A Better Juvenile Justice System for Our Youth and Our Communities

This post is part of a series of articles about the recently released 2015 Children By the Numbers Data Bulletin.  In this series, we tell the stories behind the numbers and statistics featured in the data bulletin.

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that the #RaisetheAge campaign is really picking up steam. Along with many concerned community members and nonprofit partners, Westchester Children’s Association has been pushing for juvenile justice reforms. These reforms would give young people who have been convicted of a crime better access to the age-appropriate services that will help them turn their lives around. Learn more about the proposed reforms with this infographic.

16 and 17 Year Olds in the Adult Criminal Justice System

In Westchester County, 948 young people ages 16 and 17 were arrested in 2013. The vast majority (674) were arrested for misdemeanors (minor crimes). Under the current New York State law, these youth are tried and sentenced in the adult criminal justice system instead of the juvenile justice system.

71% of arrests of 16 and 17 year olds were for misdemeanors

New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Computerized Criminal History system, as of 11/18/2014.

According to the New York State government’s website, 96% of the youth currently incarcerated in adult facilities committed non-violent offenses. Placing these youth in adult jails exposes them to the negative influence of serious criminals and denies them the age-appropriate resources that will help them learn to make better choices.

Even for youth who commit felonies, research shows that those placed in adult criminal facilities are 34% more likely to re-commit a felony than similar youth who are sent to juvenile facilities. In fact, an estimated 80% of youth released from adult facilities reoffend, often committing more serious crimes than their initial offense.

Racial Disparities in Juvenile Justice

Last week on the blog, we noted that suspension rates are significantly higher for African American students than for white or Hispanic students. In a similar way, there is clear racial disparity in youth arrests, both in Westchester County and New York State as a whole.

In Westchester, African Americans make up only 16% of the population 15 to 19 years old, yet account for 47% of the arrests of 16 and 17 year olds.

Chart: Westchester youth of color are disproportionately more likely to be arrested for a crime than white youth

Arrests Source: New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, Computerized Criminal History system, as of 11/18/2014.
Population Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates, Table S0902, http://factfinder2.census.gov.

What’s more, African American youth, once arrested, are disproportionately more likely to be sent to jail or prison than white youth are. In New York State (excluding New York City), black youth make up only 33% of 16 and 17 year olds who are arrested, but they account for 52% of those who are incarcerated.

While raising the age of adult criminal responsibility is a key part of juvenile justice reform in New York, it’s clear that we can’t stop there. The racial imbalances in our justice system issue a clarion call, urging us to work toward a system that is characterized by equity and justice, where all youth receive rehabilitative support so they can become conscientious adults who contribute positively to society.

Want to help make sure New York raises the age for 16 and 17 year olds this year? Send a message to New York State legislators today.