New York State legislators voted Sunday night to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, giving supporters of the measure victory after years of frustration, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The vote leaves North Carolina as the only state that still prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. That may change this month. Juvenile justice and mental health experts, backed by research showing that trying minors as adults causes lasting damage to the teens and the community, have succeeded in raising the age to at least 17 in virtually every state. New York had clung to laws charging offenders as young as 16 as adults for even minor offenses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent years pushing for the change, which has been thwarted by concerns about costs and by some lawmakers who felt the measure would lead to an increase in crime.
The campaign was bolstered by advocacy groups led by Jennifer March of Citizens’ Committee for Children-New York, Naomi Post of the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, and Paige Pierce of Families Together. Marc Schindler of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), said New York was late adopting the age increase despite its reputation as being progressive on justice issues. Last month, JPI issued a study showing that states that have raised the age of criminal responsibility have seen reductions in crime and better outcomes for youth when they are charged as juveniles. The law, which will not take effect until October 2018, means that anyone under 18 charged with crimes will automatically be entered into the juvenile justice system. Prosecutors can still petition to send offenders to the adult system for the most serious crimes.