A movement is underway in New York to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 — although an argument can be made that the current system helps to prevent crime.
New York is the only state other than North Carolina where all children 16 and older are automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
Meeting on the steps of the Nassau County Supreme Court Aug. 20 to highlight what they say is damaged caused by treating children as adults in the legal system, a diverse group called for change.
“Treating each and every teen offender as an adult criminal is an unconscionable disregard for basic brain science and what we know about adolescent development,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
According to county officials, in 2010, there were 2,704 Long Island youth between the ages of 16 and 17 years old arrested with the overwhelming majority of those arrests (88.8 percent) for non-violent offenses or misdemeanors.
Nassau County, like the rest of New York State, recognizes that 16- and 17-year-olds lack the cognitive and emotional maturity needed to legally purchase alcohol; vote; get married; or even get a tattoo, said Angelo Pinto, Raise the Age campaign manager at the Correctional Association of New York.
“Yet, our state allows these same young people to be questioned by the police without parental consent, incarcerated alongside adults in adult jails and prisons, and permanently stigmatized with the mark of a criminal conviction," said Pinto.
A Time Magazine report discussing the pros and cons of the issue argues that trying children as adults has accounted for lower rates of juvenile crimes and other positive outcomes.
"Kids today are more sophisticated at a younger age; they understand the implications of violence and how to use violent weapons," said the Time report. "It is absurd to argue that a modern child, who sees the effect of violence around him in the news every day, doesn't understand what killing really is. The fact that child killers know how to load and shoot a gun is an indicator that they understand exactly what they're doing."
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