Raise the Age rolls out in October

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – State leaders earmarked 100 million dollars in this year’s budget to make sure “Raise the Age” gets off to a good start.

The bill became law last session; it will change the way 16 and 17-year-olds enter the criminal justice system in New York state.

“Currently  if 16 or 17-year-olds are arrested they go straight to city court and we’re not too involved. Now, every time a 16 or 17-year-old is arrested, a misdemeanor or felony,  we’re going to be right in the middle fo things,” explains Commissioner of Erie County’s Probation Department, Brian McLaughlin.

The goal  is to cut down on re-offending by linking teens in trouble with the law to extra services when they’re arrested.

“There’s mental health services, drug rehabilitation, family services, often times they comes from a dysfunctional family. Services to make sure they get to school,” McLaughlin said.

Come October, 16-year-olds who get arrested will be sent to a special superior court called the Youth Part.

For now, it will be housed in the Family Court building; a permanent spot for the Youth Part hasn’t been decided.

The program kicks off for 17-year-old offenders in October of next year.

Erie County Family Court  Judge Kevin Carter will oversee the new Youth Part.

If someone under the age of 18 is charged with a violent felony like Murder for example, they will still be processed in the Youth Part of the system, only the DA will be involved and the case will be prosecuted criminally.

Judge Carter explained this isn’t a loop hole for teenager offenders, it’s an avenue to address their crimes the right way.

“The criminal system is about punishment, punitive measures.  The youth system is about rehabilitation,” he told News 4.

Keith  Jones served time as a teenager years ago. Back then, he was housed with adult offenders.

“These kids can be influenced once they get into the system. It will harden a kid, because when you go in as a kid, a child,” Jones said.

Jones, who is now middle-aged, is happy to see “Raise the Age” finally roll out. He was one of its advocates for years. 

The measure will keep 16 and 17-year-old offenders separate from adults behind bars.

“The system is set up where there would be no co-mingling. The children won’t ever be housed with adults. They won’t come into a court proceeding where adults are present,” Judge Carter told us.

This new law is going to put a burden on the county’s probation department.

Mclaughlin anticipates they’ll see an extra 1,000 youth offenders every year.

This means the need for more staff and more resources.

He’s hopeful the state’s funding will cover the program, at least for the first year.