Raise the Age Legislation Goes Into Effect in New York with Under-18s Moved From Rikers

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raise the age: Protester holds sign that says raise the age NY

Karen Savage

New Yorkers protested in March 2017, calling for raise the age legislation to be passed.

As the first step in New York’s raise the age law, all 16- and 17-year-olds were moved off New York City’s notorious Rikers Island and into more appropriate juvenile facilities by the Monday deadline, according to an announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Beginning today, no one under 18 will go to Rikers Island. Kids will be treated like kids instead of adults,” Blasio said in a press release. “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.”

ny bureauAuthorities must now house incarcerated young people in settings designed to meet their developmental needs. The law also stipulates that parents be notified of a child’s arrest and allows most arrested to be processed through family court.

Passed last year, the legislation also stipulated that 16-year-olds would no longer automatically be charged as adults as of Monday. A second phase of legislation will go into effect next year for 17-year-olds.

“We have a long way to go to make our justice system more human and more effective, but ending the terrible practice of detaining minors as adults is a big step forward,” said state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat, in a press release.

Once the legislation is fully implemented in 2019, most young people will be tried in family court, allowing those convicted to avoid adult criminal records. The most serious crimes will be tried in the newly created Youth Part of the New York State Unified Court System. The new law also calls for most young people to be released on their own recognizance.

Research has shown young people housed in adult facilities have increased rates of recidivism, higher suicide rates and other negative effects.

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Young men of color are disproportionately impacted. In 2013, black and Latino youth made up 33 percent of all 16- and 17-year-olds across the state, but accounted for 72 percent of all arrests.

Kalief Browder became a rallying call for those who advocating raising the age in New York and removing juveniles from Rikers. At age 16, he was arrested for stealing a backpack and spent three years on Rikers Island, two of those years in solitary confinement, finally released without a trial. He later killed himself.

Before the April 2017 passage of the legislation, New York and North Carolina were the only states in the country to automatically try 16-year-olds as adults. North Carolina passed similar legislation in June 2017, which will fully take effect in December 2019.

The legislation allows youth who are detained before prosecution to be housed in facilities near their homes. Those convicted will remain in separate facilities within the city and will no longer be housed in adult facilities hours from their families and support systems.

“The burden of youth imprisonment falls far too heavily on communities of color and this decision opens the door to the possibility of a productive future for thousands of 16- and 17-year-olds,” said Karol Mason, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in a release.  

“Our responsibility now is to go even further; investing in education, investing in support; to provide resources that allow them to become successful adults.”

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