Essay Appearing in D&C on October 13, 2018 – We’re Better Off With Raise The Age Law

On October 1, the future of our community’s teens became brighter. That was the day Monroe County began implementation of New York State’s Raise the Age law.

The legislation passed in April 2017 requires that 16- and 17-year-old youth be treated as juveniles in the criminal justice system. The initial implementation is for 16-year-olds; the change will happen for 17-year-old youth beginning next October. In Monroe County over 700 youth ages 16 and 17 are arrested every year. Until October 1, some of those youth had been sent to state prison where they lived with adult inmates. Unsurprisingly, research shows that upon release, those youth were more likely than peers managed through the juvenile justice system to commit violent crimes and end up back in prison.

In adult prisons, they experience violence and trauma that change their life. Youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff than children placed in youth facilities. They face the highest risk of sexual assault of all inmate populations, and they are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility.

Raise the Age requires challenging shifts in funding and practice in large systems that touch the lives of at-risk youth, particularly law enforcement, courts, probation, and detention. However, our community will unquestionably be better off for these changes:
  • Research shows that young people in the youth justice system are 34 percent less likely to be re-arrested for violent and other crimes than youth retained in the adult justice system.
  • Approximately 80 percent of youth released from adult prisons reoffend, often going on to commit more serious crimes.
  • Raise the Age policies will help reduce the impact of institutional racism by keeping youth out of the adult criminal justice system. Statewide, over 70 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds arrested are Black or Latino, and 80 percent of those who go on to be sentenced are youth of color.

Treating youth as juveniles requires initial spending, but in the long run Raise the Age will save tax dollars. Taxpayer savings will result from more youth able to lead successful lives, earn a living, and contribute to the local economy. Passage of this bold step forward must be met with full and effective implementation. We urge Monroe County to fully implement this law, using evidence-based practices and programs whenever possible to gain the full positive impact on our youth and community. Similarly, New York state should fully fund Raise the Age expenses by reimbursing counties for all preventive and rehabilitative services, alternatives to detention, facilities and the increased staff needed to implement this new policy. Raise the Age provides an opportunity for all of us to do the right thing for children.

Brigit Hurley is Director of Advocacy at The Children’s Agenda and Jennifer Cathy is Executive Director, Monroe Region Hillside Children’s Center.
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