New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been vocal about raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State. He’s a talking head in Spike TV’s documentary, “TIME: The Kalief Browder Story,” and he recently put out a statement on Raise the Age Advocacy Day pushing his plan for change.
“New York is one of only two states in the nation that automatically processes our 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system, no matter the alleged offense and despite the fact that the majority of teenagers arrested in recent years have been locked up for non-violent crimes,” said Cuomo in a statement. “This unfair practice places some of our youngest New Yorkers in a prison system where they are more likely to be assaulted, to be injured by prison staff and to commit suicide than their peers processed as juveniles. They are also far more likely to be re-arrested and re-incarcerated. “Many problems have no clear or proven solution, but this one does,” continued Cuomo. “By raising the age, we can ensure that juveniles receive the intervention and rehabilitation they need to break the vicious cycle of recidivism and increase public safety for all New Yorkers.”
But Cuomo’s current proposal for raising the age doesn’t sit well with some New York State Senate Democrats, who have called it a “Band-Aid.”
Cuomo’s plan would immediately raise the age of criminal responsibility to 17 and eventually raise it to 18 in 2020. The plan also includes raising the age at which a young person could be tried as an adult to 16 and 17 years old (from 13 to 15 years old) if charged with an expanded list of juvenile offenses that now include all class A felonies, homicides, violent felony offenses, sexually-motivated felonies, felony vehicular assaults and aggravated criminal contempt and conspiracy to commit or tampering with a witness related to any of the aforementioned crimes.
Cuomo’s plan also expands the number of juvenile offender eligible offenses for adult court to include acts of terrorism, criminal possession of a chemical or biological weapon, criminal use of a chemical or biological weapon and predatory sexual assault.
According to New York State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, that not’s the only difference between Cuomo’s plan and what Senate Democrats want.
“While I am thankful that the Governor has made a commitment to raising the age this year, I am concerned about key differences between his proposal and the bill Assemblyman Lentol and I have introduced,” said Montgomery in an email to the AmNews. “For example, our bill would go into effect on Jan. 1 of 2018 while his implementation would be staggered, impacting thousands of children. The Governor proposes a 10 year waiting period to seal records while our bill has a one year wait for misdemeanors and a 3 year wait for felonies.
“In addition, his proposal increases the number of offenses that youth can be charged as adults for including vehicular infractions and simple drug possession,” continued Montgomery. “The Executive budget also includes $110 million in capital allocation for an additional facility which if built, will certainly need to be filled.”
Cuomo’s proposed “Raise the Age” bill would also allow the district attorney to have power to consent to having 13 to 17 years old removed from Family Court through the existing process now used for 13 to 15 year olds for the crime of second-degree robbery and for any violent felony that’s not a juvenile offense for those younger than 15.
The AmNews contacted the NYCLU to comment on “Raise the Age,” but NYCLU directed us to their comments on the legislation available on their website.
“Treating young people as adults is bad law, and bad public policy—for children, in particular, and for all of us,” stated the NYCLU. “It creates unnecessary social and financial costs, and deprives young people of the opportunity to turn their lives around. Raising the age of criminal responsibility will enhance public safety, reduce recidivism and, most importantly, provide necessary services that will produce better outcomes for New York’s youth.”
Elected officials tried to raise the age of criminal responsibility two years ago, but the State Senate shut it down. With renewed passion following the highly publicized Kalief Browder story, Democrats are looking to push the Republican/Independent Democratic Conference-led Senate to pass the bill. New York State Sen. Jesse Hamilton told television station NY1 that if “Raise the Age” doesn’t pass that “I, myself, would not vote on the budget.”
New York State Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins wants Albany legislators to raise the age to 18 immediately and not stagger it. She won’t accept any plans that are less than what she, and many Democrats, desire.
“Let’s be clear, no half-measures or watered down options will really help our kids,” said Cousins Tuesday. “‘Raise The Age’ must be more than a slogan or a way to score political points and headlines. Our criminal justice system needs REAL reform and there are too many plans being floated around that are simply watered-down, half-measures and those cannot be considered real ‘Raise the Age.’”
Montgomery echoed Cousins’ sentiments.
“‘Raise the Age’ is more than a slogan,” Montgomery said. “It’s a movement to treat our children as such and to focus on diversion and rehabilitation which is ultimately better for their futures and our public safety. I believe we need to look carefully at the details of the Governor’s proposal and ask ourselves if it effectively addresses the needs of our children or simply reroutes them into the system.”
With the New York State budget due by the end of the month, Democrats in Albany hope to do right by criminal justice activists sooner than later.