NYSAC executive director talks Raise the Age task force
Stephon Johnson | 5/25/2017, 12:45 p.m.
Passed almost two months ago as part of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility for non-violent felons isn’t as simple as it might look.
Last week, the New York State Association of Counties announced the deployment of an advisory group to facilitate Raise the Age’s implementation. This group observes and reports back to the State’s own Raise the Age task force and let’s them know the problem or questions faced by those on the ground who’d be responsible for the transition. Raise the Age formally taking effect by Oct. 1, 2019, but NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario told the AmNews that there many moving parts that need to fall in line.
“The task force started because the way that the legislation as constructed, happened,” Acquario told the AmNews. “It happened quickly, overnight really. And so the language that was ultimately written in wasn’t something that local government had a chance to understand, contribute, modify and or support or oppose. What’s done is done.”
Acquario said that he’s taken questions nonstop since the passing from local government officials around New York State. They’ve asked about their expected roles and responsibilities and have asked about the state’s reimbursement methodologies.
“[We’re] trying to understand and ensure that there are appropriately serviced available for the youth that are affected,” said Acquario. “From the Office of Children and State Services to voluntary agencies, we want to makes sure the state has the capacity to meet the needs of raise the age kids. We don’t want to see this fail. We want to make sure that funding is sufficient and that the state does the responsible thing. Infrastructure, children and families are impacted. How do we keep families connected? Schools? There’s lots of collaboration.”
As part of Cuomo’s budget, the Raise the Age legislation would set the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old during a progressively implementation process. In late April, the New York State Senate Democratic Conference accused the Senate Republican/Independent Democratic Conference Majority Coalition of attempting to weaken a bill that they felt was already watered down. A bill sponsored by Deputy Republican Leader John DeFrancisco would’ve allowed the unsealing of juvenile records.
The Senate Republican/IDC majority’s refusal to back the original Raise the Age legislation as proposed by Senate Democrats, who wanted a quicker implementation of the age of adult responsibility for non-violent crimes. According to Acquario, even the “watered-down” bill might take some time to get right.
“We’re looking at the implementation of a new law statewide,” said Acquario. “Take the concerns from the communities and reporting that back to the state task force. If services aren’t available, upstate the task for needs to know that. If they’re available in New York City, we want to share that information and see what’s working.”
He continued, “The goal of the new law, and one which we strongly support is how do we help these children become productive members of society and their families? We need appropriate services and the appropriate cooperation from the district attorney’s, especially for non-violent felonies.”
Acquario’s not looking at Oct. 1, 2019, as a due date for everything being ready to run. He wants the questions answered by then, but he also sees this process as a positive progression until implementation begins.
“There’s far too much at stake,” Acquario told the AmNews. “We need to court system, the DAs, public defenders, department of social services, other state agencies, schools and more involved in this. The alternative is failure and that’s not an option here. Nobody wins. The families. The kids who need to have a shot of having a productive life. Nobody wins if this doesn’t work.”