The Legal Aid Society, Speaker Mark-Viverito and Advocates call on NYS to Fully Raise the Age

CITY HALL – The Legal Aid Society and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today joined local defender organizations, child welfare advocates and stakeholders to call on the State Legislature to pass and sign comprehensive legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State to 18 years old.

“Families from every corner of New York State have suffered far too long under a draconian structure that puts incarcerated youth on a path of life course criminality,” said Seymour W. James Jr., Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society. “Reform is needed now, and if Albany is serious about correcting a gross injustice, we shouldn’t settle with a watered-down raise the age that will fix little of a very broken system.”

“This change is long overdue—raising the age has been shown to meet public safety needs and reduce recidivism,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "It’s time to update these draconian laws and provide adolescents greater access to services and rehabilitation. I applaud Governor Cuomo, Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Flanagan and Senator Jeff Klein for their efforts to finally advance the state towards reform and commend The Legal Aid Society for their continued hard work to fight what is right.”

New York continues to be the only state other than North Carolina that prosecutes all youth as adults when they turn 16 years of age despite clear research over the last 15 years which has confirmed teenagers should be evaluated for criminal culpability much differently than adults because their brains continue to develop far past adolescence and are not fully formed until their early to mid-20s.

In a series of decisions since 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized this research on adolescent brain development and ruled that age should be a mitigating factor when assessing teenagers' behavior and culpability.

Moreover, a 2008 U.S. Department of Justice report concluded the "practice of transferring juveniles for trial and sentencing in adult criminal court has produced the unintended effect of increasing recidivism, particularly in violent offenders, and thereby of promoting lifetime criminality.”

New York's current system also poses many life-altering collateral consequences for youth. Adult convictions can bar teenagers from public housing, deprive them of certain benefits, and prevent them from participating in rehabilitative programs or receiving financial aid for college. These collateral consequences can permanently impair their future, even if s/he never reoffends in the future.

At the rally, The Legal Aid Society urged Governor Cuomo and the Legislature against halfway raise the age measures like expanding the crimes under the Juvenile Offender law; the establishment of adolescent parts in adult courts that utilize adult procedures or partially utilize the Family Court laws; and refusals to recognize all 16 and 17-year-olds as adolescents.

In her recent State of the City Address, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also called on New York State to pass much needed raise the age reforms.

“New York State needs a comprehensive raise the age that reflects what conclusive science and research has proven on this issue over the last 15 years,” said Tami Steckler, Attorney-In-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “The families The Legal Aid Society works with will not benefit from half-baked reform. Governor Cuomo and Legislature leaders must work towards a proposal that truly understands that all 16 and 17 year-olds are not adults and should not be treated as such before the law.”

Craig Levine, Director of Policy Reform for The Bronx Defenders, said, “Science long ago confirmed what any parent will tell you: teenagers do not always exercise good judgment, because their brains are still maturing. The Supreme Court of the United States – hardly a far-left institution – acknowledged this over a decade ago. Subjecting children to the adult criminal justice system, exposing them to trauma, and saddling them with criminal records is not only a statewide embarrassment -- it is a moral failing that implicates all of us. It is long past time for New York to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 without exception.”

“This state’s practice of prosecuting children as adults, despite their special psychological and neurological vulnerabilities, harms not only the individuals charged and their families but also debases our society at large. Virtually all significant research into adolescent neurology has demonstrated that those with developing brains are simply less culpable for their misconduct than fully formed adults. Fundamental fairness requires that New York adapt to these critical findings and join forty-eight other states by raising the age of criminal responsibility from its currently unconscionable level of sixteen years old,” said Stan German, Executive Director, New York County Defender Services.

“For too long New York’s youth have been at a disadvantage, treated automatically as adults in the criminal justice system regardless of the severity of the offense for which they are accused. Many of these young people languish in adult jails and are saddled with criminal records that act as barriers for the rest of their lives. It is critical that New York raise the age of criminal responsibility and ensure that as many youth as possible have their cases heard in the Family Court, the best system suited to hear the cases and provide age appropriate, effective rehabilitation services, for young people. New York’s youth and communities cannot wait another year - we must raise the age this budget session.” - Naomi Post, Executive Director, Children’s Defense Fund – New York

"In the ten years since Youth Represent opened our doors, we have seen time and again the devastating impact that adult prosecution can have on young people-- from the horrors of Rikers Island to the stress of eviction to the years of lost educational and employment opportunities. And we have also seen how simple protections, like those afforded by comprehensive Raise the Age legislation, can be absolutely life changing," said Laurie Parise, Executive Director of Youth Represent. "Given the current political climate, those protections are especially critical for immigrant youth, for whom any contact with the adult criminal justice system could bring the risk of detention and deportation. We cannot afford to wait another year, or even another month. Our elected officials must act now to Raise the Age."

"While 28,000 young lives hang in the balance, we wait, seemingly in vain, for true leadership on this vital issue rather than political calculation and gamesmanship. We need to pass comprehensive raise the age legislation this budget session," said Allison Lake, Deputy Director at Westchester Children’s Association.

“We have known for decades that the adult criminal justice system fails children and the public. It overburdens our courts and stands in the way of fair and equitable access to justice for children. Raising the age is a critical step towards shaping these children’s future, improving our court system and protecting public safety,” said Barry A. Bohrer, Chair, Fund for Modern Courts.

“The time is now to enact reforms and legislation that fully raises the age of criminal responsibility in New York State. Our youth who are imprisoned with adults are at a greater risk for mental illness, re-offense and violent attacks. The long-term effects of adult incarceration have a profoundly negative and traumatizing impact not only on our youth, but their families and our society as a whole. We must focus on programs that center more on rehabilitation and less on punishment, which is critical to reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety,” Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director at FPWA.


Redmond Haskins
The Legal Aid Society
(929) 441-2384
Robin Levine
City Council