County debates when courts should treat teens as adults

HUDSON–Raise the Age, a movement to increase the minimum age at teenagers can be tried as adult for most crimes and, if convicted, end up incarcerated with adult prisoners, was recently raised before two committees of the county Board of Supervisors.

The Raise the Age movement seeks to increase the age from 16 to 18 in this state. Forty-eight states already set 18 as the age and Governor Cuomo supports the change in New York. Last year the state legislature considered enacting the change but has not yet adopted the legislation.

Reclassifying offenders and suspects from “adult” to “youth” status would shift responsibility for many aspects of handling those cases from the state to the county government, which means the proposed law has implications for the county.

At the Human Services Committee meeting February 17 Matt Murell (R-Stockport), chairman of both the Board of Supervisors and the committee, said that he had given supervisors and other stakeholders written material about Raise the Age. “I suggest you take no action yet,” he said. “Just read and consider it.” He said he also wanted the county Department of Social Services (DSS) and other county agencies to have the opportunity to study it, noting, “They’re the ones who will need to deal with it.”

“I realize this legislation has been going on for two years,” said Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward), deputy chairman of the committee. “Counties know this has been going on.” He added that a critical issue was lining up “housing” for the 16- and 17-year-olds already convicted of crimes, since they would no longer qualify for adult prisons.

“When I was at Probation, I heard there would be no cost to the county,” said Supervisor Mike Benvenuto (R-Ghent). “That’s the biggest joke. They can’t just inundate Family Court. Probation will have to deal with them and divert them from going into Family Court. We need funding for the county.”

The following day at the Public Safety Committee Mr. Hughes proposed that the county adopt a resolution in support of Raise the Age, saying, “We can’t pass state laws. We just can pass resolutions saying we support it.” He also said that the county resolution could include suggested changes in some details.

Supervisor Don Moore (D-Hudson, 3rd Ward) said that a key issue was “how best to serve our youth.”

Mr. Hughes noted that “once you have a felony conviction as an adult,” hiring managers and others discriminate against you for the rest of your lives. Furthermore, he said, “I’ve contacted government officials and state legislative offices to clarify how it will affect the county—from probation, to courts, to the DSS.”

At both meetings, Mr. Hughes focused on the need to prohibit the confinement of 16- and 17-year olds in prison with adults. When a person of 16 or 17 is convicted of a “minor offense” and is imprisoned with adult criminals, he comes out “worse than what he was when he went in,” he said. Kids who might have thrived with the help of rehabilitation services instead have “75% recidivism rate” when incarcerated with the adult prison population, said Mr. Hughes.

“The most conservative states in the Union have raised the age,” lamented Mr. Hughes. “New York is one of the most liberal states but has not raised it. I find it amazing that states that have been hard on crime have raised the age and we didn’t.”

At the Public Safety Committee meeting Mr. Murell repeated his advice that members take time to study the implications of raising the age.

But Mr. Hughes declared: “I intend to put the resolution on the floor next month. I don’t want it watered down. The purpose now is for everybody to hear it.”

The next time the full board could consider such a resolution is at its March 9 monthly meeting, 7:30 p.m., 401 State Street.

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