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The time is now to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility

June 16, 2015
In an open letter hand-delivered to Albany, The Sentencing Project and sixty other organizations, including international human rights groups, social workers, faith-based organizations, criminal justice reform groups, and children's advocates, strongly urged the passage of Raise the Age legislation in New York before the session ends this week.

In an open letter hand-delivered to Albany, The Sentencing Project and sixty other organizations, including international human rights groups, social workers, faith-based organizations, criminal justice reform groups, and children’s advocates, strongly urged the passage of Raise the Age legislation in New York before the session ends this week.

Currently, New York remains one of only two states that still prosecute all 16- and 17-year-olds in the justice system as adults. New York also houses 16- and 17-year-olds in adult jails and prisons, where they are at grave risk of suicide, rape, and physical abuse, and often do not receive appropriate services.

With days remaining until  the 2015 legislative session ends, it is imperative that there be no further delay in raising the age. The letter describes the horrific risks faced by youth incarcerated as adults, the collateral consequences of prosecuting children as adults, and evidence from other states that raising the age has proven to increase public safety.

Read the letter below.

An Open Letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature: 

The Time is Now to Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility

We, the undersigned organizations dedicated to the well-being of children and youth, along with other supporters, call on you to pass legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility before this legislative session ends June 17th. We cannot wait any longer.

Currently, New York is one of only two states that still prosecute all 16- and 17 –year- olds in the justice system as adults. The tragic suicide of Kalief Browder illustrates the urgent need to raise the age immediately. Mr. Browder experienced all of the harms that result from prosecuting youth as adults, including the myriad barriers to real opportunities for personal and professional growth upon release. We cannot lose another life as a result of this archaic policy.

Raising the age will not only mean safer, healthier outcomes for youth, but increased public safety for all New Yorkers. Why? Prosecuting kids as adults increases crime, including violent crime. A study comparing youth charged in New York’s adult courts with youth charged with identical crimes in New Jersey’s juvenile courts found New York youth were 100% more likely to re-offend with a violent offense and 26% more likely to be reincarcerated. The Governor’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice found that raising the age and reforming the justice system for youth would eliminate between 1,500 and 2,400 crime victimizations every five years.

Any legislation to Raise the Age must:

  • Get youth out of adult jails and prisons, where they are at great risk of suicide and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Youth in adult jails are thirty-six times more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile detention facilities. Youth in adult facilities are nearly one hundred percent more likely to face physical assault by staff than youth in juvenile facilities.
  • Originate as many cases of 16- and 17-year-olds in Family Court as possible, create Youth Parts in the adult court system for the remaining cases, and apply the Family Court Act to as many of those cases as possible.
  • Create facilities to house 16- and 17-year-olds that utilize evidence-based therapeutic youth development models in small residential settings, proven to be an effective approach to preventing recidivism and helping young people make positive, lasting changes in their behavior. All facilities for 16- and 17-year-olds should be placed under the supervision of the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), not the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).
  • Ensure parental notification of arrest.
  • Allow for pre-petition diversion. The state should expand the capacity for local law enforcement and probation departments to divert low-level cases from the juvenile justice system. States that have increased diversion from arrest and court have experienced significant reductions in youth crime.
  • Allow for the sealing of records. Young people with criminal convictions face enormous barriers to maintain stable and productive lives – including barriers to obtaining housing, employment, public benefits and education. The state must provide relief from the collateral consequences of an adult conviction by granting the capacity to seal convictions for crimes committed by those under age 21.

Our youth need and deserve your commitment to their success and investment in their futures that will allow them to thrive as members of our global community. Don’t let another young person languish, suffer, despair, hurt – die — and leave their dreams and wishes unfulfilled. Do the right thing and Raise the Age NOW.


Amnesty International USA

Buffalo AntiRacism Coalition

Buffalo Save The Kids

Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

Campaign for Youth Justice

Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration

Center for Children’s Law and Policy

Center for Community Alternatives

The Children’s Defense Fund – New York

Citizens’ Committee for Children

Committee for Modern Courts

Community Connections for Youth

Community Voices Heard

Correctional Association of New York

Drama Club

Families Together in New York State

Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies

The Gathering for Justice / Justice League NYC

Housing Works Re-entry to Care

International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, CUNY Law School

Jim Owles Democratic Club

Justice For Families

Justice Policy Institute


Juvenile Law Center

The Legal Aid Society, NYC

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Long Island Council of Churches

Metro New York Religious Campaign Against Torture

Morningside Quaker Meeting, Peace and Social Concerns Committee

NAMI Huntington

NAMI New York State

National Action Network NYC Chapter Second Chance Committee

National Association of Social Workers – New York State Chapter

National Juvenile Justice Network

National Lawyers Guild – New York City Chapter

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC)

New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC)

New York Civil Liberties Union

New York State Coalition for Children’s Mental Health Services

New York State Prisoner Justice Network

The Osborne Association

Prison Families Anonymous

Raise the Age NY Campaign, a public awareness campaign that includes national and local advocates, youth, parents, law enforcement and legal representative groups, faith leaders, and unions

Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church – Manhattanville

Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy

SCO Family of Services

The Sentencing Project

Social Workers Against Criminalization

Southampton Youth Bureau

Students for Prison Education and Reform, Princeton

Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project

Voices UnBroken

Westchester Children’s Association

Witness to Mass Incarceration


Youth Represent

Youth Justice Club – John Jay College of Criminal Justice

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