The Raise the Age law that increased the age of criminal responsibility to 18 took full effect Oct. 1, but the influx of 17-year-olds being sent to age-appropriate courts presents challenges.
The first phase of the law was implemented Oct. 1, 2018, allowing 16-year-olds who committed misdemeanor offenses to be sent to Family Court, while those who were charged with felonies were sent to State Supreme Court’s newly-established Youth Part. Now, cases against 17-year olds will also be diverted to the juvenile courts.
Arrests Down 61%
So far, about 80 percent of 16-year olds who were arraigned in Youth Part were removed to Family Court, according to the de Blasio administration.
The city highlighted the steady decriminalization of conduct by 16- and 17-year olds, including a decrease in the number of teens arrested prior to the law taking effect. From October 2018 to June 2019, the first nine months after Raise the Age was implemented, misdemeanor arrests of 16-year-olds decline 61 percent compared to the same time period a year earlier.
“Kids should be treated like kids,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “With Raise the Age fully in effect, we’re finally able to do just that—marking another monumental step forward in our ongoing efforts to create a fairer and more humane criminal justice system for all New Yorkers.”
Last October, all 16- and 17-year-old detainees were moved from Rikers Island to Horizon Juvenile Center, which was operated jointly by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Correction. That transition hasn’t exactly been smooth: the Mayor’s Management Report found that the rate of staff being injured by teens on the job had quadrupled between July 2018 and June 2019 compared to the previous fiscal year.
Unions Sought Delay
Union officials from both Local 371 of District Council 37 and the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, which represents the Correction Officers currently staffing Horizon, repeatedly advocated that the transfer of 16- and 17-year olds be delayed, so that Youth Development Specialists could be trained in time to staff Horizon immediately before they arrived.
Despite these problems, ACS Commissioner David Hansell applauded the law for creating an “entirely new system for older adolescents.”
“Under Raise the Age, older adolescents in New York City have better access to age-appropriate services and programs designed to promote rehabilitation, positive behavior change and successful re-entry into the community all while preserving the safety and security of youth and staff and protecting public safety,” he said.
But some advocates worried that the influx of 17-year olds might strain the justice system: the city has estimated that annually, up to 25 percent more 17-year olds were arrested than 16-year olds.
Longer Processing Wait
Alice Fontier, managing director of the public-defender nonprofit the Bronx Defenders, told the news outlet The City that because the number of cases being handled could double, she feared that “we are going to see even longer arrest-to-arraignment times. And that’s a real issue.”
A spokesman for the Office of Court Administration said that “appropriate adjustments to staffing” would be made if there was an unanticipated influx of cases.
Additionally, there were concerns that more than 60 percent of 16-year olds who committed a felony were arrested on nights and weekends, when the Youth Part is closed, according to a report by the New York City Criminal Justice Agency that analyzed the first three months of Raise the Age. Teens who are arrested during off hours must appear before a magistrate, who moves the case to Family Court.
“If a child is arrested on a Tuesday night, they should be seeing a Youth Part judge Wednesday morning,” said Nikki Woods, an attorney at New York County Defender Services. “That’s not always the case.”
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