Senators show broad support for ‘raising the age,’ with some differences
“ALBANY — Legislators, law enforcement, attorneys and activists at a joint committee hearing Monday broadly agreed on raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York, but there are still differences in opinion on what reform should entail.
New York and North Carolina are the only two states that try 16 and 17 year olds as adults for nonviolent offenses. Progressives have long called for significant reform of the criminal justice system, and conservative interest has recently grown partly as a means of reducing strain on the prison system.
“The cost to incarcerate someone under 19 is astronomical relative to incarcerating an adult,” testified Lani Houston, an attorney for Suffolk County Legal Aid.
Houston said that cost is due to constitutional requirements to house minors separately from the adult population, which requires things like segregated prison wings as well as additional services, like education.
Several key Republican senators are open
to raising the age after previous proposals faltered amid GOP resistance, and the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference has made it a legislative priority this session.
“I’m a former member of law enforcement and I have a very open mind in dealing with this issue,” Republican Sen. Fred Akshar, a former Broome County undersheriff, said at the hearing.
Akshar said he wanted to ensure that any savings generated from reform would be reinvested in mental health services and other programs designed to reduce recidivism.
At a budget hearing last week, Republicans questioned
a state official from the Division of Criminal Justice Services about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inclusion of a raise the age proposal in his executive budget. Their concerns included which crimes would be considered “nonviolent,” whether certain family court records would be sealed and details on the creation of “youth parts” in criminal court to adjudicate cases involving minors accused of violent crimes.
Sens. Tony Avella and Pat Gallivan — the respective chairs of the children & families and the crime victims, crime & correction committees — jointly headed the hearing.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, appearing on behalf of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, was among those who testified for a “hybrid system” that would blend elements of family and criminal courts, rather than simply increasing the number of minors whose cases are eligible for family court.
“We want to make sure that teens get the help they need early on, but also make sure the victims and public safety are protected,” he said.
He said that because family court records are sealed, proposals similar to the governor’s “expand the black hole of knowledge.”
“By moving these cases to family court, no one would know about these crimes,” Hoovler testified.
Marc Levin, the policy director for conservative reform group Right on Crime, said that while most nonviolent minors in New York don’t get a permanent criminal record, they often do keep an arrest record that can reduce future employment opportunities.
“I think there’s a reason that nearly every other state has gone in this direction,” and raised the age, he testified.”
Original Article (Politico):