By Crystal Peoples-Stokes
For too long, New York State and North Carolina were the only states that enforced a controversial and regressive policy of incarcerating juveniles with adults. This is criminal irresponsibility that blurs the line between youths and adults in the criminal justice system.
This policy simply ignored the scientific fact that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Juveniles convicted of nonviolent crimes and incarcerated with adults face challenges becoming a contributor to society upon release.
We have a school-to-prison pipeline and to reverse this, schools have adopted restorative justice policies. To fix the regressive and destructive policy of juvenile incarceration with adults, New York State successfully adopted raising the age for adult criminal responsibility.
This policy represents a small part of larger necessary reforms and will result in a culture change in our criminal justice system. All misdemeanor charges under the Penal Law would be handled in Family Court, and all felony charges would begin in a newly established Youth Part of the criminal court.
Nonviolent felony charges would be transferred to Family Court unless the district attorney makes a motion demonstrating extraordinary circumstances that justify retaining the case in the Youth Part of the criminal court.
Juveniles will be removed from county jails starting on Oct. 1, 2018, for offenders under the age of 17 and Oct. 1, 2019, for offenders under the age of 18. When detention is necessary, they will be held in local youth detention facilities certified and regulated by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS).
Juveniles convicted in the Youth Part of criminal court and sentenced to state prison will be incarcerated in an adolescent offender facility operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision with programs provided by the OCFS.
Additionally, to aid formerly incarcerated individuals in re-entering our society, defendants of any age who are convicted of certain nonviolent offenses could apply to the court for a sealing of their record after a 10-year waiting period following the completion of their sentence.
The change in treatment of juveniles is important because it will strengthen families in our communities across the state. Under the new law, cases involving 16- and 17 year-old defendants will be eligible for new pathways in our justice system.
These pathways focus on intervention services and supportive programming as opposed to sentencing with limited restorative goals.
Raising the age of adult criminal responsibility will increase the number of taxpayers and contributors to our society. These new reforms will have a “curb-effect” and positively impact all New Yorkers in all communities.
Crystal People-Stokes, D-Buffalo, represents the 141st District of the New York State Assembly.