Osborne in the News: As Raise the Age starts, juvenile cases have dropped

03 December 2018
Downward trend in number of newly declared juvenile delinquents

By Rick Carlin  |  December 3, 2018

ALBANY — New York's long-sought Raise the Age law is a reality. The first phase of the new law took effect in October, increasing from 16 to 17 the age at which someone can be tried on criminal charges as an adult. That age will be upped to 18 in 2019.

The law was several years in the making. And while advocates and lawmakers pushed for its passage, something else was going on as well -- a sharp drop in the number of youths being declared as juvenile delinquents.

Fewer and fewer youngsters over the past several years have been arrested and adjudicated as juvenile delinquents.

The number of youths being locked up, either in local facilities before their court hearings or in youth centers, has fallen from 5,066 to 3,654 or 28 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to statistics kept by the state Office of Children and Family Services.

Likewise, the number of intakes, in which new juvenile cases are opened, fell from 12,683 to 9,616, or 24 percent.

Arrests of 16- and 17-year-olds fell from 30,197 to 21,344, or 29 percent. By comparison, in 2010, 46,623 16- and 17-year-olds were arrested.

OCFS officials outlined the trend earlier this fall during a state Board of Regents meeting.

The numbers actually started dropping in 2010 when OCFS, which oversees juvenile-related issues and detention centers, began working to find alternatives for troubled youths.

"New York state has dramatically reduced juvenile detention by more than half since 2010," OCFS spokeswoman Monica Mahaffey said, adding that the agency spends nearly $8.4 million annually through its Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program.

That program provides county alternatives to detention such as mental health support and mentoring. Under Raise the Age, the same strategies will be applied to 16- and 17-year-olds, she said.

Most of the effort to steer youngsters away from juvenile delinquent status is at the county probation level, noted Elizabeth Gaynes, President and CEO of the Osborne Association, a New York City-based organization that focuses on criminal justice reform.

That involves programs to help kids find jobs and career training as well as social services they may need. Additionally, many of the kids that Gaynes' group deals with aren't living with their biological parents.

"There's been a focus on working with kids in the foster care system who have been on what used to be the school-to-prison pipeline," she said.

In Albany County, the probation department has a number of programs in place to divert kids from prison or youth centers, said Probation Director Bill Connors.

That includes job placements and vocational training through a "Career University" program as well as weekly meetings with probation officers who help youngsters think through and act on the changes they need to make.

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