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OPINION: Planning was less than ideal for ‘Raise the Age’

October 1, 2018 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Cartoon courtesy of Cagle Cartoons

It has been a long time coming. On Monday, the age of juvenile delinquency in New York State was raised from age 16- to 17-years-old and the age of criminal responsibility will be raised to 18-years-old a year from now on Oct. 1, 2019.

There are compelling reasons for making this move. Legislators have been talking about it and planning for it for years. This was put into law more than a year ago. So why weren’t the city and state agencies better prepared?

For years, New York was one of only two states — the other being North Carolina — in which juveniles under the age of 18 were treated as adults by the criminal justice system. They were tried in adult courts and held in adult jails.

Although there was ample time, the court system, run by the state, and the juvenile justice system, run by the city, did not prepare well. The NYC Correction Officers Benevolent Association (COBA), supported by the captains’ union, the deputy wardens’ union and the Municipal Labor Committee was in court yesterday to protest the manner in which the change is taking place.

The COBA lawsuit focuses on how correction officers will be deployed at the Horizon Juvenile Detention Center in the South Bronx where the 16- and 17-year-olds will be held.

It is unfortunate that Mayor de Blasio and the city correction commissioner did not make a better effort to get the unions on board with this important transition, especially since 300 correction officers will be involved. For their part, court officers say that courthouses across the state are dangerously understaffed, and that ‘Raise the Age’ will overwhelm the system. The officers were joined by union leaders and elected officials at a press conference and rally in Brooklyn last week.

The 16- and 17-year-olds detained on Rikers Island are scheduled to be moved to the Horizon Juvenile Facility.

Facility residents will have access to mental health services, music and arts programming from community organizations, Department of Education classes and a renovated outdoor recreational space. (Much of this was also provided at Rikers.)

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David Hansell, commissioner of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which oversees the juvenile justice system, said at a press conference last week, “We are on the cusp of one of the most far-reaching and progressive juvenile justice reforms in decades.”

Like COBA, but for different reasons, JoAnne Page — the president and CEO of the Fortune Society, is not happy that 300 correction officers will be supervising the teens instead of juvenile counselors. “If you move correction officers wholesale, you’re going to move the culture of Rikers Island with the young people, and that’s the antithesis of what we want to see,” she said.

She added, “The dose of rehabilitation in the juvenile facility should be very high. The people who should be working with those kids should be people who are trained in adolescent development.”

The Administration for Children’s Services said it didn’t have enough time to hire and train the juvenile counselors needed, that’s why the correction officers will be filling that role.

How much time does ACS need? Correction officers are trained in about five months. The city had two years to prepare for this. Somebody dropped the ball.

We welcome the fact that these juveniles will finally be treated like the young people they are. And we hope that the outcomes will be better in the future. But we also wish the leaders on the state and city level had taken more time to meet with and listen to the unions that will be responsible for carrying out this change.

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