New York is currently one of only two states in the United States that tries 16-year-old offenders as adults. That negative distinction should come to an end.
Last year, 45,000 youths between 16 and 18 years old were prosecuted in state criminal courts. The vast majority of them -80%- are Latino and African American.
There are bleak consequences for prosecuting our youth for nonviolent crimes in criminal courts, as opposed to family courts.
Once juvenile offenders are sent to adult prisons, they are put into a pipeline to becoming adult criminals.
To correct this failed approach, the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman yesterday proposed reforms, that, if enacted by the state, could be a leap toward a common sense and fair juvenile justice system.
Lippman wants to transfer the handling of 16 and 17 year old offenders to family courts, where they can access more appropriate services and alternatives to incarceration. For example,
juvenile offenders are often in need of mental health support or substance abuse treatment.
There is also a scientific basis for change. Study after study shows that offenders under 18 do not have the maturity and cognitive tools to make decisions as adults, and so our judicial system should not judge their behavior as such.
State legislators should back Lippman’s proposal and introduce a bill that will move New York beyond this wrong categorization of minors.
Because Republican resistance is expected, organizations and politicians should lobby for this overdue change. This includes Mayor Bloomberg, who recently launched an initiative to help reduce the rate of incarceration of New York City youth, and Governor Cuomo, who has moved to end employment based on warehousing inmates.