New York stops prosecuting children under 12 in 2023


FILE: Generic jail/prison corridor (Photo credit: Getty)

(NewsNation) — As of Jan. 1, a new law is in effect in New York state, making it so children under 12 years of age will not face arrest or prosecution, except in homicide cases.

Under New York’s previous law, those under the ages of seven and 18 who committed a crime could be charged as a juvenile delinquent, NewsNation local affiliate WIVB reports. Starting this year, they will instead be referred to their local social services department.

The new law, signed by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in late 2021, requires these social service departments set up what’s known as a “differential response program” for those under 12, Gothamist said. These programs would connect children with proper mental-health care and other services, instead of entering them into the juvenile justice system, the news outlet said.

Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti told WIVB that their social services commissioner is taking the new edict very seriously.

“She reached out to us to set up a system with all the police agencies,” he said, though added, “You can’t get around the fact that this is now an additional duty being placed on social services.”

However, criminalizing young people at an earlier age could make them subject to “much more trauma,” Bronx state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, the bill’s sponsor, said to the Gothamist in 2022.

“Our children, as resilient as they are as we’ve seen throughout this (COVID-19) pandemic, they can only bear so much,” he said. Supporters of the legislation note that many of the children in the juvenile justice system have trauma. Studies have found that up to 90% of youth offenders have experienced one or more types of trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence and exposure to violence in their school or community.

According to the Legal Aid Society, which supports the new law, New York’s former minimum age for arresting and prosecution, 7, was the second-lowest age set by statute in the United States. In 2019, the society said, police in New York arrested over 800 elementary school children ages 12 and younger. Children of color “disproportionately suffer the brunt of this practice,” the Legal Aid Society said.  

“For decades, our young clients — the overwhelming majority of whom come from communities of color —have suffered significant trauma from these draconian practices, including lifelong harm,” Dawne Mitchell, attorney in charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said in a previous statement.

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