Recap of March 21 Event: Youth Justice Beyond the Headlines: Five+ Years of Raise the Age

Updated 4/15/2024


On March 21st Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) hosted a panel discussion titled “Youth Justice Beyond the Headlines: Five+ Years of Raise the Age.” The panel’s goal was to recognize the achievements of the Raise the Age (RTA) law and discuss the challenges that remain.

The panel discussion, moderated by Gary Stern, Editor and Reporter at the Journal News/LoHud, featured insights from key stakeholders in the youth justice system, including:

  • Yvonne Borkowski, Legal Aid Society of Westchester
  • Honorable Wayne Humphrey, Judge, Westchester County Family Court
  • Joshua Jackson, New Rochelle Opportunity Youth Part
  • Peter Jackson, Deputy County Attorney, Westchester County Attorney’s Office
  • Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Lackard, Mount Vernon Police Department
  • Commissioner Rocco Pozzi, Westchester County Department of Probation
  • Honorable Lyndon Williams, Judge, Mount Vernon Court System

The last 5+ years of RTA implementation has shown the community benefits of focusing on rehabilitation over incarceration. Commissioner Rocco Pozzi noted that approximately 90% of Westchester youth charged with felonies had their cases moved to Family Court or Probation as Juvenile Delinquency (JD) cases. Over the last 5 years, only 28 children went to placement; before RTA was implemented, approximately 120 youth per year were placed. Placement for justice-involved youth ranges from residential treatment facilities and group homes to juvenile detention centers. Instead, redirecting youth has allowed access to community-based programs that support social-behavioral health, education, and employment, and allows them to stay in their homes.

“Raise the Age put in one word is ‘collaboration.’ A big part of RTA is ‘re-integrating’ youth back into society. To think that we do this alone is not true. We rely on community-based organizations to support our young people outside the court room,” stated Judge Williams. An example was shared by Joshua Jackson a participant in the New Rochelle Opportunity Youth Part, a byproduct of RTA. He stated “OYP isn’t about punishment, it’s about giving opportunities to those who need it most…it turned my life around 360 degrees.” He went on to say that he was able to access job training, employment, and mentorship opportunities that built relationships within his local community.

Adequate state funding solutions were discussed including the potential establishment of a Youth Justice Innovation Fund with $50M of the $250M RTA appropriation which would connect funding directly to community-based organizations, allowing for a continuum of services from prevention and early intervention, to alternatives to detention, placement, and incarceration.

The shift of ending the practice of prosecuting all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults has played a crucial role in the lives of young people across New York state. Two WCA interns Mahlaah Desir and Kelly Deng explained, “The continued support of RTA and the passage of additional bills is not merely a matter of legal reform; it is a testament to our commitment to justice and equity. By investing in our youth, we invest in the future prosperity and stability of our communities.”