Insights to Impact

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Raise the Age Victory!

Today, together with criminal justice advocates across New York State, we are celebrating a landmark reform victory: the State Legislature has passed legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old. 

New York has been one of only two states, along with North Carolina, that treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system.

This victory comes at a breakthrough moment for the Foundation's advocacy agenda. Just last week, the Mayor announced the City's intention to close the Rikers Island detention complex by 2027. We supported the research and reporting that informed the decision, and were one of the first funders of the #CloseRikers campaign through our Invest in Youth grant program.

We share today's Raise the Age victory with the 19 private, public, and community foundations that co-signed our letter to elected leaders last month urging this much-needed policy change. We have supported Raise the Age reform since 2014, when the issue emerged as a top priority through our Brooklyn Insights boroughwide engagement project.

This hard-fought victory matters because thousands of Brooklyn youth are prosecuted as adults each year—the vast majority for misdemeanor offenses. Brooklyn accounts for nearly 16% of all arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds in New York State. Over 83% of those arrests last year were for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.

The new legislation will take effect October 1, 2018 for 16-year-olds and October 1, 2019 for 17-year-olds.​

Here are some key changes under the new legislation:

  • All Misdemeanor charges will be handled in Family Court.
  • All Felony charges will begin in a newly established Youth Part of the Criminal Court. The Youth Part will have additional services and programming available and will be presided over by a Family Court Judge. Nonviolent felony charges will be moved to Family Court unless the district attorney "demonstrates extraordinary circumstances" that would require the case to remain with the youth court.
  • Young people will no longer be housed in adult correctional facilities or jails, including Rikers Island. The legislation establishes a new class named “Adolescent Offender” for 16- and 17-year-olds charged with a felony offense, who will be housed in a separate facility, managed by the Department of Corrections and the Office of Children and Family Services.
  • The bill expands the existing law requiring parental notification upon the arrest or interrogation of a juvenile to 16 and 17-year-olds. Additionally, individuals who have been crime free for ten years after serving a sentence will be able to apply for the sealing of previous criminal convictions.

These changes mean that more young people will have access to positive interventions—such as intensive counseling, drug treatment, youth development, and family support programs—none of which are available in the adult courts. Research has shown that these interventions are particularly effective among young people because their brains are not fully formed until the age of 25. We are proud to support positive youth development and youth leadership programs for court-involved youth through our Invest in Youth initiative. 

The new legislation clearly does not protect all children from adult prosecution in New York State. We will continue to fight on their behalf to expand these new reforms as we deepen our investment in vital youth justice programs and services through our Invest in Youth initiative.

Learn more about our commitment to youth justice

Thank you to our Raise the Age letter co-signers: 

Adirondack Foundation, Andrus Family Fund & Andrus Family Philanthropy Program, The Catalog For Giving of NYC, Stephen & May Cavin Leeman Foundation, The Community Foundation For Greater Buffalo, Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, J.M. Kaplan Fund, The Frances Lear Foundation, Langeloth Foundation, New York Foundation, North Star Fund, Pinkerton Foundation, Propel Capital, The Prospect Hill Foundation, David Rockefeller Fund, The Scherman Foundation, Sills Family Foundation, The Tow Foundation, and van Ameringen Foundation, Inc. 

Liane Stegmaier

Chief of Staff (She/Her/Hers)
These changes mean that more young people will have access to positive interventions—such as intensive counseling, drug treatment, youth development, and family support programs—none of which are available in the adult courts.