Lentol says ‘We need to treat our children as children’
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Should 16 and 17 year olds who are charged with crimes be automatically tried in adult court? Or should criminal cases involving teenagers be handled in Family Court?
Those were just two of the questions that came up at a Dec. 6 hearing held by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg-Greenpoint), chairman of the assembly’s Committee on Codes, to examine how New York State law governing the age of adult criminal responsibility affects 16 and 17 year olds and whether changes to the law would better serve the youth, families, and public safety.
New York is one of only two states that still automatically charge all 16 and 17 year olds as adults.
But changes might be on the way. At the hearing, there was a lot of discussion as well as in-depth analysis of why 16 and 17 year olds should not automatically be charged as adults. The chairmen of several assembly committees attended the hearing.
Lentol has introduced a bill that would bring 16 and 17 year olds to Family Court. Under his proposed legislation, youths charged only with certain serious crimes would be tried in adult court as “juvenile offenders.”
“Providing alternatives for adolescent offenders is essential. It is inhumane to think that a 16-year-old boy who robs an electronic store and is subsequently charged with a felony, should be placed in a state prison with 40-year-old career criminals with murder charges,” Lentol said. “We need to treat our children as children."
One of the points discussed during the hearing centered on the maturity of 16 and 17 year olds. Scientific research has shown that the human brain is not fully developed till the age of 25 – a point that was reiterated by several of the panelists, Lentol said.
In addition, involvement in the criminal court system is likely to affect a youth’s ability to get a job, Lentol said. Adjudication in the criminal court system has been proven to reduce the earning potential of a youth involved in the court system, Lentol said.
“We are placing 16 and 17 year olds at a severe economic disadvantage than their counterparts in other states. For example, a child who is charged with a non-violent felony offense in New York will often have this on his record for the rest of his life. This places them at a severe disadvantage than a child from another state charged in family court for the same exact offense, as their charge could be expunged from their record,” Lentol said.
Lentol said several studies have shown that treating adolescents as adults in the criminal justice system is counter-productive in rehabilitating the youth and ineffective in preventing future criminal acts.
“We need to provide the necessary systems to allow our children to learn from their mistakes and lead them down the right path to not make the same ones in their future,” Lentol said. “We must set our children up for success, rehabilitation and services are the way to lead them away from recidivism."