Chief Attorney Calls For Raising The Age For Criminal Prosecutions In New York To 18
FRIDAY, JULY 12, 2013

Speaking at a press conference announcing a new effort to raise the age for criminal prosecutions in New York to 18, Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society said that “[e]very day in the courts in all five boroughs of New York City, frontline Legal Aid staff see first-hand that adolescents are different than adults and should be treated that way by the law. Social science, brain science and the United States Supreme Court have all recognized this obvious truth, and New York should finally come into line with 48 other States that set the age of responsibility for the purpose of criminal prosecution at age 18.” The Legal Aid Society represents the vast majority of teenagers prosecuted in the courts in New York City.

In an interview with The New York Times, Banks warned that when children are prosecuted as adults without sealed juvenile records, many young defendants face obstacles in the way of future educational, housing and employment opportunities. "We're here to support the general effort to help children succeed," he said.

A copy of the press release announcing the new raise the age initiative is attached and The New York Times article appears below.




The New York Times
Renewed Push to Raise Age of Being Tried as Adult
July 11, 2013
By Mona El-Naggar

Democratic state lawmakers, community leaders and rights advocates on Thursday renewed a push to raise to 18 the age at which a defendant can be tried as an adult in New York.

The law now sets the age of criminal responsibility at 16 — the lowest in the nation. The coalition, which declared its intentions at a news conference, vowed to press legislators in Albany to pass one of several proposed measures when the next session opens in January.

Assemblyman Karim Camara, the leader of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, criticized the law as punitive. “There’s no excuse for it,” Mr. Camara said. “It’s bad policy, it’s bad practice, it’s bad for the children, it’s bad for the community.”

Various organizations have lobbied to raise the age limit in the past, but it is only in recent years that they have begun to coordinate efforts and attract more attention from state officials. Several have proposed legislation to change the way the state handles teenage offenders.

One such initiative, proposed by New York’s chief judge in 2011, seeks to create special courts with specially trained judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers who would work collaboratively to help 16- and 17-year-olds arrested in cases involving nonviolent crimes enter a probation adjustment program. Instead of facing punitive measures in the adult justice system, adolescents would be given access to corrective alternatives like those made available through family courts for children 15 and under.

The chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, said his budget would cover the cost, and he has initiated a pilot program in the five boroughs, Nassau and Westchester Counties, Buffalo and Syracuse.

But Chief Judge Lippman’s proposal, which was drafted as a bill, faces opposition, especially from Republicans in the State Senate.

“There is a great deal of concern about moving away from a zero tolerance for violence no matter who exerts that violence,” said Senator Michael F. Nozzolio, a Republican whose district includes Seneca Falls and Geneva. “The victim is still victimized and the damage is still extreme in many cases.”

Mr. Nozzolio, the chairman of the Codes Committee in the Senate, added that he felt the measure was unlikely to pass.

“I have the ultimate say in terms of what is finally considered, and there’s just not sufficient support right now,” he said.

Proponents of raising the age argue that the majority of the arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds are for nonviolent crimes that do not constitute a substantial threat to public safety, and that research has shown adolescent brains function differently from adult brains. According to the Legal Aid Society, which represents the majority of children charged as adults in New York City, about three-quarters of the roughly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds arrested in New York State each year are detained for misdemeanor offenses.

New York and North Carolina are the only states that set the age limit at 16. Thirty-seven states list the age of criminal responsibility at 18, and the remaining 11 set the minimum age at 17.

Steven Banks, attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, warned that without sealed juvenile records, many young defendants faced obstacles in the way of future educational, housing and employment opportunities.

“We’re here to support the general effort to help children succeed,” he said.

Many of the advocates speaking on Thursday said they were fighting for comprehensive reform that would protect all minors, regardless of their age and the severity of their crime, from being arrested, charged or tried as adults.

“This is a much heavier lift and it will be harder to get people to support it,” said Senator Diane J. Savino, a Democrat who said she would focus her efforts on gaining support for the Lippman bill instead. By adopting a more middle ground solution that addresses nonviolent crimes, Ms. Savino hopes the Lippman bill will fare better in January.