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 #6
N. A., Youth Shelter Program
When I first started the Teen Advocacy Leadership program, I thought it was just going to be people coming to speak to us. It was actually a fun learning experience that I would tell my peers about and encourage them to advocate for such a positive movement. I found out that where you live depends on how you are treated in the criminal justice system. If a person was to commit a crime, lives in a suburban area and comes from a wealthy family with access to resources, they might get a slap on the wrist with probation. However, someone who commits the same crime but lives in a mostly urban area or the projects (housing authority/public housing), could get a harsher punishment, like two years jail time with five years supervision. The person who lives in the projects would have to go upstate with so much fear in their heart, they might decide to join any gang just for protection. The gang would have the person doing stuff for them that can lead to extra charges and a longer stay just to keep that protection from the gang while incarcerated. The reason the person would do anything for protection is so that they won’t be a victim of rape or assault. In an adult prison, 16- and 17-year-olds are twice as likely to be physically harmed by staff. This can make them weak in an environment where it is survival of the fittest and this can lead to being a victim of rape, which can emotionally and mentally traumatize them so much they end up killing themselves. In an adult facility, 16- and 17-year olds are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than if they were in a juvenile facility. Youth victimization could be eliminated if the age of criminal responsibility was raised to 18 and kids were placed in juvenile facilities. In the adult system, 16- and 17-year olds have limited rehabilitative services, can be put in solitary confinement, and have permanent criminal records. In juvenile facilities, they have access to age appropriate services, parental involvement and their records are confidential. This mean they won’t have a criminal record that can hold them back in life from things like advancing their education, voting, living in public housing, receiving certain loans, and getting a job. In 2016, 86% of the 16 and 17 year old arrests in New York State were misdemeanors and non-violent offenses. In one study, young people incarcerated in an adult facility were 34% more likely to be re-arrested for a violent crime later on in life. After raising the age in 2010, Connecticut spent $137 million on juvenile justice in 2011-2012, down from the $139 million spent prior. Connecticut continues to see youth crime and recidivism for older adolescents decline.
WCA would like to thank the Westchester Community Foundation for their generous support of the Teen Advocacy Leadership program.