Raising the Age in New York — The Legal Aid Society

New York State’s failure to pass legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility has effectively ignored social science, neuroscience, and psychiatric and psychological research which has found that teenagers should be evaluated for criminal culpability differently than adults.

The United States Supreme Court has recognized the scientific research on adolescent brain development and ruled that age should be considered in assessing teenagers’ behavior and culpability. In fact, New York State sets the age of majority for most civil purposes at 18, meaning adolescents in New York are treated as legal minors except for criminal prosecutions. Prosecuting all adolescents as adults increases recidivism; yet despite the overwhelming evidence, and the fact that 48 other states have reformed their criminal laws to address this issue, New York will continue to automatically prosecute all 16 and 17 year olds as adults. While moving 16 and 17 year olds out of adult prisons is critically important, a truly comprehensive reform bill to raise the age would meaningfully address public safety and result in older children receiving an age appropriate and effective system response that would enable them to pursue a path to a productive adult life. We are dismayed that politics replaced science, and unfortunately, common sense.