Tales of Justice

Will New York’s criminal justice system redefine youth offenders?

  • Alvernia Criminal Justice

New York is one of only two states (North Carolina) in the country that prosecutes 16-year-olds as adults. And research has shown that brain development in teenage boys is slower, and they specifically lack impulse control.

Groundbreaking research in recent years clearly shows major brain development continues until about age 25, and, in many respects, young people tend to think and behave more like adolescents than adults until they reach that age.

The New York City Mayor’s office is looking to change the law, so that at risk youths receive punishments that give them the opportunity to change their lives before it is too late.

Vincent Schiraldi, a senior adviser in the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, has emerged as a leader in a fledgling effort that he hopes could ultimately lead to these changes, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

  • A probation system that establishes specialized programs designed for older youths and young adults. (This could be similar to such a program operating in San Francisco.)
  • Incarceration for young people that establishes separate facilities and includes more programming, including enhanced mental health and trauma assessments, workforce development and a chance to continue with education.
  • “Risk assessments” that focus on the needs of these youths and recognize greater potential for change among them.
  • Pre-trial programs that include supervision from mentors, family and community members.
  • Alternatives to incarceration that address underlying issues and build on “life skills.”
  • Expanded confidentiality protections to reduce “collateral consequences” like difficulty getting work or housing because of a conviction.
  • Sealing of records or expungement after a crime-free period.

What do you think about New York’s current juvenile laws? Should they or should they not be changed?

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