MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- A gathering was held recently at the Mount Kisco Public Library in support of raising the state age of criminal responsibility, which allows for 16- and 17-year-olds to be charged as adults instead of as juveniles.
Only New York and North Carolina prosecute all of their 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult system, according to Allison Lake, who is a deputy director for the Westchester Children’s Association. She made her case at the May 8 forum with recent data.
In 2010, according to the presented data, 45,692 16- and 17-year-olds were arrested in New York state, with more than 75 percent of the offenses being misdemeanors. Of that cohort, 45.2 percent arrested are black, with similar numbers (rounded to 25.5 percent each) are white and Hispanic.
Lake mentioned the difference in brain development between teens and adults, with the former not having a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is used for assessing risk and understanding consequences.
She also brought up the long-term consequences of adult-level incarceration, including the difficulties at getting things such as housing, education and employment, along with the impact on the incentive to reoffend, to which she made a connection. Additionally, she brought up a study that contrasts New York with New Jersey, where 18 is the age of responsibility. The study, which was done over about seven years, showed a high likelihood of offending again for youths who were charged in the adult justice system.
Other speakers in favor of raising the age included Family Court Judge Hal Greenwald; Dan Berger, a director for a chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union; and Brian Gerety, a co-founder and executive clinical director for The Therapy Center.
Cathy Johansen, a retired Peekskill police lieutenant and whose husband is current Police Chief Eric Johansen, detailed initiatives during her tenure, including the creation of a community policing division and working with the school district.
Nancy Levin, director of the Alliance for Safe Kids Youth Court, mentioned the youth court program that is run in Yorktown. The youth court, which is used to preside over 15-and-younger cases, involves high school students who act as judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Cameron Cushner, a Yorktown High School student who has served as a youth court judge, recalled learning about the cutoff age and remembered thinking it was “absurd.” He also discussed the punishment – he was reluctant to use that term – of community service that is given out and allows for a choice of place to serve. Samantha Greene, a fellow student who has served as a defense attorney, noted that the majority of time students regretted what they did.
Drayvon Carmichael, who was arrested at 16 and incarcerated, spoke about the problems with jail, including lack of mentoring and development, and being placed with other criminals. Carmichael, who served as student government president while he was attending Westchester Community College will be attending Mercy College to pursue a bachelor’s degree and is receiving a scholarship.