Advocates Push NY to Stop Prosecuting Minors as Adults

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Kathleen Rice
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice at a news conference in Mineola on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. (Photo by Caitlyn Kundrat)

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice joined a coalition Tuesday insisting New York State lawmakers pass legislation to raise the age to 18 for those prosecuted as an adult in the criminal justice system.

Members of the group dubbed “Raise the Age” say 16- and 17-year-olds that are arrested and charged as adults are at higher risk of abuse when jailed and are more likely upon release to become recidivists that find it harder securing education, employment and housing.

“What we are doing now ignores the science behind adolescent development,” Rice told reporters at a news conference in Mineola, referring to the prefrontal cortex that controls impulses as not being fully developed in teenagers. “It ignores the human cost of introducing kids to an adult system.”

The only other state in the nation that prosecutes minors as adults is North Carolina, advocates note, although minors are sometimes charged as adults in other states in violent cases.

Anjelique Wadlington, who was jailed and convicted of drug dealing when she was 17, is now a Suffolk County Community College student and inmate advocate who joined the effort to change the law and replace incarceration with rehabilitation for minors.

“I remember being scared, depressed and filled with fear,” she said of her time at Suffolk County jail and facing a judge. “I never want anyone to experience what I did as a young woman.”

More than 2,700 minors 16 or 17 years old were arrested on Long Island in 2010 alone, 89 percent of them for non-violent offenses or misdemeanors, according to the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York that is managing the “Raise the Age” campaign.

Sergio Argueta, a local anti-gang advocate, noted that Americans aren’t eligible to vote, marry or enlist in the military until they turn 18, but can be charged as an adult as a 16-year-old in New York.

“It’s common sense,” he said of legislation the advocates hope the state legislature will take up in their coming session. “We have seen 15-year-olds in our community be sentenced to more years behind bars than they have on this Earth.”