New York is one of only two states in the nation that charges sixteen and seventeen year olds as adults in criminal courts. This puts tens of thousands of teenagers in adult prisons. Our governor and legislature have a historic opportunity to right this wrong and end this archaic practice.
For five years, Governor Cuomo along with State Assembly members and Senators have talked about the need to address this issue but nothing has come of it. While they grandstand on the topic, 40,000 New York teenagers sit in adult prisons every year. As the New York State budget battle continues, the time has come for Governor Cuomo and the elected leaders of our state to do the right thing and raise the age for criminal offenders.
We should be investing in our youth, not locking them up. Instead of pumping money into a prison system that’s breaking our most vulnerable citizens, we should be doubling down on our investments into the public school system. This isn’t a discussion of politics, it is one of facts, and more importantly, morality. What kind of message are we sending when we incarcerate our children? And how do we reconcile that message with the overwhelming evidence that shows the peril of this heinous practice?
According to a report by Raise The Age NY entitled, The Fourth Wave, “young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent more likely to be rearrested for violent and other crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system. Around 80 percent of youth released from adult prisons reoffend often going on to commit more serious crimes.”
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Children in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide, 50 percent more likely to face an armed attack, and twice as likely to face physical assault by staff, than youth in juvenile facilities. How can they be expected to return to their communities and be productive after dealing with this kind of trauma?
After months of debate and political grandstanding, New York’s state legislature has the chance to make right a wrong that has cost us thousands of young lives, and just as we approach the finish line, the dark forces of dog-whistle politics, and the prison-industrial complex are trying to smother the momentum for justice. We can’t let them win, there is an entire generation of potential at stake.