As Raise the Age starts, juvenile cases have dropped
Downward trend in number of newly declared juvenile delinquents
By Rick Karlin
Date Published: December 3rd, 2018
ALBANY — New York’s long-sought Raise the Age law is a reality. The first phase of the new law took effect in October, increasing from 16 to 17 the age at which someone can be tried on criminal charges as an adult. That age will be upped to 18 in 2019.
The law was several years in the making. And while advocates and lawmakers pushed for its passage, something else was going on as well — a sharp drop in the number of youths being declared as juvenile delinquents.
Fewer and fewer youngsters over the past several years have been arrested and adjudicated as juvenile delinquents.
The number of youths being locked up, either in local facilities before their court hearings or in youth centers, has fallen from 5,066 to 3,654 or 28 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to statistics kept by the state Office of Children and Family Services.
Likewise, the number of intakes, in which new juvenile cases are opened, fell from 12,683 to 9,616, or 24 percent.
Arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds fell from 30,197 to 21,344, or 29 percent. By comparison, in 2010, 46,623 16- and 17-year-olds were arrested.
OCFS officials outlined the trend earlier this fall during a state Board of Regents meeting.
The numbers actually started dropping in 2010 when OCFS, which oversees juvenile-related issues and detention centers, began working to find alternatives for troubled youths.
“New York state has dramatically reduced juvenile detention by more than half since 2010,” OCFS spokeswoman Monica Mahaffey said, adding that the agency spends nearly $8.4 million annually through its Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program.
That program provides county alternatives to detention such as mental health support and mentoring. Under Raise the Age, the same strategies will be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds, she said.
Most of the effort to steer youngsters away from juvenile delinquent status is at the county probation level, noted Elizabeth Gaynes, President and CEO of the Osborne Association, a New York City-based organization that focuses on criminal justice reform.
That involves programs to help kids find jobs and career training as well as social services they may need. Additionally, many of the kids that Gaynes’ group deals with aren’t living with their biological parents.
“There’s been a focus on working with kids in the foster care system who have been on what used to be the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.
That includes job placements and vocational training through a “Career University” program as well as weekly meetings with probation officers who help youngsters think through and act on the changes they need to make.
The probation department will bring youngsters to the meetings if they have to and they can offer respite housing for kids who may be facing a turbulent home life.
“We have to change their thinking,” Connors said.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said the services save money in the long run by keeping people out of the prison or jail system.
“Providing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, especially the youngest of our society, saves tax dollars to be used to maintain public safety while also giving those who have made mistakes in their pasts second chances,” McCoy said.
New York’s system of juvenile centers or youth prisons had already been downsized over the last decade following a 2009 settlement with the federal Department of Justice.
At that time, the DOJ found that the civil rights of youngsters at several state juvenile centers — what used to be called reform schools — were being violated due to the lack of adequate mental health treatment and use of force by guards, known as youth development aides.
To avert a federal takeover, New York agreed to overhaul the juvenile justice system and more than a dozen facilities were closed.
Among those closed was the Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown. Part of that facility was since re-purposed into a greenhouse for medical marijuana.
Some of the facilities, including the Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County are now being repurposed as “specialized secure juvenile detention facilities for older youth” convicted under Raise the Age. Those facilities will offer mental health and other assistance aimed at keeping the teens from re-offending.
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