New York is one of two states that treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for all crimes. That policy creates harsh results, such as where minors are tagged with a criminal record for committing a misdemeanor that consists of conduct that is sometimes seemingly harmless. In those cases, the state is marring the life of the teen by tagging him or her with a conviction of a criminal offense on conduct that may be directly tied into the youth’s lower economic standing and paucity of supportive resources.
The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice reported that the NYPD made about 23,000 arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds each year during 2011, 2012 and 2013. More than 75 percent of these were for misdemeanors and not felonies. The system then hounds these juveniles for the fines, along with penalties into the hundreds of dollars.
The result is a self-generating cycle of the state government pushing minority teens into lives of defeat and the fear or loathing of authority. The barrier between society and these youth appears ominous because it is in many respects difficult to overcome. The system works to oppress and stifle youth from lower economic strata. Some of them may have wanted to overcome their background and find success. These same children, who are “adults” for purposes of the criminal system, are treated as minors with no legal capacity or authority in all other respects.
These young people are disproportionately men of color. Governor Cuomo commissioned a study of the treatment of these juveniles as adults in the New York criminal justice system. The report has laid the foundation for a plan announced by the Governor that would raise the age of criminal responsibility for a criminal offense to 18. The plan would be graduated and would treat all 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds as minors by 2018, with some exceptions for capital and more serious crimes.
Source: nbcnews.com, “Kids in Court: Is It Time to Raise the Age for Criminal Responsibility?“, Seth Freed Wessler and Lisa Riordan Seville, Jan. 20, 2015