The Kids ‘Left Behind’ By New York’s Raise the Age Law

Juveniles under the age of 17 will no longer be prosecuted as adults under a state law that went into effect Oct. 1. But since the law isn’t retroactive, thousands of young people arrested earlier are caught in the old system—with potentially devastating consequences, advocates say.

It started with a cell phone.

Last summer, Jay (not her real name), a 16-year-old living in upstate New York, was convinced a woman had taken her mother’s phone, police say, and went to the woman’s house with three friends to retrieve it. They broke in, according to police, and took some other things—including jewelry and makeup—while they were there.

When the woman threatened to call the police, Jay tried to return the items, the police said, but she didn’t return all of them. The woman notified the police and Jay was arrested.

If the incident had happened today, Jay’s case most likely would have been resolved in family court, without criminal penalties. But since it allegedly happened last summer, she was charged as an adult in criminal court with burglary in the second degree, a violent felony that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

That’s because the state changed the way it treats 16-year-olds in the criminal justice system, starting on Oct. 1. Recognizing that teenagers like Jay are prone to impulsive behavior because their brains are still developing, New York lawmakers passed the Raise the Age law in 2017, shifting the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.

(For 17-year-olds, the law will change Oct. 1, 2019.)

Around 21,000 16- and 17-year-olds were arrested in New York last year. Before Raise the Age, New York and North Carolina were the only two states where those 16- and 17-year-olds were automatically prosecuted as adults in criminal court.

Under the new law, the vast majority of their cases will now be diverted to family court, which is meant to emphasize more age-appropriate solutions like counseling and community services over criminal punishment. Only the most serious cases will stay in a new youth part in criminal court.

But for 16-year-olds like Jay, whose cases were pending when Raise the Age went into effect, the old system is still in place. And research shows that system can do permanent damage to their well-being and derail their futures.

“There are kids similarly situated who are being treated totally differently,” said Jay’s attorney, Lauren Parnes. “They could have been arrested right afterward and these cases are now on two totally different tracks.”

For Parnes, the timing is particularly tragic in Jay’s case because this is her first arrest and she almost certainly would have benefited from having her case heard in family court rather than criminal court.

Jay’s mother is a drug user and frequently kicked Jay out of the house, Parnes said, leaving her homeless. Even when she was at home, the power and hot water were often shut off, Jay said, making her unable to shower for school. And Jay’s father lives more than 1,500 miles away in a different state.

Parnes declined to name the town where the alleged crime occurred or the prosecuting district attorney to protect her client’s identity.

In family court, she explained, a judge probably would have seen a girl in need rather than a criminal. The judge might have brought in the Department of Social Services, Parnes said, to help stabilize Jay’s housing and help her access things like food stamps and Medicaid.

“There’s all these sorts of needs that aren’t being addressed.”

Ramen and Mountain Dew

Jay’s situation has echoes across the state. In Schenectady, a 16-year-old was recently charged with third-degree robbery for allegedly stealing a pair of Jordan Pro Star sneakers and fourth-degree grand larceny in the theft of an Apple iPhone 7. Because the alleged robberies occurred in May rather than October, he now faces up to 11 years in prison.

In Plattsburgh, a 16-year-old boy was charged with third-degree burglary after breaking into his mother’s home last summer and stealing ramen and Mountain Dew. Thanks in part to prior arrests for crimes like petit larceny and unauthorized use of a vehicle, the teen’s attorney said, he was sentenced to six months in jail with five years probation.

The attorney, David Gervais, said he was especially disappointed that the judge would jail his client for stealing food.

 “It’s not like he went in to steal medication or to steal cash,” Gervais said. “He didn’t touch anything else. He just literally went in to get food.”

The teen needs rehab, not jail time, Gervais said. Neither the judge nor Andrew Wylie, Clinton County’s district attorney, responded to requests for comment.

Of course, many judges in adult court choose to sentence kids to probation rather than lock them up. Another 16-year-old, in the town of Attica, was arrested in September and charged with second-degree burglary for allegedly stealing an Xbox One from someone’s home.

Like Jay, he now faces up to 15 years in prison. But Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O’Geen said that’s unlikely to happen.

“It will most likely end with the defendant receiving a youthful offender adjudication (which means the criminal record will be sealed) and some term of probation,” O’Geen wrote in an email.

O’Geen added that the incident shouldn’t be downplayed.

“Whether the burglary was committed by a 16-year-old or a 61-year-old, it is still a violent crime and there is still a victim who now lives with the fact that someone has violated the sanctity of their home,” he wrote.

“Family Court is not the place to send cases for solutions as they have no teeth.”

But in criminal court, even probation often carries major risks for young offenders. In the New York City borough of The Bronx, Derek (not his real name), a 16-year-old who allegedly tossed away a gun during a police pursuit in June, was charged as an adult with gun possession. The judge offered him five years’ probation, but his attorney is worried that a mistake like smoking marijuana or missing too much school could land him in prison.

A family court judge might have placed him in a therapeutic group home for some period of time, or ordered him to attend outpatient programs to address substance use or mental health issues, notes Gregg Stankewicz, director of the Adolescent Defense Project at the Bronx Defenders.

And that’s a smarter approach than criminal punishment, he said.

The young people his team encounters live in over-policed communities, Stankewicz explained, and the vast majority grow out of the behavior that results in arrests.

“That’s why it’s so important that we don’t permanently set back these young people, either with a record or with the physical and mental harm that can come from incarceration,” he said.

That approach benefits public safety as well, he said. Several studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to reoffend than those treated as juveniles.

“For the health of the community and the child,” Stankewicz said, “we need a more rehabilitative system that’s focused on repair.”

While many public defenders want Raise the Age to go further, some prosecutors question whether it’s needed at all. The District Attorneys Association of New York referred a request for comment for this story to Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan, a member of its executive board.

Jordan said that even before the law, less than 5 percent of the 16- and 17-year-olds arrested ended up with permanent records.

Prosecutors have long offered young people access to diversion programs, he said, and used incarceration only as a last resort.

“We’ve always looked at a 16-year-old as a 16-year-old,” Jordan told The Appeal. “Sometimes their actions are such that there’s a different consequence, but we never lose sight of the fact that they’re a 16-year-old.”

Nancy Ginsburg, director of the Legal Aid Society’s Adolescent Intervention and Diversion Project, pushed for the law, yet acknowledges that some judges and prosecutors in the adult system assess teens’ cases fairly.

But she said adult court lacks the breadth of services and legal options available in family court.

“It’s just not possible to fairly adjudicate kids in a system that was created for adults,” she said.

There are already signs that some district attorneys will resist the new law. Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokesperson for the Bronx DA’s office, said cases are assessed “on an individual basis.”

But even now, the office would argue to keep cases involving 16-year-olds with guns in criminal court.

“Since the Raise the Age law went into effect if [a] 16-year-old is charged in a gun case, we would ask to keep that case under ‘extraordinary circumstances,’” she said, alluding to a provision in the law that prevents some cases from being transferred from criminal to family court.

What Constitutes ‘Extraordinary’ Circumstances?

Stankewicz of the Bronx Defenders finds it troubling that the DA is looking to exclude certain groups of teenagers from the law’s protections. “If the District Attorney’s office believes every gun possession case is ‘extraordinary,’ they misunderstand the nature of Raise the Age,” he wrote in an email.

The law states that absent “extraordinary circumstances,” a gun possession case would stay in criminal court only when a firearm is displayed. “A blanket position that every firearm possession amounts to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ would be an attempt to get around the intent of Raise the Age,” he wrote, “and to continue using the adult criminal justice system against children.”

As prosecutors and public defenders debate the new law, some attorneys say the kids who just missed it should be part of the conversation.

“The reason they implemented this legislation existed when my client allegedly committed this crime,” said Parnes, Jay’s lawyer, who said she thinks the law should have covered 16-year-olds whose cases were still pending when it went into effect.

Brian Degnan, who represented the teen who allegedly stole the Xbox, agrees. He said he tried to argue that point in court, but the judge in the case, Michael Mohun, said his hands were tied by the law. (Through a spokesperson, Mohun said he could not comment on the case.)

But Degnan doesn’t blame the judge for his client’s misfortune.

“He’s getting lost in the legislative shuffle,” Degnan said. “I think it was very short-sighted on the part of the legislature.”

 The kids who were left behind have reached the attention of the state legislators who shepherded Raise the Age to passage, according to Cathy Peake, chief of staff for Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who was a lead negotiator on the law. Lentol’s office has heard concerns about 16- and 17-year-olds still being charged as adults.

Emboldened by Democrats gaining control of both houses of the state legislature, Peake said the office is starting to hold meetings to discuss Raise the Age fixes, such as requiring courts to automatically seal the cases of 16- and 17-year-olds arrested or convicted before the law took effect.

“It’s not uncommon that we fight to get a good law and then we come back to make it even better,” she said.

For now, however, Jay is on edge. She is living out of state with her aunt and uncle and trying to get her GED. “I’m doing so good out here,” she said.

But with her case still open, the threat of incarceration is hanging over her head.

“Doing jail time really scares me,” she said.

If she were given a chance to take her case to family court instead, “maybe they would have seen that I really made a mistake,” she said, “and that I’m trying to change.”

Cassi Feldman is a 2018 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow. The Crime Report is pleased to co-publish this article, which also appeared today in The Appeal. Reader’s comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Young, Black and Charged as Adults

African-American teens in Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county were 20 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested and charged as adults in 2016 and 2017, according to a newspaper investigation.

Denzel Glover was 16 when he was arrested and taken to Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Jail for shooting another teen in September 2016. Kiyon Swindle was 17 when he was arrested in March 2017 for leading Allegheny County police on a high-speed chase that ended with Swindle crashing a stolen vehicle into another vehicle, injuring several people.

Tomichael Sherrell was just 15 when he was arrested and charged with robbery, and 16 when he was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty to felony robbery. He spent nearly a year in county jail because he could not pay cash bail.

From the moment Sherrell, Swindle, and Glover were charged, they were treated as adults, held in adult jail, and then prosecuted by the Allegheny district attorney’s office and convicted as adults.

Pennsylvania law requires that people who are accused of serious felony offenses like murder, robbery and aggravated assault, and are at least 15 years old, be charged as adults if the case involves the use of a weapon during the crime or if the person has a history of using a weapon.

But these cases can be diverted to the juvenile system by prosecutors after defendants are charged. Despite numerous opportunities, the district attorney’s office never moved Sherrell, Swindle or Glover from adult court to the juvenile system.

Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that advocates for juveniles, told The Appeal that “nothing good” comes from incarcerating and prosecuting children as adults.

“You’re removing kids from their communities,” she said. “That’s strike one.”

Swindle, Glover, and Sherrell have something in common with majority of children charged and tried as adults in Allegheny, Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county with over 1.2 million residents.

They are African American.

Allegheny County Jail

Allegheny County Jail. Photo via Flickr

The Appeal reviewed all charging dockets filed in magisterial district judge offices in Allegheny County in 2016 and 2017 and found nearly 200 cases where teens were charged as adults by the district attorney’s office. In more than 80 percent of those cases, the defendant was African American.

The review only tracked cases where the defendant was under the age of 18, both when the offense occurred and at the time charges were filed.

Black youth only account for about 20 percent of the total youth population age 14-17 in Allegheny County, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. But African-American teens in the county were 20 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested and charged as adults in 2016 and 2017, The Appeal found.

The Appeal made multiple attempts to reach Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office for comment but received no response.

*“There’s all of this implicit, and sometimes explicit, bias that drives law enforcement into [minority] communities and that drives these kids into our justice system,” Levick said.

And that racial disparity only grew as cases moved through Allegheny County’s system.

In 2016 and 2017, Black teens in the county accounted for about 85 percent of children charged in adult court, 91 percent of those referred for prosecution, nearly 97 percent of those who received an adjudication, and 100 percent of all children sentenced to either jail or prison, according to The Appeal’s review of court records. Black teens were also 85 times more likely to be prosecuted in adult court than their white peers.

The Appeal also found that prosecutors were less likely to withdraw cases against Black teens early in the proceedings, before those cases reached the trial court. And in Pennsylvania, withdrawing can often indicate that a case might move from adult to juvenile court.

Of the six cases involving a white teen sent to Zappala’s office, The Appeal found only two criminal dockets in the higher court. In one case, the defendant died before trial; the other was still active at the time of The Appeal‘s review.

Conversely, about 70 cases involving Black teens were sent to Zappala for prosecution. From those cases, The Appeal found that Zappala’s office created 46 adult criminal dockets—28 of those cases have ended in a prison, jail or probation sentence; in three, Zappala’s office dropped all charges; and 15 are still awaiting adjudication.

Recent research suggests that sending teens through the adult justice system and incarcerating youth with adults can have grave consequences.

Youth held in adult prisons and jails are twice as likely to die by suicide  than their adult counterparts, and roughly 36 times more likely to die by suicide than their peers held in juvenile facilities.

Research has also found that young people sent through the adult justice system are more likely to commit new offenses, and commit them more quickly than similarly charged youth who went through the juvenile system.

As such statistics have come to light, courts and states have begun rethinking how they punish children.  Four U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that the death penalty and mandatory life without parole sentences for children are unconstitutional. In one such ruling, the high court noted that “adolescent brain anatomy can cause transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.”

States have also moved away from the “adult time for adult crime” and “superpredator” narratives of the 1980s and 1990s. In 2016, the Vermont legislature passed a law allowing people 21 and younger, and charged with certain nonviolent offenses, youthful offender status and adjudication through the juvenile system.

Last year, New York raised its age of adult criminal liability from 16 to 18; in October, Washington State’s Supreme Court held that life without parole sentences were unconstitutional for individuals convicted of offenses they committed as children.

The American Bar Association now recommends that children “be treated as juveniles in the court justice system, with a focus on rehabilitating rather than simply punishing.”

But there’s movement in Pennsylvania, too.

In 2014, the state Supreme Court determined that lifetime sexual offender registration for individuals who committed offenses when they were children was unconstitutional and a violation of state law. The lower court cited a growing body of research regarding youth brain development and delinquent behavior, noting that “lifetime registration is also contrary to the rehabilitative goals of our juvenile justice system, as a court of second chances.”

And the conservative columnist George F. Will recently urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take a juvenile life without parole case out of Mississippi to force the state to take seriously its rulings granting parole eligibility to youth who are not “permanently incorrigible.”

The attorney for Joey Chandler, the lifer in the case, argued that he has been incarcerated “virtually without disciplinary blemish and that he excelled in job training programs offered at the prison.”

“Accountability matters,” Levick of the Juvenile Law Center said. “But accountability in developmentally appropriate ways is what we should be focused on.”

Joshua Vaughn is a 2018 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story that appeared this week in The Appeal. The full version can be accessed here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

After Raise the Age, Where Will Adolescent Offenders Go?

New York has finally joined other states in barring 16- and 17-year-oldswho get in trouble with the law from being tried as adults. But now officials are scrambling to find a secure place to house them and keep them out of the justice system.

On Oct. 1, the first phase of a New York State law known as “Raise the Age” took effect, meaning 16-year-olds can no longer be arrested or tried as adults. A year from now, the law will extend to 17-year-olds as well.

Authorities are just beginning to grapple with the next challenge: Where will these young offenders be housed?

New York’s Albany County, which encompasses the state capital district, is upgrading a facility in Colonie, N.Y., not far from the county jail, to accommodate the new class of youthful offenders.

Senior Investigator Shawn Noonan, the commanding officer of Professionals Standards for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, calls it a “two-pronged approach”—and the first prong involves upgrading security.

jail

The Capital District Detention Facility in Colonie, N.Y., is being upgraded in anticipation of taking older offenders, aged 16 and 17 years, following the implementation of the state’s Raise the Age legislation. Photo by Michael Koff/The Enterprise

He said that the new facility must take into account that some of the youths may have committed “serious crimes,” and need to be held securely to avoid dangers to others, even as it seeks to make the facility “less institutionalized” in the hope of decreasing recidivism and providing troubled young people with an alternative to jail.

The Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility, which primarily serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties, is one of only eight secure facilities in the state, which are the only institutions qualified to take in detained 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds.

New York used to be just one of two states that prosecuted 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Only North Carolina remains. In five states—Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, and Texas—17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults.

Thirteen states—Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have no minimum age for prosecuting a child as an adult.

Under New York’s new law, 16-year-olds must be placed in settings appropriate for their age, rather than in jail; those charged with non-violent crimes are to be diverted into community-based programs just like offenders who are 15 and younger.

Sixteen-year-olds arrested on serious charges will go to a youth part of criminal court and be placed in secure detention facilities for adolescents.

A 16-year-old in New York now has several different paths that he or she can follow, according to Noonan, who has been helping with several Raise the Age transitions, including upgrading the county’s juvenile facility to house adolescent offenders, as well as dealing with changes in policy for arresting and charging them.

Sent to Family Court

Any 16-year-old charged with a penal misdemeanor after Oct. 1 will be sent to Family Court, so that he or she will not have a permanent criminal record. If the youth is pulled over for a vehicle or traffic misdemeanor, or a violation, he will go to the local court.

But if that 16-year-old is charged with a felony, he’ll be sent to the newly created Youth Court.

In Albany County, the Youth Court will be in the same building as Family Court and will be overseen by Family Court Judge Richard Rivera, said Noonan.

The 16- and 17-year-olds whose cases remain in Youth Court will be known as adolescent offenders; their counterparts aged 13 to 15, known as juvenile offenders, will be tried in the Youth Court as well. According to the Raise the Age law, adult sentencing will apply, but the judge must take the adolescent offender’s age into account when sentencing, and he or she is eligible for youthful-offender treatment.

In the court system, public defenders will be trained to represent someone in the Youth Court, said Susan Bryant, the acting director for the New York State Defenders’ Association.

Public defenders are also participating in local conversations on county plans for implementation of Raise the Age, which include addressing social services, probation, and transportation.

There is still concern about minors being detained as juveniles, she said.

“It’s certainly a step hopefully towards continued reform,” she said. “I’m not sure if this is the best structure for it, but we will see how it goes.”

One debate is over whether all cases should begin in Family Court, said Bryant. She noted a judge may treat a 16- or 17-year-old more like an adult since they appear older.

Judicial education is needed, Bryant said, although the Youth Court judges being trained to work with adolescent offenders may also be serving in Family Court.

table

A map of New York shows eight secure juvenile detention facilities in red, which are able to hold adolescent offenders. Another two dozen non-secure facilities are marked in blue. Counties shaded in purple are in a partnership to share Albany County’s facility; those shaded in lavender have side agreements to send adolescent offenders to Albany County’s facility. Courtesy The Enterprise.

 

New York has two dozen detention centers for juveniles 16 and younger, scattered across the state. Under the new law, New York has eight secure facilities for adolescent offenders who are awaiting trial and for those convicted and sentenced to less than a year.

The goal is to avoid young people being held far from their homes and families, said David Condliffe, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Community Alternatives and a member of the state’s Raise the Age task force.

Adding ‘Trauma to Trauma’

“Imagine you’re 16 years and you find yourself hundreds of miles from home … It adds trauma to trauma,” said Condliffe.

Condliffe said incarceration has decreased in places like New York City, due to a focus on alternatives to incarceration, while incarceration has increased in rural parts of the state, an assertion backed up by data from the Vera Institute.

Sixteen- and eventually 17-year-olds who face trial in Youth Court must now be held for trial in youth facilities if a judge determines there is a need for pre-trial detention. They can no longer be held in county jails as adults, but instead must be held in separate wings of secure youth facilities, or “specialized secure juvenile detention facilities for older youth.”

Adolescent offenders will be detained in county-operated facilities located in Buffalo and Rush, a suburb of Rochester, as well as in Onondaga, Albany, Westchester, and Nassau counties, according to Monica Mahaffey, a spokeswoman for the Office of Children and Family Services.

They may be held at such facilities not only during pre-trial detention, but also if their sentence is one year or less following conviction.

“OCFS and the State Commission on Correction certify and regulate the detention centers. Counties operate them,” Mahaffey wrote in an email to The Enterprise. “Every county is not required to operate a facility, but every county must have a facility available for its use.”

She noted that these facilities are not to be located at county jails, but can be at juvenile secure detention facilities if the offenders are separate from the younger juvenile delinquents and juvenile offenders.

Alex Wilson, associate counsel for the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said that lately the association members have frequently discussed the issue of so few secure facilities in the state, especially upstate.

But beyond transportation, there are concerns about having enough beds, or places for the 16-year-olds, Wilson said.

“It certainly presents a problem,” said Bryant. Currently, she said, no 16-year-old has been sent to a secure facility.

Bryant said a number of counties are considering alternatives to using one of the eight secure facilities. For example, Tompkins County, in central New York on the edge of the Southern Tier, is considering creating a specialized secure facility to be shared among counties in the Southern Tier, she said.

On Oct. 16, the Tompkins County Legislature authorized the county to enter into an agreement to form a local development corporation to create a new specialized secure detention facility.

In April, the Tompkins County joined 10 other counties in a coalition to explore Raise the Age issues, including where to house adolescent offenders.

“The problem is the law requires them to be in these specialized facilities, but the cost of every county having one just doesn’t necessarily make any sense,” Bryant said.

“But from the defense perspective we want our clients to be as close to home as possible, as close to a lawyer as possible so that they can have regular communication and aren’t being transported across the state for a court appearance.”

Wilson noted that there has been a lot of discussion on treating 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults upon their arrest. He said that their detention will have to take place in special rooms separate from where adult offenders are detained upon their initial arrest up until they are arraigned in court.

But Wilson said that the Raise the Age legislation is written with the presumption that most young offenders will not be detained; he believes most are or will be released on their own recognizance and that probation officers and ankle monitors will be more often used than jail time.

The goal of the legislation and the presumption is that, when someone is brought into the Youth Court, they will be released, Bryant said.

But finding secure facilities for those who require it remains a hurdle.

“You’re trying to find balance,” said McLaughlin, explaining that the county cannot have too few beds or suffer as some facilities have from having too many empty beds after overbuilding.”

Juvenile detention in New York has been reduced by over half since 2010 due to diversion and prevention programs, said Mahaffey.

“Raise the Age provides an opportunity for the same strategies to be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds,” she wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of an article by H. Rose Schneider, a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow, written as part of her fellowship project. The complete story, published in the Altamount Enterprise, can be viewed here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

After Raise the Age, Where Will Adolescent Offenders Go?

New York has finally joined other states in barring 16- and 17-year-oldswho get in trouble with the law from being tried as adults. But now officials are scrambling to find a secure place to house them and keep them out of the justice system.

On Oct. 1, the first phase of a New York State law known as “Raise the Age” took effect, meaning 16-year-olds can no longer be arrested or tried as adults. A year from now, the law will extend to 17-year-olds as well.

Authorities are just beginning to grapple with the next challenge: Where will these young offenders be housed?

New York’s Albany County, which encompasses the state capital district, is upgrading a facility in Colonie, N.Y., not far from the county jail, to accommodate the new class of youthful offenders.

Senior Investigator Shawn Noonan, the commanding officer of Professionals Standards for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, calls it a “two-pronged approach”—and the first prong involves upgrading security.

jail

The Capital District Detention Facility in Colonie, N.Y., is being upgraded in anticipation of taking older offenders, aged 16 and 17 years, following the implementation of the state’s Raise the Age legislation. Photo by Michael Koff/The Enterprise

He said that the new facility must take into account that some of the youths may have committed “serious crimes,” and need to be held securely to avoid dangers to others, even as it seeks to make the facility “less institutionalized” in the hope of decreasing recidivism and providing troubled young people with an alternative to jail.

The Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility, which primarily serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensselaer counties, is one of only eight secure facilities in the state, which are the only institutions qualified to take in detained 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds.

New York used to be just one of two states that prosecuted 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Only North Carolina remains. In five states—Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, and Texas—17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults.

Thirteen states—Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia—have no minimum age for prosecuting a child as an adult.

Under New York’s new law, 16-year-olds must be placed in settings appropriate for their age, rather than in jail; those charged with non-violent crimes are to be diverted into community-based programs just like offenders who are 15 and younger.

Sixteen-year-olds arrested on serious charges will go to a youth part of criminal court and be placed in secure detention facilities for adolescents.

A 16-year-old in New York now has several different paths that he or she can follow, according to Noonan, who has been helping with several Raise the Age transitions, including upgrading the county’s juvenile facility to house adolescent offenders, as well as dealing with changes in policy for arresting and charging them.

Sent to Family Court

Any 16-year-old charged with a penal misdemeanor after Oct. 1 will be sent to Family Court, so that he or she will not have a permanent criminal record. If the youth is pulled over for a vehicle or traffic misdemeanor, or a violation, he will go to the local court.

But if that 16-year-old is charged with a felony, he’ll be sent to the newly created Youth Court.

In Albany County, the Youth Court will be in the same building as Family Court and will be overseen by Family Court Judge Richard Rivera, said Noonan.

The 16- and 17-year-olds whose cases remain in Youth Court will be known as adolescent offenders; their counterparts aged 13 to 15, known as juvenile offenders, will be tried in the Youth Court as well. According to the Raise the Age law, adult sentencing will apply, but the judge must take the adolescent offender’s age into account when sentencing, and he or she is eligible for youthful-offender treatment.

In the court system, public defenders will be trained to represent someone in the Youth Court, said Susan Bryant, the acting director for the New York State Defenders’ Association.

Public defenders are also participating in local conversations on county plans for implementation of Raise the Age, which include addressing social services, probation, and transportation.

There is still concern about minors being detained as juveniles, she said.

“It’s certainly a step hopefully towards continued reform,” she said. “I’m not sure if this is the best structure for it, but we will see how it goes.”

One debate is over whether all cases should begin in Family Court, said Bryant. She noted a judge may treat a 16- or 17-year-old more like an adult since they appear older.

Judicial education is needed, Bryant said, although the Youth Court judges being trained to work with adolescent offenders may also be serving in Family Court.

table

A map of New York shows eight secure juvenile detention facilities in red, which are able to hold adolescent offenders. Another two dozen non-secure facilities are marked in blue. Counties shaded in purple are in a partnership to share Albany County’s facility; those shaded in lavender have side agreements to send adolescent offenders to Albany County’s facility. Courtesy The Enterprise.

 

New York has two dozen detention centers for juveniles 16 and younger, scattered across the state. Under the new law, New York has eight secure facilities for adolescent offenders who are awaiting trial and for those convicted and sentenced to less than a year.

The goal is to avoid young people being held far from their homes and families, said David Condliffe, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Community Alternatives and a member of the state’s Raise the Age task force.

Adding ‘Trauma to Trauma’

“Imagine you’re 16 years and you find yourself hundreds of miles from home … It adds trauma to trauma,” said Condliffe.

Condliffe said incarceration has decreased in places like New York City, due to a focus on alternatives to incarceration, while incarceration has increased in rural parts of the state, an assertion backed up by data from the Vera Institute.

Sixteen- and eventually 17-year-olds who face trial in Youth Court must now be held for trial in youth facilities if a judge determines there is a need for pre-trial detention. They can no longer be held in county jails as adults, but instead must be held in separate wings of secure youth facilities, or “specialized secure juvenile detention facilities for older youth.”

Adolescent offenders will be detained in county-operated facilities located in Buffalo and Rush, a suburb of Rochester, as well as in Onondaga, Albany, Westchester, and Nassau counties, according to Monica Mahaffey, a spokeswoman for the Office of Children and Family Services.

They may be held at such facilities not only during pre-trial detention, but also if their sentence is one year or less following conviction.

“OCFS and the State Commission on Correction certify and regulate the detention centers. Counties operate them,” Mahaffey wrote in an email to The Enterprise. “Every county is not required to operate a facility, but every county must have a facility available for its use.”

She noted that these facilities are not to be located at county jails, but can be at juvenile secure detention facilities if the offenders are separate from the younger juvenile delinquents and juvenile offenders.

Alex Wilson, associate counsel for the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said that lately the association members have frequently discussed the issue of so few secure facilities in the state, especially upstate.

But beyond transportation, there are concerns about having enough beds, or places for the 16-year-olds, Wilson said.

“It certainly presents a problem,” said Bryant. Currently, she said, no 16-year-old has been sent to a secure facility.

Bryant said a number of counties are considering alternatives to using one of the eight secure facilities. For example, Tompkins County, in central New York on the edge of the Southern Tier, is considering creating a specialized secure facility to be shared among counties in the Southern Tier, she said.

On Oct. 16, the Tompkins County Legislature authorized the county to enter into an agreement to form a local development corporation to create a new specialized secure detention facility.

In April, the Tompkins County joined 10 other counties in a coalition to explore Raise the Age issues, including where to house adolescent offenders.

“The problem is the law requires them to be in these specialized facilities, but the cost of every county having one just doesn’t necessarily make any sense,” Bryant said.

“But from the defense perspective we want our clients to be as close to home as possible, as close to a lawyer as possible so that they can have regular communication and aren’t being transported across the state for a court appearance.”

Wilson noted that there has been a lot of discussion on treating 16-year-olds and eventually 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults upon their arrest. He said that their detention will have to take place in special rooms separate from where adult offenders are detained upon their initial arrest up until they are arraigned in court.

But Wilson said that the Raise the Age legislation is written with the presumption that most young offenders will not be detained; he believes most are or will be released on their own recognizance and that probation officers and ankle monitors will be more often used than jail time.

The goal of the legislation and the presumption is that, when someone is brought into the Youth Court, they will be released, Bryant said.

But finding secure facilities for those who require it remains a hurdle.

“You’re trying to find balance,” said McLaughlin, explaining that the county cannot have too few beds or suffer as some facilities have from having too many empty beds after overbuilding.”

Juvenile detention in New York has been reduced by over half since 2010 due to diversion and prevention programs, said Mahaffey.

“Raise the Age provides an opportunity for the same strategies to be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds,” she wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

This is a condensed and slightly edited version of an article by H. Rose Schneider, a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow, written as part of her fellowship project. The complete story, published in the Altamount Enterprise, can be viewed here. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Moves Teens from Rikers Island: ‘Kids Will Be Treated Like Kids,’ says Mayor

The city Correction Department has completed the move of 16- and 17-year-olds off Rikers Island to juvenile facilities in what Mayor Bill de Blasio called “an historic day for criminal justice reform.” The long-awaited move comes as a new “Raise the Age” state law approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature that treats 16-year-olds accused of crimes as juveniles instead of adults took effect Monday.

The city Correction Department has completed the move of 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island to juvenile facilities in what Mayor de Blasio on Monday called “an historic day for criminal justice reform,” according to The New York Post. 

“Beginning today, no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island,” De Blasio said on twitter. “Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults,” 

“This is an historic moment for criminal justice reform and another step toward replacing Rikers Island with smaller, safer, more humane facilities that are closer to communities and loved ones.”

A new “Raise the Age” state law approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the  state legislature took effect Monday that treats 16-year-olds accused of crimes as juveniles instead of adults.

The law extends to 17-year-olds on Oct. 1, 2019.

All of the nearly 100 teenagers under the age of 18 on Rikers were transferred to the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center in the South Bronx, according to the Legal Aid Society and a release from the City, reports the Gothamist. 

In the future, 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious crimes will be sent to Horizon, while those charged with less serious crimes will be sent to Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Both facilities are operated by the City’s Administration for Children’s Services, (ACS), but Horizon will continue to be staffed and run jointly with the City’s Department of Correction; unions for the Correction Officers had sued to prevent this from happening, but last month a judge ruled that the 300 Correction Officers and 200 ACS employees had to show up to work.

Significantly, children jailed with adults are more likely to be beaten, raped, or commit suicide, and they’re also more likely to be arrested again than those who go through the juvenile jail system, writes Christopher Robbins in the Gothamist.

Now, teens under 18 charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies (barring “extraordinary circumstances”) will be referred to family court as juveniles; those charged with violent felonies will also be referred to family court, unless their case involves a weapon, serious injuries, or a sex offense, in which case they will be tried in a “youth part” of regular criminal court.

“While Raise the Age is a critical reform for New York’s criminal justice system, I have serious concerns that the city’s use of DOC staff in juvenile correction facilities will fundamentally undermine [the] goals and spirit of this landmark legislation,” Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman said in a statement.

“Officers trained in adult jails should not be supervising kids.”

This summary was prepared by TCR staff reporter Megan Hadley.

from https://thecrimereport.org

California Ponders Raise the Age Bill

A hearing on state Senate Bill 1391, which would prevent youths under 16 from being sent to adult courts, is scheduled Thursday. Supporters say it will reduce recidivism rates and better rehabilitate and prepare youth for successful, productive reentry into society.

A violent riot broke out in the yard on Michael Mendoza’s very first day in a state prison — a stark wake-up call to his new reality.

At age 15, Mendoza had been tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison.

“I thought, ‘This is my life, this is what it’s going to be like,’” Mendoza said of that day some 20 years ago. “It’s going to be very violent. And I was going to have to become something I wasn’t to survive – a violent individual.”

For certain crimes in California, teens as young as 14 can be sentenced as adults, and sent to prison for life, like Mendoza was. California Senate Bill 1391, now moving through the state legislature, aims to stop that in light of new understandings of brain development.

“Cognitive science has proven that children and youth who commit crimes are very capable of change,” said State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D), the bill’s author. “Sending youth to an adult prison does not help our youth and does not make our communities any safer.”

The bill, which has been passed on the Senate floor, is due for an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing on August 16. If passed, SB 1391 could become another piece of aggressive juvenile justice reform under the watch of outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown.

As the law now stands, teens aged 14 and up who are charged with certain serious offenses can be sent to adult court for adjudication at the behest of a judge via what’s called a transfer hearing. Young teens charged with murder and some sexual offenses are automatically transferred to adult court.

If SB 1391 becomes law, all 14- and 15-year olds charged with a crime would be handled in the juvenile justice system. Under no circumstances would anyone younger than age 16 be tried in adult court, even for murder charges.

“The youngest teens in our system need to be held accountable for their actions, but they’re also require age appropriate services and programs to rehabilitate and grow into mature, healthy adults,” Lara said.

Why Raise The Age?

Before 1994, youth under the age of 16 were always handled by the juvenile justice system in California. But amid the nationwide push to get “tough on crime,” the state lowered the age that youth could be tried as adults from 16 to 14.

Advocates point out the racialized nature of the “super-predator” era” of criminal justice reform that ushered in this law, and indeed, youth of color are disproportionately impacted. In the past 10 years, 50 percent of Latino and 60 percent of black juvenile offenders were sent to adult prison, compared to just 10 percent of white offenders, Lara said during the public safety hearing.

Data Source: California Department of Justice

In 2016, 32 14- and 15-year olds were tried in adult court, a sharp drop from the approximately 70 cases per year that has been the average for the past five, according to data provided by Sen. Lara’s office.

Supporters of SB 1391 argue that keeping 14- and 15-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system will reduce recidivism rates and better rehabilitate and prepare youth for successful, productive reentry into society.

These benefits are credited, in part, to the availability — and mandatory nature — of services such as education and counseling. But the other side of the coin is that keeping youth in the juvenile system protects them from the behaviors and personalities in adult prison.

“These youth are very young, very moldable,” said Israel Villa, a policy coordinator with the nonprofit MILPA Collective (short for Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement).

“Do we want these kids in a level four prison with the most violent offenders where they can be molded, utilized, often abused? Or do we want them in a juvenile facility amongst their peers with access to all these things to rehabilitate them?”

Mendoza, who was convicted at age 15 for his involvement in a gang-related shooting, recognized that being younger made him a target for manipulation. He felt he had to go along with older men’s orders to survive inside.

But then, 16 years into his life sentence, new hope came when a new bill brought the possibility of release.

Senate Bill 260, or the Justice for Juveniles with Adult Prison Sentences Act, which took effect in 2014, requires the parole board to review the cases of people who were under 18 at the time of their crime — and to “take into consideration the diminished culpability of juveniles as compared to that of adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the individual.”

Mendoza was approved for parole during his 17th year of incarceration.

“SB 260 sent me a message of hope from the community saying we understand you were at a very young age when you committed the crime and we believe that young people such as yourselves have the opportunity to mature and to grow,” Mendoza said.

Since being released, Mendoza has earned a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and is now a policy director for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. He believes that with SB 1391, youth offenders like himself can be rehabilitated without the hopeless years and added trauma he faced.

A Route to Rehabilitation or Coddling Criminals?

Opponents of the bill argue that the courts should have a right to determine the best system to adjudicate young offenders on a case-by-case basis.

“A lot of times, maybe adult prison is inappropriate, and the judges can make that call. But you’re essentially removing their ability to do that,”Jonathan Feldman, legislative advocate for the California Police Chiefs’ Association said at the public safety hearing.

Other opponents of the bill included the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs; the California District Attorneys Association; the California State Sheriffs’ Association; and the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

In the same hearing, Sen. Jeff Stone (R) described several especially awful crimes committed by teens who would be affected by this law, and asked Lara if he really thought such individuals could be truly rehabilitated.

“We have to remember that most juvenile offenders have been victims themselves, and being able to understand the entire story is something we can do in the juvenile justice system,” Lara responded.

Moreover, data shows that up to 70 percent of incarcerated youth have a mental health disorder or learning disability, and many of them have a history of trauma and abuse.

“These youth deserve to get the help that they need,” Valerie Thompson, Santa Cruz County’s assistant chief of probation, said in support of the bill during a public safety hearing. “The division of juvenile justice provides evidence-based therapeutic services that support youth to success.”

Villa, who has spent time in both juvenile and adult detention facilities, said there’s a significant difference between the two systems. In the juvenile system, detained youth are required to keep up with their education and participate in other rehabilitative activities. Adult prisons, on the other hand, are so overcrowded that accessing any type of services to better oneself can be difficult.

Villa was on a waiting list for two years just to get into a GED class. “I gave up — it’s not uncommon,” he said.

Mendoza was incarcerated for nearly 10 years before he finally decided to focus on his education; he said starting classes marked the beginning of his rehabilitation. In addition to the lack of access to programs, adult prisons, he said, aren’t conducive to pursuing self-improvement. Inside, survival is the main focus.

“Nobody can really concentrate on getting education when they are stressed out about their living situation,” Mendoza said.

A Turning Tide

While once a pipe dream for advocates, this bill seems to fit within a wider shift in paradigm on rehabilitating young people who run afoul of the law.

In addition to the landmark SB 260, several laws and court decisions have added to the growing consensus that young people who commit crimes have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adult offenders.

In 2005, the Supreme Court gave the following opinion in Roper v. Simmons:

“[t]he reality that juveniles still struggle to define their identity means it is less supportable to conclude that even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile is evidence of irretrievably depraved character.”

In 2016, California voters passed Prop 57, which repealed a 2000 law that allowed prosecutors — rather than a judge — to determine which juvenile cases should be tried in adult court.

For Mendoza, regardless of how a teen’s case winds up in adult court, the consequences they can face there are still beyond their comprehension.

“For me at the age of 15, it was beyond my understanding. I didn’t really understand it until years later,” once he was already in prison and watching others serve life sentences, Mendoza said.

Villa stresses the reality that most youth being sentenced — whether as juveniles or as adults — will eventually return to their community. Where they serve their time will inevitably have an indelible effect on the people they become.

“If we lock up and throw away these kids at such a young age into the system, that doesn’t bring just to our community or even to the victims because they become trapped in a system of violence and doesn’t prepare them to come home,” Mendoza said.

The Crime Report is pleased to co-publish this story with The Chronicle of Social Change, a national news outlet that covers issues affecting vulnerable children, youth and their families. Sign up for their newsletter or follow The Chronicle of Social Change on Facebook or Twitter. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Europe’s ‘Rehabilitative’ Approach to Young Adults Worth Examining by US: Study

A U.S. delegation to Germany, Croatia and The Netherlands last March found lessons that U.S. policymakers could learn as they consider expanding the age of criminal jurisdiction beyond 18, said a study released Tuesday.

The U.S. could take some useful lessons from the European approach to dealing with young adults who are involved with the justice system, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study, published in the Justice Evaluation Journal, examined juvenile justice models in Germany, The Netherlands and Croatia—all of which allow “emerging adults” over 18 to be handled in juvenile courts.

The “emerging adult” category, which covers individuals over the ages of 18 but younger than 25 (or in some cases 23) is already considered a special category in 28 European countries that merits “developmentally appropriate” responses, such as reduced sanctions or placement in juvenile detention.

The authors of the study focused on three alternative models based on the findings of a visit by U.S. policymakers, stakeholders and providers to Germany, Croatia and The Netherlands in March sponsored by the Columbia University Justice Lab.

“While those countries have distinct approaches to which courts, which facilities and at which ages emerging adults can benefit from juvenile laws and practices, they also have some commonalities worth examination by U.S. policymakers,” wrote the authors, Vincent Schiraldi of the School of Social Work & Justice Lab at Columbia University; Sibella Matthews, a graduate student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard; and Lael Chester of the Columbia Justice Lab.

Schiraldi, a former New York City probation commissioner, was a member of the delegation.

They listed the key takeaways as:

  1. Greater reliance on informal approaches to offending by juveniles and emerging adults;
  2. Higher minimum ages at which juvenile laws can be applied to children;
  3. Greater reliance on “educational” or rehabilitative approaches to youth found involved in delinquent or criminal behavior;
  4. Greater confidentiality protections for youth and young adults;
  5. Less reliance on incarceration.

The authors noted that the lessons drawn from each country were particularly timely as Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Vermont were considering becoming the first U.S. states to extend their juvenile courts’ jurisdictions beyond age 18.

Editors’ Note: For first-hand accounts of the fact-finding trip,  see also  In Germany, it’s Hard to Find a Young Adult in Prison.

The full report can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Raising Juvenile Age to 23 Produces Promising Results for Dutch: US Researchers

The results of 2014 legislation in the Netherlands are still inconclusive, but two Americans examining juvenile justice programs in Europe say early data suggest that the presence of older youth in juvenile court may promote more leniency for 16-17-year-olds.

Can The Netherlands teach Americans anything about how to address young, court-involved adults?

My colleague Lael Chester, Director of the Justice Lab’s Emerging Adult Project, and I recently spent two days in Rotterdam and The Hague touring the Dutch justice system as part of our exploration of how Croatia, Germany and the Netherlands work with young adults who become involved in the justice system.

We focused on the Netherlands’ approach to sentencing young people up to age 23 under juvenile law and, on the rare occasions they are incarcerated, confining them in juvenile facilities.

The Netherlands has had a separate juvenile code and judiciary for juveniles since the beginning of the 20th Century, and has debated special treatment for young adults since the 1950s.

In 2011, conservative Dutch State Secretary of Security and Justice Fred Teeven proposed to raise the age at which emerging adults could be treated as juveniles.

After several years of debate, the Adolescent Criminal Law passed in 2014, allowing youths whose crimes occurred prior to their 23rd birthday to be included in the juvenile system. Ironically, this wasn’t much of a legal change: it has been possible to sentence youth up to age 21 under Dutch juvenile law since 1965, but in practice this provision was rarely used.

Due to a quirk in adult vs. juvenile court funding, cases of youth over age 18 originate in adult, rather than juvenile court, which has limited the impact of the law. Some of those we interviewed seemed to consider the opportunity to sentence emerging adults under juvenile law as being limited to youth who demonstrated special immaturity, often through borderline IQ levels; to “juvenile” type offenses behavior; and to other indicators of immaturity like living with one’s parents, still being in school, and not yet attaining stable employment.

Dutch emerging adults are specially evaluated by probation and forensic psychologists who recommend whether they should be handled under adult or juvenile law. These evaluations were especially valued by several interviewees.

A range of “educational” options are available for young adults including specialized probation caseloads and rehabilitative programming. And, as mentioned above, if they are treated under juvenile law, they may be incarcerated in juvenile facilities.

A change in state vs. local funding for juvenile programs was enacted in 2015 which may be limiting the impact of the law by making accessibility of programs for juveniles, as one interviewee put it, “a pain in the ass.”

Several of those interviewed agreed, if more gently.

During our tour we interviewed a professor from Erasmus University Rotterdam’s School of Law who is also a part time judge (Jolande uit Beijerse); a full time juvenile judge (Lian Pit); a Rotterdam-area probation official (Ruben Laats); a prosecutor (Rolan van Dongen); a juvenile correctional administrator (Marijke van Genabeek); a defense attorney (Luns Van der Velden) and a group of researchers led by Andre van der Laan, PhD, from the Ministry of Security and Justice.

We toured a youth correctional facility in which young people could be confined for crimes they committed up to age 23. We also had the opportunity to sit in on the trial of an emerging adult and to chat with him before sentencing.

It’s still early, so there’s not much data on outcomes (but thankfully, van der Laan and his colleagues are conducting quasi-experimental research on the Adolescent Criminal Law’s impact).

Although only .9 percent of those 18 through 20 were tried under juvenile law prior to 2014, that percentage has steadily risen to 7.3 percent by 2016. Meanwhile, 1.1 percent of those 21-23 were sentenced as juveniles in 2016.

Dutch youth age 16 and 17 can be tried in adult court for more serious offenses, but that rarely happens.

An argument against raising the age beyond 18 in the U.S. is that crossing that line might make it easier for policymakers to cross the line the other way and try more juveniles as adults.

A counter-argument is that the presence of older youth in juvenile court may promote more leniency for 16 and 17-year-olds who were formerly considered older and more serious in juvenile court.

See also: Raise the Age, But By How Much?

Early results in the Netherlands—and they are early—seem to support the latter argument. Two-tenths of a percent of 16 and 17-year-olds were prosecuted as adults in 2016, down from 2.1 percent in 2014, a 90 percent decline in two years.

Put another way, in 2014, 3.1 percent of 18- to 23-year-olds in the Netherlands were tried as juveniles, while 2.1 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds were tried as adults. By 2016, only .2 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds were tried as adults while 4.7 percent of 18 to 23-year-olds were tried as juveniles.

The Dutch we interviewed were divided as to whether a system that more resembled the German system (where cases of emerging adults up to age 21 originate in juvenile court and two-thirds stay there) is better. Some felt more young adults should be treated in juvenile court; others were comfortable with such treatment being exceptional, while still others were waiting for the evidence to come in.

We’ll be paying close attention.

One final point…

There are about 400 youth incarcerated in public or private, non-profit facilities in the Netherlands, a nation of about 17 million people. That number is dwarfed by the 53,000 youth incarcerated in the U.S., a nation of 326 million.

The number of Dutch juvenile institutions has decreased dramatically from 15 facilities with 2,600 beds in 2007, to only five with 500 beds in 2016, despite adding the possibility of sentencing youth up to age 23 as juveniles.

Juvenile institutions are now under review nationwide, with the intention to switch to a customized system of local, small-scale facilities located near the youths’ own social network, combined with a few national facilities with specialized care and higher security.

Vincent Schiraldi

Vincent Schiraldi

A small-scale pilot was launched in Amsterdam in 2016 providing places for youth who attend school and/or work during the day and return to the shelter in the evening and on weekends.

(Lael and I, along with Harvard Kennedy School student Sibella Mathews, will be publishing a more formal article on those three countries later this year).

I’ll write more from our next stop, Croatia, soon…

Vincent Schiraldi is senior research scientist at the Columbia University Justice Lab. He has served as New York City Probation Commissioner and director of juvenile corrections for Washington, DC. An earlier blog describing his European trip can be accessed here. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Far Should ‘Raise-the-Age’ Reforms Go?

Some states are considering an increase in the age of adult jurisdiction beyond 18. But two Wisconsin researchers caution that might increase juvenile criminality.

While the US imposes an age of majority on youthful offenders at the age of 18, many other nations rely on higher ages such as 20 or 21 to demarcate the separation of juvenile offenders and juvenile correctional systems from their adult counterparts.

In recent years, many have argued that the US should move to a higher age of majority, such as 21. Such changes, generally known as “raise-the-age” reforms, are currently under consideration by several state legislatures, such as Connecticut and Illinois. Moreover, many states have already passed legislation raising the age of majority from 16 or 17, to the age of 18.

Advocates for these changes argue that corrections systems need to account for the lack of emotional, psychological, and intellectual maturity in youthful offenders. In particular, they argue that youthful offenders may not be mature enough to properly understand the costs of the harsher punishments that characterize adult correctional systems, and therefore to understand the consequences of their criminal acts.

If these youthful offenders are undeterred by adult punishments, then imposing harsh sanctions on youthful offenders will likely be ineffective at reducing crime and create additional costs for taxpayers and offenders, with no public safety benefit. As a result, the argument runs, raise-the-age laws represent relatively costless ways of reducing correctional costs and improving outcomes for youthful offenders.

Nicholas Lovett

Nicholas Lovett

A recent research paper co-authored by the two of us finds that this narrative of costless improvement is very likely incorrect. We find that youth are in fact deterred by the harsher punishments imposed at the age of majority.

In particular, we find that youth sharply reduce their offending at precisely the age of 18, when the imposition of harsher punishments presents real and palpable consequences. To reach our conclusions we analyzed high-frequency data that records all criminal offending in California for both juveniles and adults from 1998 to 2006. We constructed daily crime counts where crimes are organized by the precise age of offenders in days. We then used rigorous statistical techniques known as regression discontinuity designs to analyze the patterns of offending by youth immediately before their 18th birthday, and the patterns of offending by youth immediately after their 18th birthday.

Our principal finding is that youth criminality experiences a large, sharp, and discrete drop at precisely the age of 18 as a result of greater sanctions.

A key component of the analysis is that youthful offenders are essentially identical on either side of their 18th birthday; so unlike studies that rely on correlations between age, punishments and offending, our method likely reveals a causal channel between the punishments youth face and the level of criminal offending they engage in.

This stems from fact that youth are inherently the same in all respects at the age of 17 years and 364 days as they are at the age of 18 years and one day—with the only meaningful difference being that they are thrust into the harsher sanction regime of the adult justice and corrections system. Faced with this age-imposed change in how they are treated by the justice system, young people rationally choose to reduce their level of offending.

Yuhan Xie

Yuhan Xie

We also find that the prevalence of violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and assault by youthful offenders is more likely to change than other crimes. These violent crimes decline by up to 12 percent as a result of the greater sanctions imposed at the age of majority.

Our findings suggest that there is a slightly lower—up to eight percent—reduction in property crimes. Moreover, not all youth are equally deterred by the greater sanctions. While effects are present for both male and female offenders, the data suggest that female offenders respond more forcefully. Moreover, there are racial differences in the pattern of deterrence suggesting that perhaps not all youth face an equal jump in sanctions at age 18.

The result is hardly surprising from a theoretical standpoint. Researchers have long argued that offenders are deterred by harsher punishments. But our conclusions represent meaningful new findings in that deterrence has now been demonstrated for youthful offenders with the use of high-quality data. While it may still be the case that youth are less able to rationally process the threat of harsher punishments than mature adults, our paper casts substantial doubt on the oft-repeated claim that youth are categorically incapable of internalizing the costs of sanctions and reducing their prevalence of criminal acts.

Our findings imply that young people who have passed the age of majority at 18 are deterred from carrying out many crimes by being exposed to harsher adult sanctions. Reducing sanctions for those between the ages of 18 and 21 would likely lead to an increase in criminal offending.

Hence, raise-the-age policies extending the age of adult jurisdiction beyond 18 are far from the “costless improvements” that some have claimed, and would likely lead to greater rates of crime including violent crimes.

We refrained from considering past changes in the age of majority from 16 or 17, to 18. Our data only enables us to analyze the patterns of offending in California where the age of majority has been 18 for all the years in which high-quality data is available.

While we conclude that harsher sanctions imposed at age 18 have value in deterring crime, a truly comprehensive evaluation of raise-the-age policies would need to quantify costs and benefits in terms of public expenditures, as well as costs to offenders and victims. Such estimates have yet to be generated. As a result, further increases in the age of majority should be considered with great care.

Nicholas Lovett, Ph.D. is a researcher with the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He can be reached at: https://sites.google.com/site/nicholasblovett/home. Yuhan Xue, Ph.D. is a researcher with the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She can be reached at: https://sites.google.com/site/xueyuhan/. They welcome readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Raise the Age, But By How Much?

Long-overdue juvenile justice reforms have increased the age at which juveniles can be charged as adults to 17 or 18. But a few states want to increase it to as high as 21– an initiative that one justice researcher argues could be counterproductive.

The popularity of Raise-the-Age reforms, which have increased the age at which juvenile offenders can be tried in adult court, illustrates a long-overdue policy shift across the U.S. away from punishment and towards the rehabilitation of young offenders.

Now, some states, like Connecticut, Illinois and Vermont, are attempting to go further, by increasing the age of criminal majority from 18 to 21.

But these policies are not costless exercises, and states should be hesitant before moving in that direction.

Expanding the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system allows more young offenders to benefit from rehabilitation-focused services. Unlike adults, juveniles are usually offered a range of counseling, education and employment services, and do not receive permanent criminal records.

Opponents of rehabilitation-centered sentencing, however, argue that lighter sanctions will lead to higher levels of juvenile offending. This article delves into recent research on the deterrent impact of sanctions on juvenile offending, and discusses why both proponents and opponents must have a voice in the policy debate on juvenile crime.

The data suggest that criminal activity among juveniles is likely to increase in response to raising the age of criminal majority.

Raise-the-age reforms are supported by studies in criminology and economics that compare individuals directly above the age of criminal majority with those just below. By restricting attention close to the age of criminal majority, these studies focus on a sample of adolescents that are identical in all respects, except the severity of sanctions that they face. This exercise helps isolate the impact of sanctions on offending behavior.

The studies show that offending does not decrease as adolescents cross the age of criminal majority. That is, adolescent offenders do not seem to account for, or be deterred by, the severity of sanctions that they will face if they are caught. The usual interpretation is that adolescents are not psychosocially mature enough to be able to account for sanctions when making the decision to commit crime.

However, restricting attention close to the age of criminal majority ignores the process by which criminal opportunities arise. For instance, criminal opportunities may be determined by past behavior, such as previous criminal involvement or the criminal networks one has built up.

It is possible that those who are deterred by the threat of adult sanctions would react well in advance of actually reaching the age threshold. That is, they may desist from crime and remove themselves from criminal networks in anticipation of reaching the age of criminal majority.

For instance, if a juvenile wishes to exit a gang, he may not wait until the day before his 18th birthday to do so.

In a working paper, I take this longer-term approach seriously and show that harsh sanctions can deter juvenile offenders. In effect, previous studies may be focusing on those who are least likely to be deterred by harsh sanctions. The argument is that individuals that surround the age of criminal majority have chosen to maintain their involvement in crime, while those who are deterred have already exited in anticipation of these sanctions.

Consistent with this argument, I show that recent changes to the age of criminal majority in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire led to sizable reactions by age groups well below the majority age. When these states raised the age of criminal majority from 17 to 18, the overall arrest rate for 13- to 17-year-olds increased by over 10 per cent.

Further, this increase was driven by arrests for serious crimes such as homicide, drug and robbery offenses.

The above research shows that juveniles are deterred by the threat of adult-level sanctions. So, was it a good idea for states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to raise their age of criminal majority?

A cost-benefit analysis, though necessarily partial, is a useful tool in answering this question.

On the cost side, the increase in 13- to 17-year-old offending imposed substantial costs on both victims and law enforcement. Furthermore, juvenile incarceration is an expensive proposition, outstripping the costs of adult prison by a factor of two or three. These two costs sum to around $65,000 per 17-year-old that is transferred to the juvenile justice system.

On the benefit side, clearing criminal records can lead to a boost in expected earnings, by around $6,000 a year. This is because 17-year-olds who are transferred to the juvenile justice system do not have a permanent criminal record impeding their search for employment. Additionally, if the juvenile justice system is associated with lower rates of physical and sexual assault, as well as lower recidivism (although a recent study shows otherwise), the argument in support of these policies is strengthened even further.

The takeaway from this cost-benefit analysis is that Raise-the-Age policies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire may be justified by the expected benefits. However, we must not assume that these policies are costless, particularly as states continue to expand the jurisdiction of their juvenile justice systems.

More generally, the debate on whether sanctions can deter juvenile crime is far from closed. Survey evidence suggests that young offenders consciously desist from criminal activity close to the age of criminal majority, driven by the perceived differences in treatment of juvenile and adult criminals. Evidence from countries such as Japan and Uruguay also show that harsher sanctions can deter juvenile crime.

Ashna Arora

Ashna Arora

As state governments grapple with the recent uptick in crime [they must fully understand the effectiveness of each approach within their policy toolkit. Ignoring the effectiveness of sanctions handcuffs governments in an important way.

Sanctions must be considered along with other approaches like behavioral interventions and improved access to employment services to reduce adolescent crime.

Ashna Arora is an economics PhD student at Columbia University. Her research focuses on crime, labor and political economics. You can reach her at https://sites.google.com/site/ashnaarora.

from https://thecrimereport.org