HUDSON–The age ranges and the acts for which offenders and suspects are considered adults, youthful adults, juveniles or too young to charge are going to change. The changes will start next year, if a state bill supported by Governor Cuomo to raise the age limits passes this year.
The changes will cause “a huge impact” on probation bureaus, Dan Kibler, Columbia County’s director of probation, told the county Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee meeting March 19. He also spoke by telephone with a Columbia Paper reporter on two occasions following the meeting.
Currently in New York, the age of criminal responsibility is 16. For misdeeds, persons that age or older face criminal court, conviction for a crime and the possibility of prison. But even with adult status, some teens between 16 and 18 years old get youthful offender (YO) mitigation. Persons age seven through fifteen face Family Court, adjudication as a juvenile delinquent (JD) and adjustment services, which may or may not include juvenile detention.
Children age six or younger “can’t be charged with committing anything,” said Mr. Kibler. For them, “the problem falls on the parents for failure to do due diligence.”
In addition, the Family Court can declare someone under 18 to be a Person in Need of Supervision (PINS) for certain behavior or misdeeds, including acts considered not severe enough to count as juvenile delinquency. Such acts currently include truancy, running away, simple harassment and disorderly conduct, among others.
Under the proposed law, the age of criminal responsibility would usually increase to 18; the maximum age for YO eligibility would rise to 20; the minimum age for juvenile delinquency to age 12. The age range for JD would be 12 through 17.
The bill would allow 10 and 11-year-olds charged with for murder to face adjudication as juveniles; 16 and 17 year-olds charged with vehicular traffic law (VTL) violations–like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs–would face prosecution as adults. Simple harassment, and disorderly conduct would become delinquencies, with Family Court authorized to declare someone a JD instead of a PINS.
As proposed, the changes would occur in stages between 2016 and 2018.
These changes, said Mr. Kibler, respond to “the concept that the human brain is not fully mature until age 25.” By now, in 48 states, the age of criminal responsibility is 18. New York has patterned its proposed law on Connecticut’s.
Youthful offenders are prosecuted as adults, but their criminal records are sealed. For first-time offenders who are 20 or younger, YO status is mandatory if the crime is a misdemeanor; if the crime is a felony, YO status is at the judge’s discretion.
For young people under the age of criminal responsibility charged with an offense, the probation department is typically the first step. In addition to notifying the parents of the accused of arrests and court dates, youth are not confined with adults, and “court and police records… are not released to the public or to the press,” according to www.raisetheageny.com, created by a broad coalition of groups who support changing the age of criminal responsibility.
Adjustment services may or may not include foster homes or juvenile detention facilities—locally that mean either non-secure ones like Berkshire Farm in Canaan or secure state-maintained ones like Brookwood in Claverack.
Despite all the protections in the bill, even those who support the age increases have expressed concerns about some details of the proposed law. In February the New York State Council of Probation Administrators (COPA) notified the state legislature’s Budget Committee that it supports raising the age of criminal responsibility but finds the vehicle exception is “very confusing.” The COPA statement said in part, “If we believe a 16 and 17 year old should be treated as juveniles, then it should also apply to the VTL.”
Mr. Kibler explained that Family Court is not prepared to handle VTL cases and that processing an offender as a juvenile means the case is handled by the county rather than state court, which he said “shifts the money from the state to the county.”
If that happens COPA said, “We could only take on this new state mandate with 100% funding for personnel and services. The governor’s proposal does neither.”
Mr. Kibler said the state might reimburse counties 100%, but he called that arrangement “tricky,” asking, “What if the county doesn’t have the money up front to pay?”