NY’s Successful Raise the Age Campaign
After years of advocacy, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation last month that raises of the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, with a two stage phase-in process. We spoke with New York Children’s Defense Fund’s Director of Youth Justice Beth Powers about the success of the Raise the Age NY campaign.
Raise the Age legislation in New York finally aligns the state's practice with what brain science has long told us, kids need different responses than adults. The bill ensures that youth charged with misdemeanor offenses are seen in the Family Court. In addition, the legislation mandates all youth involved in felony cases are heard through a Youth Part of adult criminal court. Youth with non-violent felony offenses can have their case automatically transferred down to family court, unless the DA shows “extraordinary circumstances” as to why the case should remain in the Youth Part. Youth with violent offenses may also have their cases transferred the family court, except in certain circumstances. Youth in the Youth Part are referred to as “adolescent offenders” and their age must be taken into account during sentencing.
Powers notes that this a “a monumental step” that ensures the “majority of cases go into Family Court.”
The bill also includes protections mandating that youth are held separately from adults, removing youth from Rikers Island, allowing for record sealing after ten years, and requiring parental notification upon arrest as well as parental involvement during questioning.
So what led us here?
Powers asserts the success of Raise the Age was the culmination of years of work organizing and increasing public awareness that New York was one of two states where young people were processed as adults. Powers believes “having strong advocates around the state and a diversity of supporters” pushed the needle forward on policy reform. Prominent activists like Shaun King helped galvanize public support on social media and faith communities rallied behind the legislation by holding events. “You want everyone’s voice to be heard” in the legislative process, Powers said.
The Raise the Age NY coalition used a number of tactics to move the legislation. “This became a key issue that would be settled in the [Governor’s] budget and became the subject of intense negotiation. We fought to make it a priority,” Powers says.
The campaign was no easy task, but with persistence, advocates witnessed a legislative victory that improves the treatment of NY youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
Implementation is the next step
“We still have a lot of work left. Passing the legislation was a huge victory, but implementation is where the rubber meets the road. We continue to work as a coalition to ensure rigorous implementation and explore other avenues of reform,” said Powers.
For an official summary of the New York State Raise the Age reform bill, visit here.