Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility

[NYPT Summer 2018]

By Susanne Smoller LCSW-R, Juvenile Protection Specialist

In April 2017, New York State enacted Raise the Age legislation. The main components of this new law include the prohibition of 16 and 17 year-olds from being held in jails and prisons with adults; requires parents to be notified when children are arrested; requires misdemeanor cases be heard in Family Court; non-violent felonies with no extraordinary circumstances can be heard in Family Court; violent felonies can still be given adult sentencing, but the judge can take the youth’s age into account. Cases can also be sealed after 10 years. Governor Cuomo has also instituted a Raise the Age Task Force with social service and law enforcement experts to review the law’s implementation.

There are some implementation concerns. First, all youth should have been removed from Rikers Island, but this has not occurred. Also, there needs to be additional funding, staffing and training for people who work with juvenile offenders. This includes Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), Office and Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), and Division of Criminal Justice Services Office of Youth Justice (DCJS) entities.

The questions advocates need to focus on for the implementation of the October 1, 2018 deadline for 16 year-olds and October 1, 2019 deadline for 17 year-olds include: Is the Family Court system ready to handle the additional influx of cases? Are detention and treatment facilities equipped to start the process? Are funds adequate to support this transition?

PTA at both the national and state levels has advocated for this legislation. There are resources out there to help advocates stay up-to-date with the implementation of this legislation. They include: Raise the Age NY, Governor Cuomo’s official site, Office for Justice Initiatives, Correctional Association of NY, and Families Together in NYS.