Family court will begin to see more cases as the final phase of the “Raise the Age” (RTA) law goes into effect in October of this year. The law was signed by Governor Cuomo on April 10, 2017 and makes way for 16-and-17-year-olds to be tried in Family Court instead of being prosecuted for alleged crimes as adults.
On October 1, 2018, the law began applying to 16-year-olds and on October 1, 2019 the law will begin applying to 17-year-olds. While they can still be arrested, the RTA law recognizes that adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn’t benefit them or make communities safer.
Who is Affected?
Nearly 28,000 16 and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court each year. The vast majority are prosecuted for minor crimes with 72% being misdemeanors. In addition to 16 and 17-year-olds, more than 600 children ages 13 to 15 are processed in adult criminal courts each year. This means there will be criminal records following these adolescents for the rest of their lives.
The statewide Office for Court Administration has spent the last year working with local court systems to prepare for RTA. They’ve conducted training’s, created an operating manual, and built new technology and case management tools to track cases. Raise the Age is expected to generate a significant increase in cases being seen in Family Court. Projections state a case load growth of over 6,000 new filings in Family Court this year, as the majority if 16-year-olds will either have their case adjusted or proceed in Family Court.
What Has Changed for Adolescents?
In addition to 16 and 17-year-olds being tried in Family Court, there are a number of other changes that benefit adolescents. When 16-year-olds are arrested, their parents must be notified. Any questioning that takes place must happen in an age-appropriate setting, with parental involvement, and for limited, developmentally appropriate periods of time.
16 and 17-year-olds who are charged with a misdemeanor in Family Court will not have a permanent record. In addition, those charged with a felony will now have their cases heard first in the Youth Part of the adult Criminal Court. From there, most felonies (other than the most serious) will transfer to the Family Court, where they be adjusted, and they will not have a permanent criminal record.
Physically, a person’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system when they are not developmentally capable of being treated as such is ineffective. Youth who are incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse in addition to committing suicide. Studies have found that people transferred to the adult criminal justice system are 34% more likely to be re-arrested for violent and other crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system.
The Raise the Age Law keeps youth out of secure facilities where adults are incarcerated and out of county jails. By placing these cases into the Family Court, adolescents have access to more resources through the court, which are often community-based and focused on support.
One prosecutor has stated, “Once they’re in the system, the collateral damage is horrible. They can’t get housing, they can’t get student loans, they can’t get into college – things that just affect their life. The hope here – and I think it will be successful – is that we’ll have a safer county and more productive young people.”
Rather than continuing to place adolescents in adult prisons, the state of New York is choosing to ensure that they are provided with court processes, services, and placement options that developmentally appropriate.
The Family Law attorneys are McCabe Coleman Ventosa & Patterson are prepared to represent 16 and 17-year-olds in Family Court under the new Raise the Age law. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.