Westchester Children’s Association received a grant through the Westchester Community Foundation to teach two Teen Advocacy Leadership courses. We focused the advocacy lessons around one of our priority issues, Raise the Age (click here to learn more about RTA). We will feature guest posts from our young advocates. This series will continue through the month of March. We hope you enjoy their stories as much as we do.
Guest Blog Post #3
I. L., Youth Shelter Program of Westchester
Teenagers across the country have been arrested and locked up for a variety of different crimes such as robbery, assault, burglary and even murder. In New York, someone charged with a crime who is between the ages of 16 and 17 years old may qualify as a youthful offender but in most cases a teen in New York State will be charged as an adult and can be sentenced to a state penitentiary. This needs to change because it is not right and teenagers should not automatically be sentenced and tried as adults, especially if they are charged with a lesser crime, such as trespassing.
I, myself, have been a victim of teen incarceration. At the age of 17, I was charged with my first ever crime. I was lucky because I did not have a record behind me so I was not sent to jail. I was given a Y.O. status also known as a youthful offender. When I was 18, I was charged with my second crime and charged as an adult; I was sent to jail that same day. I have friends and family members who have also been victims of teen incarceration. I once had a friend who at the age of 16 was sentenced to an adult facility. He was arrested and charged with discharging a firearm and was sentenced to 3 and a half years.
I believe that if the age of criminal responsibility is raised, then it can be very helpful, especially for kids that grow up in towns and cities that have a high poverty rate. When teens grow up in a city with a high poverty rate, they have a higher risk of being arrested and locked up, just for the simple fact that there is not much to do and a lot of kids are hungry and in need for money. The human brain isn’t completely done maturing until you are at the age of 25 so some kids do things without thinking or they might have been pressured.
In fact, New York is one of two states to automatically charge 16- and 17-year olds as adults. In 2016, in Westchester County, over 700 16- and 17-year olds were arrested and over 65% were misdemeanors. When that many teenagers are arrested, all that is doing is taking up room for the real criminals that are in the world committing serious crimes.
As you can see, I believe New York State should raise the age because the adolescent brain takes years to fully mature. Teenagers think differently than adults. The age should be raised because adolescents are highly receptive to change; they respond well to interventions, meaning they will be more likely to succeed when given the opportunity to change. Minors are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior when they have rehabilitative interventions. From my perspective, the age should be raised because it would benefit a lot of teenagers who are being locked up at a young age. Let’s keep the youth out of jail!
 Source: New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Computerized Criminal History System as of 1/17/2017
WCA would like to thank the Westchester Community Foundation for their generous support of the Teen Advocacy Leadership program.