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Raise the Age Law Keeping Youth Out of Adult Prisons in New York but More Reforms Sought by Child Advocates

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Children's Defense Fund NY
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Youth were among those who campaigned for the Raise the Age law, which fully went into effect in 2019.

A law designed to keep young people away from hardened criminals in adult prisons seems to be doing just that. And a new study finds it’s also not saddling those who committed crimes before age 18 with the problems that can come with a record. We reported on the Raise the Age law when it went into effect in 2018. Marcy Mistrett is a research fellow at the Sentencing Project, and authored the report. She says the data show the number of 16- and 17-year-olds in adult prisons has effectively gone to zero. Those youth who were previously tried as adults for many offenses also avoid criminal histories.

“So we went from about 250,000 kids every single year getting criminal records before they turned 18 and we are now at about 50,000 that we can document, and I think it’s actually even lower than that.”

Mistrett adds that 16- and 17-year-olds, disproportionately young people of color, are mostly arrested for low-level offenses. Judges trained in adolescent development now review felony cases of 16- and 17-year-olds and send them to youth and family court. Julia Davis with the Children’s Defense Fund New York says the youth justice system also has been shrinking.

"The number of arrests have decreased, the number of young people going into placement, being adjudicated, and needing to be incarcerated in the family court system, or in the adult court system has gone down.”

The report notes that in 2016, there were more than 575 juveniles sentenced to state prison and almost 24-hundred in adult jails. By 2020, there were none. In addition, between 2010 and 2019, felony arrests of minors were down 53 percent. Davis says the age of youthful offender protections should be raised through 25, to prevent a criminal conviction that could impact things such as education and housing. She would also like to see more reforms that could improve youth development.

"Looking at the youngest kids who are still in family court, reducing incarceration, closing more youth prisons and reducing our reliance on institutions for young people who come into contact with the family court system."

Now, she hopes Governor Andrew Cuomo will sign another “raise the age” bill that makes the age of juvenile delinquency arrest and prosecution 12 years old, instead of 7.