As Governor Moves Youth out of Adult Prisons, Unions, Faith Leaders, Law Enforcement Experts, Conservatives and Advocates Call on Legislature to ‘Raise the Age’

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December 22, 2015

New York Remains One of Two States to Automatically Prosecute 16 and 17-Year-Olds As Adults, Despite Risks to Youth and Public Safety

Albany, NY – In response to a decision by Governor Cuomo to unilaterally move youth out of adult prisons, a coalition of unions, faith leaders, law enforcement experts, conservatives and advocates praised the action while calling on him and the Legislature to pass comprehensive “raise the age” legislation. New York remains one of only two states in the country where 16 year-olds are automatically charged as adults, which has been shown to increase the chance of re-offending and reduce public safety.

“Our current system of charging youth as adults has been proven to reduce public safety,” said Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley.  “And yet New York remains one of two states that automatically charges 16-year olds as adults.  I applaud Governor Cuomo for moving young people out of adult prisons, but he and the Legislature need to do more to protect our communities by passing comprehensive legislation to raise the age in the coming session.”

“Keeping children out of the adult criminal justice system reduces crime and protects our communities,” said Hector Figueroa, President of SEIU 32BJ.  “Separating youth from adults in the system is a good first step and we hope that Governor Cuomo will encourage the Legislature to pass comprehensive legislation that would make sure youth have a chance at rehabilitation.”

“Our criminal justice system is broken,” said George Gresham, President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “New York is one of two states where young people who make a simple mistake can end up paying for that mistake for their entire life – with a criminal record that follows them when they try to go to college, get a job or find housing. Governor Cuomo’s executive action to move minors from adult facilities to juvenile facilities is the right first step to fix this broken system. Now we need the Senate to join the Governor and the Assembly in the fight to protect our communities by implementing comprehensive reform that will raise the age at which a juvenile is charged as an adult.”

“Housing young people, mostly young men of color, in adult facilities exposes them to dangerous influences instead of the services and support they need to become productive members of society in the future,” said Reverend Al Sharpton. “I’m happy to see Governor Cuomo take swift action to remove youth from this environment but to ensure real reform today’s act should be followed by legislation that keeps 16 and 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal system entirely.”

“New York is one of two states where 16 year olds are automatically charged as adults,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the Working Families Party.   “Governor Cuomo’s actions today to get youth out of adult prisons are an important first step.  He is right that we need to pass “Raise the Age” legislation this year and we stand ready to work with him as he convinces the Legislature to implement comprehensive reform. New York cannot be the last state with this dubious honor.”

“By making sure that youth will no longer be incarcerated with adults, Governor Cuomo is taking a step that will improve public safety and reduce violence,” said Jennifer March, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children.  “New York cannot remain one of two states that refuses to learn what study after study has shown – that youth should not be automatically charged as adults.  Doing so leads to increased recidivism and reduces public safety.  The Senate and Assembly need to work with the Governor to ‘raise the age’ this session.”

“We thank Governor Cuomo for getting youth out of adult prisons,” said Samantha Levine, Communications Director of Children’s Defense Fund-New York.  “Unfortunately this action alone will not improve outcomes for young people who find themselves forever tainted by involvement in New York’s justice system. New York State needs to pass comprehensive youth justice reform, like Raise the Age, which will provide age-appropriate interventions and services that are shown to help youth while improving public safety.”

“Studies have shown that youth have the capacity to learn from their mistakes and turn their lives around, which is why the juvenile justice system is better equipped than the adult criminal justice system to rehabilitate offenders,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.  “Getting youth out of adult prisons is an important step and I commend Governor Cuomo for taking this action.  It is time for the Assembly and Senate to join him by making sure youth are not automatically charged as adults.”

“Our 171 years of work as an independent monitor of the New York State prison system has shown us prison is no place for children,” said Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association of New York, and co-chair of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice. “We have found extremely high levels of abuse and brutality by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision against 16- and 17-year-olds. The Governor, Assembly and Legislature of New York must do more to protect and help our children, and increase public safety, by passing comprehensive legislation that raises the age of criminal responsibility and provides a range of developmentally appropriate and rehabilitative options for youth.”

“This is a stop-gap to protect our children who have lingered in adult prisons inappropriately.  While this doesn’t Raise the age of criminal responsibly to catch up with 48 other states, it  will protect our vulnerable children until the Legislature does the right thing for all our children,” said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together in NYS.

“The adult criminal justice system is no place for our children,” said Reverend Michael Walrond, Senior Pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church. “They are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of other inmates and to re-offend later in life, continuing the cycle of incarceration that rips apart communities and steals vulnerable children’s futures. Governor Cuomo’s decision to move youth out of adult prisons is a great first step — now, our elected officials must pass comprehensive Raise the Age legislation.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco stated, “It’s time for State lawmakers to come together on common sense legislation to raise the age of criminal prosecution in New York from 16 to 18 years old.  Young people must be held accountable for any crime they commit, but they should not be confined with adults that could influence any future criminal behavior.”

“New York cannot remain one of two states where youth are automatically charged as adults,” said Elaine Spaull, Rochester City Councilmember.  “The Governor’s step of complying with Federal Law and moving youth out of adult prisons is an important first step, although it just the beginning as we need comprehensive reform as well.”

“There are many flaws in the American Criminal Justice System and the most convenient solution to these problems has been to send many people to prison,” said Harry Belafonte. “Not only is this process unjust, but it has done much to destabilize families and communities. Perhaps the most immoral of these solutions is the process used in punishing young people of color. I firmly believe that young people should not be tried as adults and New York needs comprehensive legislation to remedy this injustice.”

About the Raise the Age NY campaign:

Raise the Age NY is a public awareness campaign that includes national and local advocates, youth, parents, law enforcement and legal representative groups, faith leaders, and unions that have come together to increase public awareness of the need to implement a comprehensive approach to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York State so that the legal process responds to all children as children and provides services and placement options that better meet the rehabilitative needs of all children and youth.

New York is one of only two states in the country (the other is North Carolina) that have failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed – adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn’t work for them and doesn’t work for public safety. 

Children who are prosecuted as adults are more likely to continue committing crimes in the future. Children who are treated as children are more likely to stay out of jail, and out of the justice system:

  • Studies have found that young people prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system are 34% more likely to be re-arrested for violent or other crime than youth retained in the youth justice system.
  • A study comparing youth prosecuted in New York’s adult courts to young people prosecuted for the same felonies in New Jersey’s juvenile courts found that the New York youth were more likely to recidivate . Not only were New York youth 100% more likely to rearrested for a violent crime, they also had higher re-incarceration rates and shorter time periods to re-arrest than their New Jersey peers.
  • In 2013, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission found that when the state began prosecuting 17-year-olds as juveniles, juvenile crime continued to decline. Moreover, between 2010 when the law changed, until 2013, the state experienced a 14% decrease in violent crime. Contrary to what opponents had predicted, including 17-year-olds did not overload the juvenile justice system, nor did it increase juvenile offenses.
  • Research into brain development underscores that adolescents are in fact children and that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25:
  • As the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, adolescents’ behavior is often impulsive and they lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior.
  • Because the adolescent brain is still developing, the character, personality traits and behavior of adolescents are highly receptive to change; adolescents respond well to interventions, learn to make responsible choices, and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior.

Raise the Age NY is a campaign that supports raising the age of criminal responsibility for all children in New York to improve outcomes for children and public safety.

For more information about the Raise the Age campaign, visit

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