Raise the age!

ELINOR TATUM Publisher and Editor-in-Chief | 3/9/2017, midnight
The fact that the state of New York still tries juveniles as adults is abhorrent. New York is one of ...
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The fact that the state of New York still tries juveniles as adults is abhorrent. New York is one of only two states (North Carolina being the other one) in the United States that still prosecute youth as adults from the age of 16 onwards.

The studies confirm that they are still children and that the brain continues to develop until age 25. Yet these children, mostly Black and Brown, are treated as adults, incarcerated as adults, and their youth is forever gone. Their youth is taken away by a system that has chosen to create adult criminals rather than rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

We commend Gov. Cuomo for his push to raise the age. We see that he understands the needs, and we also understand that he believes that certain measures must be taken to get legislation passed. But we believe he must push for more vigorous legislation that takes effect faster.

The governor and the State Democrats as well as the IDC need to come together to find an answer that will work for our must vulnerable populations and then put pressure on the Republicans in the State Senate to pass the legislation. The assembly has already passed the bill. This needs to be done for our children—NOW.

Our children need this legislation to happen immediately, not phased in over the next several years as is in the governor’s proposal. The timetable of his plan could affect the outcomes of approximately 28,000 children who are annually charged as adults.

The occurrences of children being tried in adult courts need to be minimized, and the current structure of the governor’s proposal may not do that sufficiently. There are still too many areas in the governor’s proposal that keep youth in special areas of adult court rather than being transferred to family court. This must change, and the governor should re-evaluate the court settings in many offense areas.

Another major instance where the governor’s bill and the Lentol-Heastie Assembly bill and the Montgomery Senate bill differ is on the wait time for records to be sealed. The governor’s proposal is calling for a 10-year waiting period while the Senate/Assembly Democrats are calling for a 1- to 3-year period. This difference in timing, that seven to nine years, can make all the difference in the world when trying to get one’s life back on track. Being able to get funding for school, finding a job, getting housing and having a sealed record make all the difference in how children’s futures will play out.

Another part of the legislation that needs more latitude is that the judges need more discretion in sentencing. Judges need to be able to take all the facts into consideration and determine what appropriate sentencing is and how much time youthful offenders will spend in detention. And what may be most important is that there needs to be language in the legislation that would support these young offenders being housed in facilities close to their homes so they can continue a relationship with their families.

What we must realize is that we are not trying to make better crooks, but trying to make better people, and without these changes and attention being paid to our young offenders we will create another generation of criminals. These are children, and we must protect them, even if they did commit a crime. And with this protection we must help provide answers, and those answers are creating a system that heals, rehabilitates and transforms lives—not just locks them up and forgets about them. New York is late to the game. We need to catch up and leave North Carolina behind.

We need to raise the age and we need to do it now, and we need to make it mean something.