ALBANY, N.Y. — Hundreds of New Yorkers rallied at the state capitol on Tuesday to call for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 16 to 18.
New York and North Carolina are reportedly the only two states in the nation that allow for 16-year-olds to be charged as adults, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is currently proposing that youth who have committed nonviolent crimes instead be tried in family court.
“New York should be ashamed to be one of two states in the nation that treat 15 and 16-year-olds as adults for criminal liability,” he said earlier this month. “We have accomplished historic social change with marriage equality, paid family leave, gun safety, minimum wage and transgender rights. We are a national progressive leader. This session we must add ‘Raise the Age’ to that list.”
Supporters of the idea state that youth who are treated as adults have high recidivism rates, and would be better off obtaining rehabilitation.
Richard Smith of the Bronx was one of the featured speakers at the event. He had stolen a pair of sneakers at 16, and consequently spent a year behind bars.
Smith told those gathered that jail did not help him heal from his anger resulting from childhood sexual abuse, and that his time of incarceration only made him harder.
“When I left that jail, I didn’t leave there feeling like I wanted to … go back to school and change my life. I left there really angry,” he said.
Smith was incarcerated a second time, but did later receive help through counseling and now is employed as a social worker.
He was one of an estimated 850 social workers who attended Tuesday’s rally, some of whom want all youth crimes to be treated as juvenile.
“We know that the brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25, so to hold 16-year-olds accountable is just kind of crazy as far as we’re concerned,” Robin Teal, who is studying social work at Siena College, told WNYT-TV.
However, some Republican believe that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. Serious offenses should require jail time, they said, pointing to concerns with gangs on the streets.
“I don’t want to take away the tools that [district attorneys] and law enforcement have to combat that. These are [gang] members that kill with machetes and baseball bats,” Sen. Tom Croci told reporters.
“You don’t want to jam up a 16 or 17-year-old kid that made a dumb mistake as a youth. [But] that’s vastly different than what’s contained in some of these crazy age proposals. Criminal possession of a gun, criminal possession of a firearm with intent—there’s some really serious stuff in there that are adult level crimes,” Assem. Steve McLaughlin also noted.
Lawmakers have until April 1st to approve or reject legislation surrounding raising the age of criminal responsibility, as Cuomo’s proposal is a part of the state budget plan.
As previously reported, there has also been discussion in recent days over the case of Nebraska teen Antonia Lopez, 16, who threw her newborn daughter out her bedroom window in September, killing the child.
She originally was charged as an adult and faced up to 20 years in prison for the crime, but prosecutors moved her case to juvenile court out of their opinion that the best course of action is rehabilitation.
On Friday, Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Christopher Kelly agreed, stating that the teen isn’t getting help in the Douglas County Youth Center. He ordered that the she live in a group home, obtain both individual and family therapy, serve 50 hours of community service and be placed on probation.
She must also delete her Facebook page due to thousands of negative comments from those outraged over the crime.