ALBANY -- After a lengthy campaign by advocates, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that the state should change the age of criminal responsibility to 18, meaning 16- and 17-year-olds would no longer be prosecuted as adults.
New York and North Carolina are the only states that allow 16-year-olds to be tried as adults and imprisoned with adults.
Cuomo, a Democrat who was re-elected in November, had said last year he wanted to change the system. Monday, he embraced the recommendations from a juvenile justice panel he appointed in 2014, including: raising the age of criminal responsibility, prosecuting nonviolent youths in Family Court instead of criminal courts, removing minors from adult prisons and making it easier for some juvenile offenders to forever seal their criminal cases.
"I think everybody is receptive to the idea," Cuomo said at a State Capitol news conference two days before he delivers the annual State of the State address. "It's an obvious question: What do you do with 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds. Are you making it better or are you making it worse?"
Under the governor's plan, the age of criminal responsibility would move to 17 in 2017 and 18 in 2018. State lawmakers would have to approve it -- though many already have backed the general idea of changing the age threshold.
Youth advocates ramped up a "Raise the Age" campaign two years ago, urging New York lawmakers to get in line with other states. Numerous Long Island groups and elected officials -- including Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who was then Nassau County district attorney -- supported the campaign.
Melanie Hartzog, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund-New York, called Cuomo's proposals "common-sense criminal justice reforms" that will ensure "children are treated as children."
Cuomo's panel noted that while African-Americans and Hispanics make up 33 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds in New York, they account for 72 percent of the arrests in the age group.