North Carolina and New York are the only states where 16-year-olds who commit crimes are tried as adults. (Eleven states set the age of criminal responsibility at 17, while the remaining 37 set it at 18.) At a Thursday press conference, a group of Democratic state legislators and civil rights advocates announced their intention to convince New York officials to raise the age at which someone can be arrested and prosecuted to 18. A representative for the Legal Aid Society, which works with most of the minors charged as adults in New York City, told the New York Times “about three-quarters of the roughly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds arrested in New York State each year are detained for misdemeanor offenses,” and that leaving those crimes on teenage defendants’ permanent criminal records places needlessly severe limits on the “educational, housing and employment opportunities” they might pursue as adults. “It’s bad policy, it’s bad practice, it’s bad for the children, it’s bad for the community,” said Assemblyman Karim Camara on Thursday.
A pilot program created as the result 2011 bill introduced by New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman already assigns some nonviolent 16- and 17-year-old offenders to a special corrective probation system that allows them to avoid adult punishment, but Republican state senators are working to prevent it from becoming a law. While many of those calling for the higher age limit want the proposed change to apply to nonviolent and violent offenders alike, sympathetic lawmakers’ efforts will likely focus on minors charged with nonviolent crimes for now, as that strategy seems to be the best way to help the Lippman plan pass when the next legislative session starts in January.