Officials grapple with ‘raise the age’ law

The “raise the age” law passed as part of the New York state 2018 budget will raise the age of criminal liability for nonviolent offenders from 16 and 17 to 18, and it’s raised many questions among county officials as to how it will be implemented.

The age of criminal liability for 16-year-olds will be raised on Oct. 1, 2018 and for 17-year-olds on Oct. 1, 2019.

Fulton County Probation Director Cynthia Licciardi said there’s going to be a meeting of county probation directors next week to discuss how the law will be implemented. She said in Fulton County in 2016 there were about 35 juvenile offender cases in the 7- to 15-year-old range; for 16-year-olds there were 17 arrests for misdemeanors, one arrest for a violent offense and two for nonviolent offenses; for 17-year-olds, there were 26 arrests for misdemeanors, five arrests for violent offenses and seven arrests for nonviolent offenses.

Under the new law, all of the misdemeanor cases, that are non-traffic related, will come through the probation department, Licciardi said.

“Once this takes affect, I think it’s going to at least double our numbers,” Licciardi said in reference to the number of juvenile cases handled by her office. “We would determine what would happen with [the misdemeanor charges]. We could recommend they do community service. We could recommend services for them. Some may need mental health counseling, some may need substance abuse counseling, so with the misdemeanors we would determine from here how their cases will be handled.”

She said some of the cases could be handed on to family court, but no matter what, Licciardi said she expected the change to increase her office’s cases.

“I would say it’s going to double our workload. Youth are always a bit more difficult to deal with, they are more fluid, they change more quickly,” she said. “I would say it’s going to take more manpower. Right now we have a juvenile officer who handles juveniles and adults, I would guess we would need to have a juvenile officer who just handles juveniles.”

One big question mark about the law change is what will be done with 16- and 17 year-olds who need to be detained for any length of time. Under the current law, a 16- or 17-year-old who received a sentence of a year or less would end up in county jail and someone in that age range convicted of a longer sentence would go to state prison.

Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said he’s concerned there could be costs associated with the counties to detain juvenile offenders under the new law.

“It appears that this is a mandate requiring local governments, in this case counties, to either find and or build or lease or develop a regional plan for detention of the youth,” he said. “We haven’t gotten that far into the process, but I have heard a few officials from this region speculate that several counties might create a regional facility. That is one of the logical options.”

Licciardi said in the past her office was able to place juvenile detainees in the Tryon Detention Center, until it was shut down. These days she says her office is very rarely required to detain juveniles, only in cases when they might be a danger to themselves or others. She said in those rare instances, they would call the Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility in Albany and see if they have a bed available.

Montgomery County Probation Director Lucille Sitterly said her county also uses the detention facility in Albany when necessary for juveniles, but she said that facility isn’t set up for long-term detention.

“Where are they going to go? Traditionally, placing an older youth anywhere isn’t effective. Jail certainly isn’t the answer, that’s why the governor was so adamant to get this passed because he wants to get this age group out of the prisons, and I agree, but we’ve got to have something in place for those people who can’t be on the outside,” Sitterly said.

Sitterly said in 2016 Montgomery County had 69 cases of youth aged 16 to 17 charged with crimes and about 70 to 80 juvenile cases in the 7- to 15-year-old range. She said shifting the nonviolent juveniles to the 16 to 17-year-old range with increase the workload on her department, but she doesn’t know if the state will help pay for it.

“There’s supposed to be 100 percent funding for this shift, if you stay under your tax cap the state is supposed to pay for it, so we’re under the tax cap at this point, but if we go over the tax cap does that mean they aren’t going to fund it? I think they need to fund it 100 percent,” she said. “We’re still waiting for direction from the governor as to how this is going to filter down to the counties. I’ve read the entire bill, several times, there’s a lot in it, a lot about funding and how these particular youths are going to be handled.”

Sitterly said she believes New York state will need to provide a solution as to where to detain juveniles in the 16 to 17-year-old range.

“I don’t believe we are going to have to build a detention facility, I really don’t think that’s going to happen, but it is potentially possible that a 16 or 17-year-old who would go to jail today if they convicted of specific crimes, might have to go to some other child-caring facility, which we don’t have yet. I don’t know how the state is going to handle that. It’s basically up to them to provide the facilities,” she said.

By Patricia Older

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