We invited Sarah Halperin, our 2016 summer intern through Cornell University’s Blumenthal Internship Program, to write about her experience traveling to Albany with us on June 1st to lobby for Raise the Age. Thanks Sarah!
Hi everyone! My name is Sarah Halperin and I am interning with WCA this summer through Cornell University’s Blumenthal Internship Program. On my second day here, I had the opportunity to go to Albany for a Raise the Age Lobby Day. Through that experience, I have already learned so much more about both the faults of our current criminal justice system and the general workings of the New York State Legislature.
This Questioning Was Something I Did Not Expect
I had not been to the Capitol building or Albany before. Upon walking into the building, my group for the day consisted of myself, Sarah Yergeau, Program and Policy Associate of WCA and Jenny Besch, Director of Westchester and Rockland Mediation Centers of CLUSTER. At security and as we went through the metal detector, we had to take off our “Raise the Age” pins. As I was the last to go through, the security woman leaned over and asked me what “age we were trying to raise”. This questioning was something I did not expect. Working so closely to the New York State government, I assumed, even if not very familiar with the issue, she would have recognized the name. Throughout the day, however, I realized how flawed this thinking was. She was not the only security guard to ask what we were advocating for and other lobbyists were curious about our pins as well. Even though upon brief explanation, we gained almost immediate support for the cause and encouragement to keep up our momentum, the lack of awareness among those not directly affected by our criminal justice system was something to make note of.
Meeting with Our Legislative Representatives
We met with one Westchester Assemblymember and four different senior staffers for Westchester Senators to continue the conversation and ask for support. Through data, it is clear that raising the age will reduce recidivism, protect our communities, and offer youth who have made a mistake a chance to become productive citizens. Yet, the legislation still has not passed. Everyone we met with agreed that this is an issue in need of change but are unsure how prioritized the issue is this session. Additionally, in a few of our meetings we spoke about the reasons that there even is opposition to a change that is proven to be beneficial. The concerns we heard were mostly about money allocation and funding, false perception of Raise the Age being “soft on crime” and potential decreases in jobs for some counties in upstate New York. Despite these concerns, however, it is shocking to me that New York, especially in its progressive nature, would be the last and only state to still charge 16 and 17 year olds as adults.
By the end of the day, it was clear that our goal for the elected officials we met with was less about raising support (as it was already there), and more about promoting a leadership role for the issue. The structure and makeup of current government were both identified as barriers to passing the legislation and thus highlight the need for a champion to convince those who are currently opposed or indifferent to vote in favor.
Limited Exposure and Experience with the Justice System Causes Lack of Awareness
After our meetings, we reunited with other Raise the Age groups to talk about our day. The feedback was mixed and somewhat frustrated as little progress was made. While there is continued support for Raise the Age, few are still opposed to it as well. Additionally, those who are in support note the lack of power he or she has in pushing the legislation through due to government inefficiencies. Although these inner politics are out of our control, it is evident that the ability to continue to spread knowledge and gain support for Raise the Age is not. As demonstrated by interactions with security guards and other lobbyists we spoke to, the lack of awareness does not reflect a lack of support but rather is a result of limited exposure and experience with the system. So, to combat this and succeed in raising the age, it is imperative that we continue to educate others on the flaw of our current system in hopes that continued advocacy will bring Raise the Age to the top of the New York Legislature’s agenda.