarnishes job and housing applications, making that chance dwindle.
Imprisoned teenagers also lose the ability to complete their high school education, leaving them far behind their peers. Putting teens on a path to rehabilitation, however, increases their ability to compete in the job market.
In a December report the IDC released, “The Price of Juvenile Justice,” we found that if the state rehabilitated over 1,000 youths, they’d earn an additional $10.22 million in a year. It would save the state $3.46 million in public assistance and health care costs, and we’d collect an additional $600,000 in state tax revenue.
New York would wind up saving $117 million a year in criminal justice costs, and avoid $21.1 million in settlements and jury awards associated with abuse cases.
That’s a $152.99 million savings to annually.
But there’s an even larger societal benefit at stake here.
As the members of the IDC negotiate at the Capitol, we are working to ensure we move as many cases as possible to Family Court.
We have also discussed creating a Youth Part for the most serious, violent crimes — where a judge would have to decide whether or not the teen’s case should be heard in that part.
This makes the direction New York is headed in truly progressive, more so than many other states that still charge 17-year-olds as adults under criminal law, like Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Texas — where a teen can get up to 40 years in prison.
Senate colleagues, advocates, stakeholders and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have worked hard toward the best policy for our state.
One thing is for sure: In New York, we don’t want our children to be treated like hardened criminals, and we know that there is a path to redemption.
I’ve seen it.
Reed, the young man who testified at the Senate’s first hearing on the subject, is a sterling example.
He took the bus back to Brooklyn and eventually earned his GED. His public speaking skills and inspirational spirit wowed my colleague, Brooklyn Sen. Jesse Hamilton, a strong Raise the Age advocate.
As Reed spoke about the horrors of solitary confinement, fights with inmates and his inability to finish high school as a teenager, he told the crowd at a press conference he wanted nothing more than to help others.
And now, he’s on that path to help others in the community — working as a Senate intern in Hamilton’s office.
We in the Independent Democratic Conference believe in Raise the Age, and we cannot allow another year to go by without taking action.
We will not tell a mother or a father — we will not tell a teenager — that this issue is hopeless.
Klein represents the Bronx and parts of Westchester County. He leads the Independent Democratic Conference, which includes eight senators. ”