By Dan Prager SYRACUSE N.Y. (NCC News) — New York’s new ‘Raise the Age’ laws are now in effect, marking a big reform for the criminal justice system.
The law works as promised, raising the age for minors that can be tried as an adult. Starting today, most 16-year-olds can no longer be tried as an adult in criminal court. One year from now, 17-year-olds will be treated the same. All minors currently held in prisons have been moved to juvenile detention centers today. Onondaga County Juvenile Justice Coordinator Lucien Elliott says it will allow children to be treated as children.
“In this law, there’s a presumption against incarceration,” he said. “When it goes to court, the courts are supposed to presume that they’re not going to detain these kids.”
The law’s goal is to give minors who made mistakes a second chance. To that end, the other portion of this law gives minors convicted of nonviolent crimes the opportunity to have their records sealed after 10 years. Syracuse Police Sergeant Richard Helterline says that will open up doors that these kids would have never seen.
“People are young at sixteen. I think this might give some of these kids if they made bad decisions as a juvenile a second chance,” he said.
The state cited neuroscience while lobbying for the new law, saying that the brain is not fully formed until the age of 25, which makes children more impulsive and less understanding of right and wrong. They also cited racial bias, noting that 80% of minors tried as adults are either Black or Latino, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Supporters of the law say that keeping minors in juvenile detention centers could be greatly beneficial to both the children and to society. Elliott noted that Hillbrook, the juvenile detention center in Syracuse, provides jailed children with a quality education and plenty of activities.
“They have a great program, they have an art program, they have schools,” Elliott said. “It looked clean, it looked like a school, other than that the doors locked at night.”
Elliott believes that it isn’t just the facilities themselves, but the environment the children are being held in that can make a difference.
“The biggest thing is that the youth won’t be held with adults, so they won’t have that bad influence,” he said.
Deputy Director of the Onondaga County Assigned Council Program Dave Savlov agreed, saying that prisons can sometimes turn one mistake into a lifestyle.
“[Juvenile detention centers] have councilors, they have people to talk to, and maybe [the children] don’t get that attention where they came from,” he said. “Some of them may need to go into these places to learn that there are people and resources that will listen to them, help them, guide them.”
The Raise the Age website notes that children who are sent to adult prisons are 34% more likely to return to prison later in life, as opposed to those tried as children.
New York was one of two states that automatically prosecuted 16 and 17-year olds as adults. North Carolina, the other state, has voted to change the law, and their ‘Raise the Age’ law will take effect in late 2019.