Chief Judge Lippman Calls for Juvenile Justice Reform Based on Rehabilitation and Best Interests of the Child Rather Than Punishment and Incarceration
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2011

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced that he will establish adult court parts dedicated to the handling of cases of 16-and 17 year olds who are charged with crimes in an effort to demonstrate that the age of criminal responsibility can be raised in New York. New York and North Carolina are the only states that treat 16 and 17-year-olds as adult offenders, a policy the Chief Judge said breeds "abuse and future criminality."

Responding to the Chief Judge's proposal, Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told The New York Law Journal that "this seems to be a moment when the sun, moon and stars are aligned with a governor greatly concerned with the failures of the system and [who] has been closing these horrible facilities that cost money and accomplish nothing. We have a Legislature which is concerned with the cost-effectiveness of services, a mayor who has repeatedly said that the juvenile justice system can function better by keeping young people in their communities, and now we have a chief judge who has laid out a blueprint to make it all happen within the judicial system." Banks continued that diversion from the criminal justice system is "exactly what they need, a helping hand instead of, all too often, the back of the hand."

Seymour James, president-elect of the New York State Bar Association and Attonrey-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that scientific studies of the adolescent mind demonstrate "that 16- and 17-year-old kids lack the maturity and judgment to understand the legal consequences of their actions. Additionally, children who are incarcerated in adult jails are more likely to commit crimes again. The consequences of being convicted of a nonviolent crime can last a lifetime, affecting an individual's future education and employment." Read New York Law Journal story below.



The New York Law Journal
Lippman Urges Increased Age for Adult Prosecution of Teens
By John Caher
09-22-2011

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman yesterday said that within the next three months he will establish adult criminal court parts exclusively dedicated to handling cases of 16- and 17-year-old offenders in an effort to demonstrate that the age of criminal responsibility can safely and economically be raised.

In those courts, specially trained judges will bring a Family Court/rehabilitation focus to cases involving non-violent teens.

"The time has come" Judge Lippman said in an interview. "We have been studying this issue for 50 years and there is momentum for juvenile justice reform. We need an approach that is based on the best interests of the child and rehabilitation rather than an approach based on punishment and incarceration."

While an increase in the age threshold for adult crimes requires legislation, the court system can establish the experimental adult criminal parts on its own.

In a speech to the Citizens Crime Commission yesterday, Judge Lippman noted that New York is currently one of only two states—North Carolina is the other—that treat 16-year-olds as adult offenders, a policy that he said breeds "abuse and future criminality." He wants to increase that to 18 for youths who commit less serious crimes while not changing the statute under which 13-year-olds who commit murder and 14-year-olds who commit other violent felonies are adjudicated as adults.

The goal of raising the age threshold for adult crime, shared by many other advocates for juvenile justice reform, has proven elusive, but Judge Lippman said that now the "time is ripe."

He has asked the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission to prepare "on a fast-track basis" draft legislation in time for the 2012 legislative session, which begins Jan. 1. It is likely that the proposal would require an increase in the number of Family Court judges, something the Office of Court Administration has long sought but has been rejected by the Legislature.

"While it may be that we'll need more Family Court judges and a heftier probation entity, and while there are things that will cost more money, in the long run and probably short run it will save money," Judge Lippman said.

State reports indicate that New York spends roughly $266,000 per child per year to house young offenders in detention facilities—and the return on that investment is an 89 percent recidivism rate for boys and an 81 percent recidivism rate for girls over a 10-year period. Statistics show that of the 57 boys who were not re-arrested by the time they turned 28, 12, or 21 percent, are dead.

Judge Lippman noted that the number of youths incarcerated in New York has dropped from more than 2,200 to fewer than 700 over the past few years. As of yesterday, the Office of Children and Family Services reported 605 teens being held in state facilities, 212 of which were incarcerated for committing adult crimes.

Judge Lippman credited Governor Andrew M. Cuomo with "clos[ing] down a number of these failed youth prisons." Still, he said, up to 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested annually in New York, mainly for minor crimes, and prosecuted as adults in criminal courts.

"I think the question of the day for all of us in New York is this: Are 16 and 17-year-olds arrested for less serious crimes better served by going to Criminal Court or Family Court?" Judge Lippman asked an audience that included Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice and Elizabeth Glazer, who, as deputy secretary for public safety, is Governor Cuomo's top criminal justice advisor.

"If the goal is to achieve better outcomes that change juvenile behavior and protect public safety, then the answer would not be any clearer—better outcomes would be achieved for everyone concerned by adjudicating these cases in Family Court," the chief judge said.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Barry Kamins, the administrative judge for criminal matters in Brooklyn and co-chair of the sentencing commission who will help draft Judge Lippman's legislation, said the concept of increasing the age of criminal responsibility is a complex but practical one.

"The devil is in the details," Judge Kamins said. "You have to look at resources and how it will affect the Family Court. All of those details have to be looked at."

There was no immediate reaction from the governor's office. A spokesman for the Senate Majority, Mark Hansen, said the upper chamber would review the matter when legislation is submitted.

Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat, agrees with Judge Lippman that the "time is ripe" to increase the age of responsibility.

"I think it is doable and I think it is probably an idea whose time has come," Mr. Lentol said. "I am not so sure we are not making career criminals out of juveniles by putting them in the adult system when they are 16. It was probably wrongheaded to put them in the adult system."

Mr. Lentol said diverting young people from the adult criminal system may require an initial outlay of resources to create new alternative-to-incarceration programs, but predicted the measure would save money in the long run.

Seymour James, president-elect of the New York State Bar Association and attorney in charge of the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that scientific studies of the adolescent mind demonstrate "that 16- and 17-year-old kids lack the maturity and judgment to understand the legal consequences of their actions. Additionally, children who are incarcerated in adult jails are more likely to commit crimes again. The consequences of being convicted of a nonviolent crime can last a lifetime, affecting an individual's future education and employment."

Steven Banks, attorney in chief of the Legal Aid Society, said that diversion is "exactly what they need, a helping hand instead of, all too often, the back of the hand."

New York's juvenile justice system has been criticized from several different entities in recent years.

In December, for instance, the state's Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, a federally required panel that monitors the juvenile justice system and proposes reform, issued a scathing annual report. It concluded that New York's juvenile justice system is ineffective, over-priced and "fosters brutal results."

The advisory group, which at the time was chaired by Ms. Glazer, now the governor's criminal justice czar, specifically called for an increase in the age of criminal responsibility.

"This seems to be a moment when the sun, moon and stars are aligned with a governor greatly concerned with the failures of the system and has been closing these horrible facilities that cost money and accomplish nothing," Mr. Banks said. "We have a Legislature which is concerned with the cost-effectiveness of services, a mayor who has repeatedly said that the juvenile justice system can function better by keeping young people in their communities, and now we have a chief judge who has laid out a blueprint to make it all happen within the judicial system."

Judge Lippman said the court system will erect what he described as a criminal court "off ramp" where judges familiar with the special problems facing youths and well versed in intervention will preside over criminal court parts functioning almost like family court parts.

"Cases involving nonviolent offenses will be steered to specially-trained Criminal Court judges who understand both the legal and psycho-social issues involving troubled adolescents and are familiar with the broad range of age-appropriate services and interventions specifically to meet the needs and risks posed by these young adults," Judge Lippman said in his speech.

The chief judge said 16- and 17-year-olds would continue to be dealt with in Criminal Court, as is currently required, while receiving many of the benefits of Family Court adjudication, including a sealed record when appropriate.

"While the Legislature and governor are considering [raising the age of criminal responsibility], I want to show that it works with the resources we already have," Judge Lippman said. "By the time they consider this legislation, we will have all the parts in place."

Judge Lippman said the pilot parts will be created in the New York City and other criminal courts around the state under the direction of Judge Judy Harris Kluger, the court system's chief of policy and planning.

This is not the chief judge's first initiative in the field of juvenile justice. He proposed last year that Family Court take over the responsibility for juvenile probation. The Legislature did not act on that proposal.