Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2015 Families Together in New York State Legislative Awareness Day and Press Conference. Congratulations to our Award Winners and thank you to everyone who shared their voices and stories to impact change for children, youth and families.
GOVERNOR CUOMO RECEIVES 2015 EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP AWARD FOR WORK ON RAISE THE AGE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
State Leaders, Family Members, Advocates Join Together to Support Governor Cuomo's Raise the Age Proposal
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today received the Families Together 2015 Exceptional Leadership Award for his administration's work on Raise the Age criminal justice reform. The Award was presented at a Legislative Awareness Day and Luncheon where family members and advocates urged state leaders to pass the Governor's Raise the Age proposal that aims to create better outcomes for children and public safety.
"New York is the beacon of opportunity and hope, and incarcerating our young people in adult prisons is an abject practice that must end," Governor Cuomo said. "There is no excuse for subjecting hundreds of youth to an environment where they're being hurt, not helped. I extend my gratitude to Families Together for recognizing my administration's work on this issue and look forward to working with our broad spectrum of supporters to pass Raise the Age this session."
The 2015 Exceptional Leadership Award is presented by Families Together in New York State, a nonprofit, family-run organization serving families of youth with social, emotional, behavioral and cross-systems challenges. Alphonso David, Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights and Workforce and incoming Counsel to the Governor, accepted the 2015 Exceptional Leadership Award on the Governor's behalf.
The Governor's Raise the Age proposal follows final recommendations from the Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice and include: raising the ages of juvenile jurisdiction for child and adult offenses, changes to regulations governing arrest and police custody procedure, expansion and changes to pre-trial diversion and court processing processes, plans to remove youth from adult jails and facilities, expanded services to assist offender re-entry to communities, and reforms that address the collateral consequences of juvenile and youthful offenses.
Today, New York State is only one of two states that automatically processes, prosecutes and incarcerates 16- and 17-year olds as adults. Youth are incarcerated with the adult population in local jails while awaiting trial and in the prison population if found guilty. Youth housed in adult facilities are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, two times more likely to be injured by prison staff, and five times more likely to complete suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities. 96 percent of these youth are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.
More information about the Raise the Age campaign is available at www.raisetheageny.com.
Families Together in New York State CEO Paige Pierce said, "I have dedicated my career to serving some of our most vulnerable citizens, connecting them with community-based supports, and advancing sound social welfare policies in response to family identified needs. We cannot stand by and continue to hear the many horrifying accounts of children falling through the cracks, many of which, have been the result of an interaction with our criminal justice system."
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said, "My colleagues in law enforcement and I know that these are critical reforms that will make New York a leader when it comes to criminal justice and public safety. Under the current systems, experiences in prison and collateral consequences after release make it more likely that young people will re-offend, and commit more serious crimes, in the future. It's not good for youth and it's not good for the broader public."
Albany School of Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Meghan Kurlychek said, "On January 1st 2010, Connecticut legislation took effect that raised the age of criminal court responsibility from 16 to 17. Through a partnership with the Judicial Branch of Connecticut, I have obtained and analyzed data on the outcomes of all 16-year-olds processed as adults the year before this change as compared to all 16 year olds processed as juveniles after this change. The findings are rather dramatic, particular regarding decreased arrest and recidivism of juveniles. In specific, of all 16 year olds arrested and processed as adults in 2009, 42 % were arrested for a new offenses within two years as compared to only 26% of 16 year olds arrested in 2010 who were processed and treated as juveniles. This suggests a definite advantage for treating kids as kids and not as adults."
Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT) Co-Founder Jim Saint German said, "I was given an opportunity for rehabilitation because I was in a juvenile setting. I took advantage of that opportunity and reset my course. I am now a graduate student at New York University. My path, like so many others I know, would have been very different had I been sent to an adult facility."
New York City Police Officer and PLOT affiliate Edwin Raymond said, "As a member of law enforcement, we have a duty to protect the community. It is disheartening to send youth into the adult system knowing that they will likely come out worse than when I found them. Having grown up in this community, I know firsthand the difficult lives that youth face. I see myself in these young men and women. If we want communities to be safer, we need to give them the supports they need to turn their lives around."
Alicia Barazza and Doug Van Zandt, parents of a son who was incarcerated in an adult facility at the age of 17, shared their personal story during the event. As an adolescent and someone with a severe mental health challenge, their child struggled to adjust to the adult prison environment. After years of appeals, extended stays in solitary confinement, and an incident of sexual assault, he committed suicide in his cell at the end of 2014.
"We support passage of Raise the Age legislation because it's an important first step in reforming the injustices in the criminal system for the young and disabled. Our hope is that this will prevent tragedies such as what happened to our son," said Barazza and VanZandt.
Additional speakers included Senator Robert Ortt, Chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Senator George Amedore, Chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, Chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
In additional to juvenile justice reform, attendees discussed Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention, Providing a Quality Education for All, Closing the Health Care Coverage Gap, Funding the Family Peer Support Movement, Passing the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act and Continuing to Pre-Invest in the Expansion of Community-Based Services and Reinvest in Medicaid Redesign Services.