Want to help youth at risk? Raise the Age, WCA leader says
“New York lawmakers are still struggling to reach consensus on raising the age of criminal responsibility in our state from 16 to 18 years of age. While 28,000 young people’s lives hang in the balance, we wait, seemingly in vain, for true leadership on this vital issue rather than political calculation and gamesmanship.
How is it possible that we are still having this conversation after 48 other states have raised the age; after the experience of other states shows that raising the age will save us money in the long run and reduce crime; after the latest brain science tells us that treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults is harmful and counterproductive?
I have a guess, and it is based on the fact that while the New York Legislature has been unable to move ahead on Raise the Age, the legislators are falling over themselves to show how progressive and caring they are for victims of opioid addiction which has resulted in crime, death and suffering among young people in our state.
So, what’s the difference? Those touched by the opioid epidemic are largely white, many from suburban communities. Young people caught up in the criminal justice system (although all kids can get into trouble with the law, but families with resources are able to keep their kids out of the system) are disproportionately black, brown, poor and from urban areas.
Is this really who we are in New York state? Are we ready to write off one group of young people in trouble, while extending a helping hand to another group based simply on their race or ZIP code?
Westchester Children’s Association recently conducted a Teen Advocacy Leadership program. As part of that program, teens were asked to reflect on their experiences and what raising the age means to them. To read more personal stories from these young people, go to WCA’s blog. Want to know more about Raise the Age? Visit www.wca4kids.org.
We can do better, New York. And we must!
The writer is executive director of Westchester Children’s Association.”
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