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Five reasons to raise age of criminal responsibility

I've been a county jail volunteer for more

I've been a county jail volunteer for more than 10 years on Long Island, and I can tell you that educational services are long overdue. Photo Credit: iStock

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's commission on youth, public safety and justice has released 38 recommendations to reduce recidivism and improve the treatment of adolescents in our juvenile and criminal justice systems.

The commission was unanimous in its advice, which includes raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and changing the way New York teenagers are judged and treated in the criminal justice system.

Cuomo has incorporated many of the recommendations in his 2015-2016 budget plan, and here are five reasons why we support his legislation.

It improves how the criminal justice system treats young New Yorkers, and that is a recognition of the true value of children. We have a fundamental obligation to treat children, even those who break the law, with dignity, respect, and we must recognize their capacity to mature and become contributing members of the community.

It is smart, effective and consistent with American values -- not a lenient response to criminal behavior. Young offenders whose behavior makes them a danger to the community, will be adjudicated in a manner consistent with public safety.

It strengthens the appropriate role of families by requiring that parents be notified of the arrest of their 16- and 17-year-old children.

It helps police and prosecutors focus their efforts to more precisely identify and prosecute minors under 18 who are truly a danger to the community.

It permits adult court judges to more fully individualize their responses to adolescent criminal behavior by expanding their authority to impose therapeutic dispositions.

It is difficult to understand why New York remains only one of two states in the nation to treat children as young as 16, and in some instances 13, as adults for the purpose of criminal prosecution. Especially, since we are surrounded by states -- New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut -- where the age of criminal responsibility is higher than New York.

In New Jersey, where the age of criminal responsibility conforms to the national norm of 18, a 16-year-old who is arrested has a chance to have his or her case resolved in a juvenile court, without the stigma of adult court criminalization and with the focus on rehabilitation. In contrast, a 16-year-old arrested in New York, even for the most low-level offense, will be prosecuted in adult criminal court, face potential imprisonment in adult institutions, criminalization and the stigmatization that can permanently undermine opportunities for education, employment and a socially constructive life.

New York's children deserve better: The state's age of criminal responsibility makes no sense and undermines the chances of the children of those struggling economically to reach the first rung of the ladder to success.

Michael A. Corriero, a former New York criminal courts judge, is executive director of the New York Center for Juvenile Justice. John R. Dunne is a former state senator who is vice chairman of The Committee for Modern Courts.


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