Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn leads city in transferring youth offenders out of criminal court

September 13, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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New York State’s 2018 law designed to move most 16-year-old felony law-breakers out of criminal court has been rolled out more successfully in Brooklyn than any other borough in the city, according to statistics compiled by the state.

The law, dubbed “Raise the Age,” was passed in 2017 and sought to end the common practice of treating criminal justice-involved 16- and 17-year-old adolescents in the state as adults, even for lower-level felonies. The rollout began in October 2018 for 16-year-olds and is set to be implemented in October 2019 for 17-year-olds.

In Brooklyn, the new law has had early success, with 16-year-olds transferred out of criminal court and into family court or the new youth section of criminal court 92 percent of the time, according to state statistics. The citywide statistics hover around 79 percent.

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Rate of removal from criminal court for 16-year-old "adolescent offenders" under Raise the Age (Oct. 1, 2018-June 30, 2019)

AOs arraignedAOs removed% Removed
New York State
New York City77661679
The Bronx12210082
Staten Island392667

“I believe that minimizing young people’s interactions with the criminal justice system and the revolving door of incarceration and reoffending is beneficial for their future, for the health of our communities and for public safety,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle.

The DA said only three percent of cases in the borough’s young adult court end with a criminal record and that most adolescent offenders are transferred to family court.

“Family court is the best-equipped forum for young offenders as it provides age-appropriate programming to rehabilitate them and to set them on the right track,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was the only district attorney tapped in 2017 to be part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Raise the Age Implementation Task Force as the state prepared to phase in the new law.

Over the first eight-month span for which the state tracked the outcomes of arrested adolescents, Brooklyn had by far the most arrests of any borough, with 387 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 16 arrested between October 2018 and June 2019. Manhattan had the next most, at 284.

Of the 295 adolescent offenders (meaning 16-year-olds, alone) arraigned in Brooklyn’s new youth part, 270 were transferred from criminal court to family court.

In Queens, only 73 out of 127 were transferred to family court, a rate of 57 percent.

Michael Farkas, a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn who now works in criminal defense, said it’s unsurprising that Brooklyn would lead the city in Raise the Age implementation.

“It comes as no surprise that Brooklyn is once again leading the city with the implementation of the historic Raise the Age legislation — it is thanks to the commitment and expertise of our nationally recognized district attorney and judiciary,” Farkas said.

“When you have someone who is a strong advocate for implementing that type of change — as opposed to a DA’s Office who is more resistant or slower to move froward with that change — then the numbers reflect that, and I think it could very well be that simple,” said Jeremy Saland, a defense attorney who represents underage defendants.

The Brooklyn DA’s implementation of the new Raise the Age law has even won him support among Brooklyn’s public defenders, who noted the real-world differences that diversion from criminal court makes for youthful offenders.

“The data confirm what we see in daily practice — that DA Gonzalez’s office has embraced the spirit of Raise the Age,” said Lisa Salvatore, the supervising attorney of the adolescent unit at Brooklyn Defender Services. “For our adolescent clients, this means more opportunities for diversion and the guarantee of no criminal record.”

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