Dear Governor Hochul,
Congratulations on your recent election. The undersigned organizations are committed to advancing youth justice and supporting young people across New York State. The time is ripe for building on the success of Raise the Age with important youth justice reforms and making significant investments that support young people and community wellbeing. Not only will this approach make communities safer, but it will also put youth at the center of New York’s efforts to improve the resiliency of communities in the wake of the Pandemic.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has compromised the stability of families and communities, highlighting and exacerbating existing inequalities and disproportionately impacting youth of color across New York State. However, youth crime continues to decline across New York; over the past ten years there has been an 83% decrease in arrests of minors for index crimes (serious crimes), including in 2020 and 2021. The data is clear: criminalizing youth only leads to more racial discrimination and perpetuating the criminalization of Black and Latinx youth. Instead, our state must invest in more support, care, and opportunity for young people and their communities.
In the interest of protecting our youth and communities, we recommend that you address the following initiatives in your State of the State and/or Executive Budget proposal.
Raise the Age Reforms Must be Fully Funded
The evidence shows overwhelmingly that the Raise the Age law has been successful for young people and their communities, despite its underfunding. While $800 million has been allocated for Raise the Age reforms over the last 4 years of budget cycles, it has been publicly reported that only $270 million of those State dollars have actually been invested in communities. We are looking to our elected leaders to ensure those funds are allocated to and actually reach the types of programs and community resources that can actually prevent gun violence, as well as offer support that our young people need, including mental health, education, restorative justice and other trusted community-based programs.
Investments must be equitable. Since Raise the Age was passed, New York City, which represents half of the youth justice system, has been excluded from receiving state funding. Permitting the City to access these dollars should be part of your Executive Budget this Year.
Similarly, communities across New York state need to have better access to these funds, meaning that counties must access the funds more easily, and community based organizations and service providers must be allowed to apply and receive funds directly. We also recommend that communities receive up-front allocations of Raise the Age implementation dollars, based on information about the numbers of youth who have contact with the criminal legal system. We need creative solutions, whether they are administrative or legislative, to make sure more of these dollars are reaching youth and families now.
Reauthorize Close to Home and Restore State Financial Support
Close to Home is a juvenile justice reform initiative designed to keep youth close to their families and community in New York City instead of OCFS-operated placement facilities. It has operated successfully for a decade, and is subject to reauthorization this year. Data shows from 2012 to 2021, there has been an 86% decline in youth arrests in New York City and 91% of youth in Close to Home Facilities passed their classes. We urge you to support the reauthorization of this ground-breaking reform and restore state funding support for the program. Like Raise the Age, all youth, no matter where they live in New York State, deserve equitable State support for the programs and supports they need to thrive.
A Pivotal Time for Youth Investment
Overall, greater investments in youth are needed. The pandemic has dramatically exacerbated economic and housing insecurity and the behavioral health needs of youth. Budgetary investments must ensure youth access summer youth employment, health and behavioral health care, housing supports and subsidies, and restorative justice in schools. With that in mind, we formally endorse the Invest in Our NY Act, as these investments keep young people safe and communities supported. Research shows that programs that increase youth opportunity, like NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), significantly reduce the likelihood of arrest and incarceration. It is evident that these investments not only support young people’s well being and sense of community but promotes safety as well. Budgets are a moral and ethical document, and it is essential we meet young people with opportunities rather than criminalization.
New York Must be A Leader in Youth Justice
In addition to these investments, we need legislative reform to diminish the impact of the criminal legal system on youth, to better protect them, and support true community safety. We ask for your support for three crucial youth justice bills this year:
Youth Justice and Opportunity Act (S5749 Myrie / A3536A O’Donnell)
Enacting the Youth Justice & Opportunity Act (YJ&O) would expand alternatives to incarceration and immediate record sealing for young people up to age 25, allowing young people who have been arrested and charged as adults to move forward with their lives and pursue housing, employment, education, and other goals without the barrier of a criminal record. Under current law, judges in New York can grant Youthful Offender (YO) status, which seals cases and allows for age-appropriate, non-jail sentences. But the law has critical restrictions, and only applies to young people before they turn 19. Passing YJ&O would:
- Create a new “Young Adult” (YA) status to protect young people ages 19 to 25;
- Expand the categories of cases where YO status is mandatory rather than discretionary;
- Expand judicial discretion to grant YO, including the option to grant YO more than once;
- Allow judges to waive fees and surcharges for all young people through age 25;
- Allow young people with a criminal record to petition the court to be “re-sentenced” and granted YO or YA status retroactively.
Youth Interrogation Bill (S2800 Bailey / A5891 Joyner)
The Youth Interrogation Bill would require that a youth first consult with counsel before any police questioning can take place. Current data shows that 90% of youth waive their Miranda Rights. Decades of research by psychologists, sociologists, and neurologists make it clear that even under controlled circumstances, children lack the capacity to fully appreciate the meaning and significance of the right to remain silent, and to appreciate the almost certain repercussions of waiving that right. Add to that the stress and tension inherent in an interrogation, and the prospect of an intelligent and voluntary waiver to the right to remain silent becomes a myth.
We must pass this critical piece of legislation to ensure that children’s Miranda rights are protected and minimize the risk of harm arising from false confessions.
Solutions Not Suspensions (S7198 Jackson - A5197 Nolan)
The Solutions Not Suspensions Act correctly establishes that suspensions are the last resort to student misbehavior, never the first. Instead, it promotes methods that are designed to hold students accountable while helping them learn from their mistakes. Importantly, this bill would allow our state to take a big step away from the biased policies of the past. Specifically, the bill would:
- End the use of suspensions for pre-K through third-grade students;
- Promote the use of restorative practices and other successful discipline techniques;
- Limit the amount of time that a student can be out of school to 20 school days (except when required by federal law), and guarantee access to appropriate work and instruction so that students who are suspended can stay on track academically;
- Prohibit suspensions for the most minor infractions, like tardiness, dress code violations and insubordination, which are better addressed in school; and
- Ensure the law on student behavior and school discipline applies equally to both charter and district school students.
We urge you to make these budgetary and legislative requests a reality, as it would have a tremendous impact on the lives of young people throughout New York and be a pivotal step towards racial, gender, and economic justice.