Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00
Joseph Wood, a Mineola resident and founder of three transitional homes for at-risk youths and adults, is in full support of a group of advocates fighting to change a very old law in New York State: the age to prosecute youngsters as adults.
Currently, among U.S. states only New York and North Carolina prosecute children as adults starting at 16 years old. The Raise The Age Campaign, an advocacy group calling on the state to change the age, held a rally at the Nassau County Supreme Court House on Aug. 20 and has garnered support from local officials to press Governor Andrew Cuomo to take action.
According to Raise The Age, the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy reports some 50,000 youths ages 16 and 17 are arrested and tried as adults in criminal court each year—the vast majority for minor crimes (74.4 percent are misdemeanors).
Wood, 73, is retired and a former director of stewardship for the Diocese of Brooklyn. He operates and owns three Uniondale-based nonprofit homes for troubled youths and
adults. People are allowed to stay up to two years in dwellings.
Wood’s first home was Monica’s Manor. He was granted a 501(c)3 for the non-profit in 2002 and bought the house in 2005.
Wood thinks the age should be raised to 18.
“They can’t vote at 16, but they can be sat in a room filled with murderers? Yeah, they shouldn’t have to deal with that,” Wood said. “They’re still kids that young. At 18, they can do a lot of things they couldn’t do.”
In 2008, Wood’s brother-in-law Peter passed away, which prompted him to put a down payment on a second house, named Pete’s Place. In January 2011, Wood opened Rose’s Residence, named after Catholic Daughters of America’s Court of St. Rose of Lima. The Rose house holds the youngest residents.
“This idea of raising the age could create other programs to reach kids early enough to impart useful knowledge,” Wood stated. “There can never be enough outreach for the youth.”
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice supports the concept broadly according to a spokesperson, as long as it follows the legislative process. She spoke Tuesday on the law’s effects on developing youth.
“The human, financial and public safety costs of this archaic system are staggering,” said Rice. “I am looking forward to working with the incredibly diverse coalition of people and advocates behind us to do something about it.”
A study from the National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems says that around 80 percent of youths released from adult prisons re-offend, and they are more likely to commit more serious crimes.
“Each year, thousands of New York teens are arrested and prosecuted and punished as adults they have yet to become,” Rice said. “Regardless of the offense, they are automatically introduced to an adult justice system that only increases the likelihood of their one-day re-offending.”
Angelo Pinto, a Raise The Age Campaign organizer from the Correctional Association of New York, said children as young as 13 can be convicted of certain crimes as adults in the state. He’s focused on the process of a young mind witnessing the incarceration process and how it possibly damages them emotionally.
“What that means in New York State is that young children can be housed in adult jails,” said Pinto. “The harsh realities of what happens to youths that are housed in adult jails and facilities are tremendous: Physical violence, suicide or sexual violence and of course the trauma of going through incarceration.”
While Wood acknowledges that kids can be headstrong, he firmly believes in the possibilities -- and benefits -- of rehabilitation.
“I put the young people together in the house so they can learn from one another’s experiences,” he said. “I speak at the jail every week and I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years. I meet young people that are in there. They need role models; people that can tell them it will get better with hard work and dedication.”