Why This Matters

RTA-NY_LogoRaise the Age NY is a statewide campaign to support raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State from 16 to 18. New York and North Carolina remain the only states where all 16- and 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults. This process goes against brain science that reveals adolescents are still developing and should be treated in ways appropriate to their physical and mental development.[1] Moving young people who commit crimes out of the criminal justice system and into the juvenile justice system gives them a better chance for a positive future, and it makes our communities safer by reducing the number of re-offenders.

Prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults perpetuates a cycle of recidivism and prevents young people convicted of minor offenses from having a true opportunity to be rehabilitated.” [2]


Legislator Lyndon Williams, a Mount Vernon Democrat

As a member of the Raise the Age NY campaign, WCA is working with partners around New York to pass comprehensive raise the age reform.

By housing 16 and 17 year-olds in an age-appropriate correctional facility, we can offer them a better chance at turning their lives around and becoming productive members of society.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, December 2015

The courts have supported raising the age, as evidenced by decisions in three important Supreme Court cases: Roper v. Simmons (2005) [3], Miller v. Alabama (2012) [4], and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) [5].

Law enforcement representatives also support raising the age, including eight New York State sheriffs, who last year signed a letter in support of raising the age.

This is a bipartisan issue, with many political conservatives supporting raising the age. Newt Gingrich argued for RTA in an op-ed he wrote for the New York Post in 2015.

What Are The Facts?

Research on brain development underscores that adolescents are, in fact, still children, and the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. As their cognitive skills are developing, adolescents often behave impulsively and lack the ability to focus on the consequences of their behavior. [6] Young people’s treatment in the justice system should reflect this reality.

We Can Do Better

New York State needs to ensure that youth are not housed in adult jails and that funding is provided for community-based, developmentally appropriate alternatives to incarceration. The legal process must respond to all children as children, with an emphasis on meeting the rehabilitative needs of adolescents. New York is poised for the opportunity to become a national leader in juvenile justice by reforming the current system.

At the end of 2015, Governor Cuomo issued two Executive Orders, one to pardon some individuals who were convicted of certain crimes when they were 16 or 17 and the second to remove 16 and 17 year olds from adult state prisons. However, comprehensive raise the age reform is still needed.

In the 2016-2017 New York State budget, $110 million was set aside for costs related to raising the age of criminal responsibility, but the actual legislation was left out.

Unfortunately, the state senate ended another session in June 2016 without passing the legislation to raise the age. See the full statement from Raise the Age NY here.

WCA and Raise the Age-NY will continue to work to make sure a comprehensive reform bill is passed so that 16 and 17 year olds are treated in an age-appropriate manner in New York’s justice system.

Help make that happen by becoming an advocate for raising the age.

Go here to access our advocates’ toolkit, created by the Raise the Age New York campaign.  Because the treatment of young people in New York’s criminal justice system should reflect the reality of their physical and emotional development.


[1] Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy. Raising the Juvenile Justice Jurisdictional Age: Treating Kids as Kids in New York State’s Justice System, March 2012, http://www.scaany.org/documents/scaabrief_raisetheage_march2012_000.pdf.

[2] Lungariello, M. (2016, April 05). Westchester lawmakers push NY to Raise the Age. http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/2016/04/05/raise-the-age/82635594/

[3] Roper, Superintendant, Potosi Correctional Center v. Simmons. Supreme Court of the United States. Supremecourt.gov. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/04pdf/03-633.pdf

[4] Miller v. Alabama. Supreme Court of the United States. Supremecourt.gov. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-9646g2i8.pdf

[5] Montgomery v. Louisiana. Supreme Court of the United States. Supremecourt.gov. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/14-280_3204.pdf

[6] MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice. Issue Brief 3: Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence, http://www.adjj.org/downloads/6093issue_brief_3.pdf  

[7] National Juvenile Justice Network. Keep Youth Out of Adult Courts, Jails, and Prisons, http://www.njjn.org/about-us/keep-youth-out-of-adult-prisons.

[8] MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice. Issue Brief 3: Less Guilty by Reason of Adolescence,http://www.adjj.org/downloads/6093issue_brief_3.pdf.

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