BY: ZSHEKINAH COLLIER
For years, juveniles have been tried as adults in the court of law in the United States. In most states, criminals are prosecuted as adults as young as 17 years of age. New York and North Carolina were the only states to prosecute all criminals as adults once they turned 16.
But as of April 10, New York has been removed from this list. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the "Raise the Age" bill, which mandates that 16 and 17-year-olds will no longer be tried as adults.
This new law will officially go into effect for 16-year-olds in October 2018. By 2019, 17-year-old New Yorkers will benefit from the new legislation, as well.
Many believe that the Kalief Browder case was the final push towards the reform bill. Browder was a 16-year-old boy who in 2010 was arrested in New York City for allegedly stealing a backpack. Rather than accept a plea deal for a crime he said he did not commit, Browder spent three years in Rikers Island Correctional Facility. Browder was never granted the right to a "speedy and public trial." While in jail, Browder made multiple suicide attempts and spent 800 days in solitary confinement. Two years after being released he committed suicide.
When kids are sent to trial, oftentimes the judge and jury disregard their ages. This has resulted in 10,000 children currently being held in adult jails. Most of them are never even convicted. The New York Times reported that only one percent of juvenile cases are violent felonies.
More than half of teens sent to state prisons are African Americanâ€”many of which come from low-income communities, which limits the amount of support that they receive inside and outside of the court. The "Raise the Age" bill is designed to make sure that kids are placed in juvenile facilities instead of jails. Under "Raise the Age," misdemeanor cases will be heard in family court and felony cases will go to the new Youth Part of the state's criminal trial courts, where judges trained in family law will handle the cases.
As a society we fail to notice the long-lasting effects of placing a child in an adult prison, and the target that is slapped on their back once they step foot in a place like Rikers Island. The Equal Justice Initiative reported that kids sent to adult prisons are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted by staff members or other inmates. Children housed in adult jails are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide, compared to those in juvenile facilities.
Hopefully after this bill becomes active, it will lower the number of teens, especially teens of color, in jail. Perhaps other states will follow New York's lead by also ending the practice of prosecuting children as adults.
Cover: ABA Journal