Westchester County D.A. Janet DiFiore and Civil Rights Groups Press Albany on Ending Practice of Treating Teens Offenders as Adults


It’s a little-known fact that New York is one of only two states that treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. That’s right, one of only two states.

Periodically, there have been efforts to change that law to define adult offenders as those who are 18 and older, but in the past, those efforts have drowned in Albany’s dangerous shoals.

Yesterday, claiming a much broader coalition of support for changing the law, a number of advocates gathered outside the courthouse to call on Albany to make the issue a priority.

Some 50,000 youth–largely black and Hispanic–are held in adult jail systems each year statewide. The research indicates that those kids are more likely to commit more crimes and more serious crimes than adults.

One notable supporter of a change in the law is Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, who said, “”Being tough on crime means being smart on crime. Treating children like children is good for the juveniles, good for families, good for communities, good for public safety and just good common sense.”

Among other supporters of the measure were five state legislators, the Citizens Committee for Children, The Children’s Defense Fund, the Legal Aid Society, the NAACP, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Donna Lieberman called the current law a “cruel, wasteful and destructive practice.”

“Our nation’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline — a toxic cocktail of poverty, illiteracy, racial disparities, violence and massive incarceration — is sentencing millions of children of color to dead end, powerless and hopeless lives and threatens to undermine the past half century of racial and social progress,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

“Teenagers who come into contact with our justice system urgently need services and support, not criminalization,” said Judge Michael Corriero, a former judge and executive director and founder of the New York Center for Juvenile Justice. “They need to be seen and treated, not according to an ill-conceived adult criminal standard, but rather, precisely for who they are: New York’s children.”

“Thousands of youth are convicted as adults every year and these convictions prevent them from getting jobs, going to college, and living with their families,” said Laurie Parise, executive director of Youth Represent, which provides holistic, community-based, legal representation to youth under age 25 in criminal court and in overcoming the barriers caused by convictions.

The Raise the Age New York campaign also announced the launch of a website.