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New York’s long-overdue ‘Raise the Age’ law will protect 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island, but not upstate prison


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: New York’s long-overdue ‘Raise the Age’ law will protect 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island, but not upstate prison

  • The Appeal Podcast Episode 19: Prison strikes are the front line against mass incarceration

  • Georgia mayor plans to round up paroled sex offenders while kids trick or treat

  • North Carolina county’s practice of shackling young people in court might be illegal

  • Will Alabamans vote to stop sheriffs from pocketing money designated for prisoner food?

  • Tennessee voters will have the chance to install a police misconduct oversight board

In the Spotlight

New York’s long-overdue ‘Raise the Age’ law will protect 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers Island, but not upstate prison

This month, a New York State law raised the age for trying youth in family court and took everyone under 18 from Rikers Island. Now, New York will no longer automatically charge 16-year-olds as adults; in October 2019, the law will also apply to 17-year-olds. New York had long confined youth alongside adults despite ample evidence of harm. A 1972 oversight report on conditions for youth on Rikers Island concluded that the adolescent facility “is the worst prison in the city.” A U.S. Justice Department investigation four decades later found things little changed, describing a “deep-seated culture of violence.” [Vincent Schiraldi / New York Daily News] So there was certainly cause for celebration after the Raise the Age initiative passed, with some calling it a historic protection for young defendants. The law is a major change in how the state deals with 16- and 17-year-old defendants, diverting the majority of those cases directly to family court or to judges with access to social services and special training. And until it passed, New York was one of only two states, with North Carolina, to automatically treat every 16- and 17-year-old as an adult. [Jesse McKinley / New York Times]

But after hard-fought negotiations, the resulting bill left many supporters disappointed. “This is real simple, and we made it complicated,” state Senator Kevin S. Parker of Brooklyn said. “All we had to simply do is say that we’re going to take 16- and 17-year-olds and we’re going to treat them just like 15-year-olds. … And we messed that up.” [Jesse McKinley / New York Times]

Kate Rubin, director of policy and strategic initiatives for Youth Represent, told the Daily Appeal that the vast majority of 16- and 17-year-olds arrested are accused of misdemeanors, and under the new law, those facing misdemeanors will have their cases handled in family court, not criminal court. There, they will have no chance of getting a criminal record, the case will be kept confidential, and they will be spared the vast majority of the collateral consequences that make it so difficult to lead a successful life after a criminal conviction.

Nonviolent felony cases will all start in criminal court, in a new section known as the “youth part,” which is staffed by judges trained in family court law. After 30 days, 16- and 17-year-olds will be automatically sent to family court unless a district attorney proves “extraordinary circumstances,” a term the law does not define. In violent felony cases—which make up about 1 percent of juvenile charges in New York each year—young people will start in the youth part of criminal court but could be diverted to family court if the victim did not sustain significant physical injury, if the case did not involve a deadly weapon, and if there is no allegation of criminal sexual conduct. [Jesse McKinley / New York Times]

Rubin notes that there’s a meaningful difference between how young people see themselves when they are tried in family court, as opposed to the way they see themselves if they go through criminal court. Professor of law and public health Jeffrey Fagan has compared young people who were arrested in New York to those arrested in New Jersey, where people are legally considered juveniles until age 18. Fagan found that the New York youth, who went through the adult system, were arrested again more quickly, more often, and for more serious crimes. [Vincent Schiraldi / New York Daily News]

Vincent Schiraldi, co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab and former commissioner of New York City Probation and director of youth corrections for Washington, D.C., wrote in an op-ed that although “it is laudable that the governor and Legislature have acted, the new law creates a hybrid system that is nationally unprecedented and potentially dangerous.” He points to the “quasi-adult system” that will send incarcerated 16- and 17-year-olds to “facilities run jointly by adult and juvenile corrections personnel—facilities that do not currently exist and are particularly difficult for small counties to create.” It will take young people far away from their families and attorneys and will counteract “the intended goal of raising the age of criminal responsibility in the first place—namely, to treat youth like youth.” [Vincent Schiraldi / New York Daily News]

“An adult prison is always a prison, even if there’s programming and some services related to training and education and re-entry preparation,” Rubin told the Daily Appeal. “Prisons are designed for punishment and retribution.” Ideally, a youth facility sets a young person up to exit that facility and succeed on the outside, with services tailored to a young person’s needs. Maybe the difference between serving a 40-year-old and a 50-year-old isn’t tremendous, she notes, but the difference between serving a 16-year-old and a 30-year-old is. “If a 40-year-old wants to get a high school degree, we don’t send them back to high school because we know that they learn in a different way, their brain operates differently,” she says. “We should have the same philosophy when it it comes to corrections.” And adult facilities, she adds, have been shown to be terrible for kids. Suicide rates are high, young people are vulnerable to high rates of staff abuse, and they are unlikely to raise complaints.

“The new legislation purports to treat adolescents as adolescents, but actually continues the illogical and harmful practice of prosecuting youth accused of more serious crimes as adults,” Gregg Stankewicz, director of the Adolescent Defense Project at the Bronx Defenders told the Daily Appeal. “Lawmakers acknowledged the science of adolescent brain development, but lacked the political courage to afford this understanding to all of the young people in the criminal justice system.”

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Justin Merriman / Getty Images

The Appeal Podcast Episode 19: Prison Strikes Are the Front Line Against Mass Incarceration. This fall, thousands of incarcerated people in dozens of states went on strike to protest harsh and exploitative conditions in America’s prisons. Appeal staff reporter Raven Rakia, joined Adam to talk about these efforts and what the future holds for the prisoners’ rights movement. [Adam H. Johnson]

Stories From Around the Country

Georgia mayor plans to round up paroled sex offenders while kids trick or treat: Gary E. Jones, the mayor of Grovetown, Georgia, announced plans to round up all paroled sex offenders in town and hold them at City Hall on Halloween while kids are trick-or-treating. On Facebook, Jones acknowledged that there had been no previous incidents on Halloween; it was purely precautionary. Facing criticism, he wrote: “This is legal….. good grief!” There is no evidence that children are more likely to be targeted by sexual predators on Halloween than on any other night of the year. [Antonia Noori Farzan / Washington Post] See also The Appeal’s coverage of communities that have enacted Halloween-specific restrictions targeting people convicted of sex crimes [Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg / The Appeal].

North Carolina county’s practice of shackling young people in court might be illegal: In Durham County, young people are often shackled at the wrists, waist, and ankles. Judge Jim Hill says that these restraints help keep kids safe in courtrooms, but many have criticized “Durham County’s routine practice of shackling youths, who can be as young as 6, being held in juvenile detention,” according to the Herald Sun. Experts say “restraints can cause long-term psychological damage in children, many of whom have already witnessed or experienced traumatic events.” Many attorneys and advocates believe the practice runs afoul of state law. “I think the basis of the [state] statute is to protect juveniles from having to deal with that kind of embarrassment of being brought in with these handcuffs,” said Hannah Emory, a public defender who represents young people in Durham County. “I don’t think that is something we necessarily want juveniles at such a young age to be made to feel like they are having to be restrained.” [Virginia Bridges / Herald Sun]

Will Alabamans vote to stop sheriffs from pocketing money designated for prisoner food? Ten years ago, paying $500 for half a truckload of corn dogs to feed prisoners was a particularly good deal for Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett, “who liked to find free or donated food for his county jail so he could pocket the leftover money from a state stipend for feeding” prisoners, reports Mother Jones. “For weeks, Bartlett’s prisoners ate corn dogs twice a day,” and he took a total of $212,000 over a three-year period, “taking advantage of an ambiguous state law that lets sheriffs pocket tax dollars meant to buy meals for jail inmates.” He became known as “Sheriff Corndog,” and was ultimately jailed for a night for not providing an adequate diet. On Election Day, voters in Alabama’s Morgan and Cullman counties will “vote on amendments to the state constitution that would require sheriffs to use their food budgets only for feeding” prisoners. The amendments would only apply to those two counties, so they would not apply to Etowah county, home of the infamous “beach house sheriff.” [Madison Pauly / Mother Jones]  See also Our 3/15/18 edition.

Tennessee voters will have the chance to install a police misconduct oversight board: In the last two years, Nashville police officers have shot and killed two Black men who were running away from them, sparking demands for an independent board empowered to investigate police misconduct. Voters will decide whether to approve such a board in a referendum this fall. The proposed board would be able to investigate individual complaints and broader policies. It “would have the power to issue subpoenas and compel witnesses,” according to The Appeal: Political Report. But its recommendations would be advisory, issued to the police department and the mayor. The measure also provides that four of the board’s 11 members need to live in “economically distressed neighborhoods.” The Fraternal Order of Police opposes the amendment, and is airing advertising against it. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

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