Lawmakers urge shorter leash for young lawbreakers

ALBANY — New York’s move to raise the age of criminal responsibility has fueled gun crimes while resulting in minimal accountability for youngsters who terrorize communities through gang activity and lawlessness, several prosecutors and lawmakers charged Thursday.

Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, a former city court judge, said flaws in the Raise the Age legislation passed in 2017 could have been prevented had input been gathered from prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges.

Morinello said the state failed to provide county governments with sufficient resources to develop residential placement options for youths charged with crimes and beef up probation services needed to monitor adolescent offenders returning to communities.

When a Buffalo youth facility reaches capacity, Morinello said, Lockport officials have had to ferry a youth in custody to nearly as far away as New YorK City, a distance of several hundred miles.

“I feel strongly that we need to sit down with open minds and analyze what the purpose of Raise the Age was, with a view towards achieving better results,” the assemblyman said, Also supporting amendments to Raise the Age was Albany County District Attorney David Soares, a Democrat.

“If we all agree that young people are sometimes error prone due to their stage of development, we should also agree that oversight, guidance, and sometimes punishment, are appropriate to ensure course-correction.” Soares said. He contended the law has “directly resulted in additional violence” in New York communities.

A package of bills backed by the Assembly GOP conference would: * Require that a violent felony offense committed by an adolescent be handled in what is known as youth-part criminal court, unless all parties consent to dealing with it in family court.

* Amend the Criminal Procedure Law and Family Court Act in a way that allows judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers to ensure judges, prosecutors and defense counsels can access arrest and delinquency records.

* Require victims of crimes committed by an adolescent be notified of the outcome of the case.

State data gleaned by Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski shows that in 2021 only 8% of 16- and 17-year-old defendants charged with violent felonies received a felony conviction, and less than half of those receiving a felony conviction were sentenced to more than one year of confinement.

Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, said the proposed amendments will create greater accountability and lead to more young defendants being prosecuted in the youth part of Superior Court. Using Family Court to adjudicate violent crimes has prevented authorities from accessing information needed to safeguard communities, he said.

The package was also supported by Delaware County Acting District Attorney Shawn Smith.

A former New York City police officer, Assemblyman Michael Reilly, R-Staten Island, called the Raise the Age law “insane” and “misguided,” citing one case involving a 16-year-old boy who was found to be in possession of a handgun on four separate occasions within a span of nine months.

“The only time he was arrested was because he shot himself,” Reilly said. The current law, he said, has “empowered youth to commit crimes” while providing an “indeed.com” — an online employment recruitment site — for gang leaders out to lure youngsters into their fold because consequences are minimal if they get caught with firearms.

The Hochul administration has signaled it is working with counties to expand placement options for adolescent offenders.

Addressing the placement concerns, Suzanne Miles-Gustave, acting commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, told lawmakers last month:“The pandemic put a stop to much of our progress with respect to Raise the Age implementation.”

She also pointed out that “detention is a local obligation.”

Citing plans submitted by counties working with her agency, Miles-Gustave projected New York will have an additional 150 beds in detention facilities over the next two to three years “We do work with counties daily,” she said, ” We provide 24/7 support to counties, to sheriffs, to find beds where they don’t exist sometimes.”


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