August 7, 2014
To the Editor:
Sadly, your article about the Department of Justice report on violence at the Rikers Island jail complex (“U.S. Finds Excessive Force Against Youths at Rikers,” front page, Aug. 5) confirms what many of us who have worked on criminal justice issues have long known — that the adult criminal justice system doesn’t work for children who are incarcerated in adult facilities.
New York is one of only two states in the United States where children as young as 16 are automatically prosecuted as adults. This serves only to make our communities less safe as these children are more likely to return to a life of crime in the future.
Thankfully, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has created a commission to look at how to raise the age, so that children whose brains are still developing and whose character and personality traits are still being shaped by their daily experiences are treated in an age-appropriate manner, rather than thrown into the one-size-fits-all adult criminal justice system.
There are serious changes to be made at Rikers Island, but it’s not enough to reform Rikers alone. New York’s adult criminal justice system, including every county jail and adult correctional facility, is no place for children and youths. New York needs to do what is best for adolescents and the public and raise the age of criminal responsibility, to keep these tragedies from happening again.
New York, Aug. 5, 2014
The writer is executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York.