Raise the Age law challenges officials

Due to go into effect in October, law will keep 16 and 17 year olds separate from adults

The state’s “Raise the Age” Law doesn’t go in effect until October, but Fulton and Montgomery counties have been planning for months on how to deal with changes involving young arrestees.

In Fulton County, a working group has been preparing for the effect of that legislation. That group consists of: Probation Department, District Attorney’s Office, Department of Social Services, Public Defender’s Office, Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, Gloversville and Johnstown police departments, county Family Court, counseling agencies, alternatives to incarceration agency, and the County Attorney’s Office.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on April 10, 2017 signed legislation raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York state from 16 to 18 years old. Young people aged 16 and 17 will no longer be permitted to be housed in adult facilities or jails.

Those 16- or 17-year-olds impacted and charged with a non-violent felony or a misdemeanor will be considered an “adolescent offender” and be completely protected from the adult incarceration population.

According to the New York State Association of Counties, counties will feel the impact.

“Implementation of the new law will impact several county departments, and will require additional personnel and resources in probation departments, county attorney’s offices, mental health services, and social services agencies,” NYSAC said in a release. “The change also has the potential to require counties to make financial investments in programs, services and infrastructure.”

In signing the legislation, Cuomo stated: “By raising the age of criminal responsibility, this legislation will reduce crime, recidivism and costs to the state, and help us deliver on the New York promise to advance social justice and affirm our core progressive values. Providing young people with age-appropriate facilities and rehabilitation will restore hope and promise and help them turn their lives around to build a better future for themselves, their families and for our great state.”

The new measures will be phased in over time, raising the age for 16-year-olds on Oct. 1, 2018; and raising the age for 17-year-olds on Oct. 1, 2019. All felony-arrested youth will be returned to family courts. Elimination of state support for detained Persons in Need of Supervision will start Jan. 1, 2020. Under the new law, youthful offender laws remain the same.

New York state was previously one of only two states in the nation that automatically processed all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense.

“It’s definitely doing more,” said Fulton County Probation Director Cynthia Licciardi, who added she may need more staff by 2019.

She said Monday that her department currently has six probation officers and one senior probation officer.

Licciardi said Fulton County’s working group on Raise the Age has been meeting every month, but learning more every day. She said all area police — sheriff’s department, Glove Cities police and state police — will have to deal with not immediately jailing the 16 and 17-year-olds, but rather putting them with the appropriate services.

“It will be a different way of doing business,” Licciardi said. “This is an opportunity to make some positive changes in that age group.”

The probation official said there will be more mental health, vocational services and whatever services they require based on need. She said her department will be in a “unique” position to help troubled 16- and 17-year-olds get back on track with a crime-free life.

As far as cost for any changes, Licciardi said probation department across the state are currently in the process of working on the planning process involving how many youth might be impacted and how the state will reimburse

Under the new law, parents must be notified when their children are arrested. Questioning of youth must take place in age-appropriate settings, with parental involvement. The vast majority of cases of 16- and 17-year-olds will be heard in family court.

All misdemeanor cases — other than vehicle and traffic law offenses — will be heard in family court. All felony cases will start in the youth part of the adult criminal court. All non-violent felonies will be transferred from the youth part to family court unless the district attorney files a motion within 30 days showing “extraordinary circumstances.”

Retiring Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato stated Monday, “With the legislation, the first year we’ll be getting the 16-year-olds out of the jail.”

He said his department usually only deals with about two or three such 16-year-old inmates at any given time. The sheriff noted that such young inmates have to be classified and separated out from older inmates anyway, according to state Commission of Correction regulations.

Amato said the bad part of the new Raise the Age Law is that it was “rushed through.” But he said the good part is that such younger offenders won’t be part of his adult jail now.

“We’re getting them out of the jail,” Amato said.

That move for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, he said, makes it “easier to run the jail.”

On the other hand, he said the younger arrestees will still need to be transported and the county will be responsible for their food and medical needs. Amato said Montgomery County currently doesn’t have such a place, and may end up sending the 16 and 17-year-olds to two or three counties away. The cost for Montgomery County for the physical impact of moving such inmates may end up being “maybe the same” as the current situation, the sheriff said.

Under the new Raise the Age law, youth whose cases are heard in family court will be processed pursuant to existing juvenile delinquency laws, which includes the opportunity for adjustment. They will not have a permanent criminal record.

There will be new “youth parts” of adult court. All 13 to 15 year old juvenile offenders and 16 and 17 year old adolescent offenders will have their cases in the youth part. Family Court judges will preside over cases in the youth parts.

Cuomo has appointed a Raise the Age Implementation Task Force to coordinate changes and issue official reports on the law’s progress.

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