Brooklyn Women’s Bar holds Raise the Age CLE
The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association hosted a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar Monday night to discuss the ins and outs of the state’s new Raise the Age law, roughly six months after the law went into its first phase.
The law in its final form, set to be enacted Oct. 1 2019, will prevent the state from charging children below the age of 18 as adults. Judges Edwina Mendelson and Craig Walker analyzed the legislation’s first working phase, which now only applies to 16-year-olds.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We are reforming our justice system, we’re creating an entirely new juvenile and adolescent justice system in New York State and that is a huge deal,” Judge Mendelson said.
Judge Mendelson is deputy chief administrative judge for justice initiatives and is responsible for implementing the new law, a piece of legislation she has been fighting to pass for years.
“Raise the Age didn’t even exist when I started this position,” she said. “And then it became what I spent almost every waking moment and far too many of what should have been sleeping moments, thinking about and working on.”
The goal of Raise the Age is to create fair and just outcomes for young people under 18 without compromising public safety, Judge Mendelson said. That means using incarceration only when absolutely necessary, removing cases to Family Court and getting children involved in programming early on in the case to assure they will live “full, bright lives,” as Judge Mendelson put it.
Justice Walker, acting Supreme Court justice presiding over Brooklyn’s youth part, described how courtrooms have changed for the law, including having a probation officer in the part at all times to work with children from the start of their cases.
But above all, Justice Walker stressed the importance of bringing human touch to each case and showing the kids affirmation whenever possible.
“There can be this young person before you standing there and you’re looking at them and they don’t even have hair on their face or whatever, and this person is charged with a very serious crime,” Justice Walker said. “But do you look at the charges or do you look at the person? I like to look at the person behind the charges.”
Of the roughly 200 cases brought forward since the law’s implementation, 98 percent have been removed to family court, Justice Walker said.
There has also been a 40 percent decrease in arrests of 16 and 17-year-olds in the state in the six months the law has been in effect. The court system prepared for Family Court to have the greatest volume impact; however, there have not been as many cases as expected. That could very well change when the law includes 17-year-olds.
In experiencing the first phase, there have been difficulties, Justice Walker said. For instance, there is a lack of definition for terms that could exempt children from being removed to Family Court. “Extraordinary circumstances” would allow that exemption, but there has not been a case that defines what circumstances could be extraordinary.
Judge Mendelson hopes the experience operating under the law with 16-year-olds will properly prepare the courts for the legislation’s full effect later this year.
“I don’t say no to any opportunity to talk about Raise the Age,” Judge Mendelson told the crowd. “I think it’s one of the most important things our justice system has done in a very, very long time.”
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