Written by Rich Forestano Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:00
A group of advocates gathered on the steps of the Nassau County Supreme Court last week to urge state officials to the raise the age a youngster can be tried as an adult. The Raise The Age Campaign, an advocacy group calling on the state to change the age, has garnered support from local officials to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to take action.
According to the Raise The Age Campaign, referencing a report by the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, some 50,000 16-and 17-year-olds are arrested and tried as adults in criminal court each year—the vast majority are minor crimes (74.4 percent are misdemeanors.)
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 how the laws affect young, developing youth.
“The human, financial and public safety cost 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.”
Tom Liotti, a lawyer who practices out of Westbury and is the village justice, sees cases where juveniles are tried as adults everyday.
“We have children who are charged with crimes and sometimes prosecuted as adults and that’s not fair,” Liotti says. “Why do we have juvenile delinquency laws if we’re going to change their status and make them criminals at an early age? Try adults as adults and children as children.”
A study from the National Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems says young people are 33.7 percent more likely to be re-arrested for a violent crime than youth retained in the juvenile justice system. The study also suggests that around 80 percent of youth released from adult prisons reoffend and 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.”
Dr. Nellie Taylor-Walthrust, Director of Outreach Services at North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center in Westbury, says that age rarely reflects how mature a person is.
“The development aspects have to be looked at. Statistically, young men don’t reach a level of maturity until they reach age 25 and up. Young teens may be 16, but their development might be younger. There’s got to be some consideration as to youth development,” Taylor-Walthrust said. “Part of adolescence is making poor judgment.”
She credits several factors as to why a young teenager might get involved with criminal activities, including family dynamics, socio-economics, and lack of exposure. She says that peer pressure, self esteem and a desire to belong also play a part.
“To deal with all their emotions and feelings they might self medicate with drugs and their jdugement is impaired. Anytime your judgement is impaired, you’re prone to make bad choices,” she said.
Currently, only New York and North Carolina prosecute children as adults starting at 16 years old in the United States.