Raise the age law a dilemma

Fulton County Probation Director Cynthia Licciardi, at table, discusses new state "Raise the Age" legislation with the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee Monday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Probation Department is working with other county agencies to learn about the state’s new “Raise the Age” laws involving arrested teens, which goes into effect this fall.

Probation Director Cynthia Licciardi briefed the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee Monday on the new law, noting the next meeting is Thursday at the Department of Social Services.

“We’ve been meeting since the first of the year,” Licciardi said. “It’s kind of just brainstorming. We do have different rules.”

She said her department has joined a “working group” to keep track of the new legislation. That group includes probation, District Attorney’s Office, DSS, public defender, Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, Gloversville and Johnstown police departments, county Family Court, counseling agencies, alternatives to incarceration agency, and the county attorney.

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. Funding for the new law remains unclear.

The new measures will be phased in over time, raising the age of juvenile delinquency from age 16- to 17-years-old beginning Oct. 1. All 16-year-olds are expected to be out of adult correction centers on that date. The state is subsequently raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old on Oct. 1, 2019. All felony-arrested youth will be returned to family courts.

Licciardi provided supervisors with information that discusses parental notification. 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 Fulton County 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.”

Licciardi said her probation department gets about 40 referrals a year in this age group, but that figure rise by an additional 17 cases by October. She said those figures are from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

“They claim their numbers are accurate,” said District Attorney Chad Brown. “We have no way to track it.”

Licciardi stated: “Although the numbers don’t appear to be significantly high, probation’s role is going to be crucial. Probation will be expected to provide effective screening, risk assessments, case planning, client engagement and where appropriate, evidence-based services to youth for the non-judicial resolution of suitable complaints.”

She said the goal of these probation services is to address the “needs of youth, reduce unnecessary reliance on detention and reduce future re-arrest and recidivism.”

Licciardi noted three people in their late teens were recently arrested for allegedly being involved in February’s fire at the former JBF Industries tannery in Gloversville.

“There’s three right there,” she said.

Licciardi said the workload will definitely go up. She said additional screenings may be required to determine youth who are “suicidal or homicidal.”

She stated that by 2019 “we’re probably going to have to increase our staff.”

Cases with youth, Licciardi said, are not simple and are “more involved.”

Currently, she said the probation department has a juvenile officer who does adult cases too. She said her agency may need another staffer just dedicated as a juvenile officer.

Under the new law, youthful offender laws remain the same.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.