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Trying to Get 16-and-17-year-olds Out of Adult Courts and Prisons


A coalition of criminal justice, children’s and civil rights groups is trying to change how teenagers are treated in the New York’s criminal justice system.  They want to keep young people accountable if they’ve committed a crime…but also preserve their future.

Ismael Rosario got swept up n New York’s Criminal Justice system after a fight with a girlfriend.

“I was 16.  I was arrested for assault in the first degree.  I was sent to Riker’s Island being charged as an adult.”

He ended up beaten badly in prison…a teen right alongside convicts serving long prison sentences.  The Raise the Age campaign is pointing out that New York is one of only two states, along with North Carolina, that tries 16 and 17 year-olds as adults for criminal offenses.  Center for Community Alternatives Director Marsha Weissman thinks it’s wrong.

“When young people are incarcerated in adult jails and prisons, they are much more vulnerable to both sexual assault and physical assault.  In the juvenile system, they would be in juvenile facilities.”

She adds an adult criminal record hurts job prospects, college acceptance and other things even years later.

"Yes we’re going to hold you accountable, and we’re going to do it in a developmentally appropriate way.  But you’re going to have a chance to move on with your life when your sentence is done.”

Raise the Age is trying to get New York to treat all 16 and 17 –year-olds as juveniles in the court system, in family court. 


Weissman says the move is supported by brain development science, which shows teens make poor decisions and are prone to risk-taking behavior. 

  • As the cognitive skills of adolescents are developing, adolescents’ behavior is often impulsive and adolescents lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior.
  • Because the adolescent brain is still developing, the character, personality traits and behavior of adolescents are highly receptive to change; adolescents respond well to interventions, learn to make responsible choices, and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior. (MacArthur Foundation)

She notes several lawmakers are proposing bills in Albany to make the change.  The campaign is detailed at