Stop charging kids as adults

By Benjamin Jealous and Rosario Dawson
January 8, 2014

Now that the federal courts have spoken on “stop-and-frisk,” many people think teens in our community have less to fear from the criminal justice system.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Far worse can happen to a child after being stopped.

In his State of the State address Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said what needed to be said: New York’s juvenile justice laws are outdated.

Every year, almost 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults in New York State, and more than three-quarters of these charges are for misdemeanors like shoplifting and marijuana possession. Some 70% of the children arrested are black or Latino, as well as 80% of those incarcerated.

As Cuomo reminded us, now is the time for a change. The New York State Legislature needs to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility, and they need to do it this year.

Teens are far from perfect, and they certainly are not always innocent. That’s part of growing up. A teen’s brain develops well into his or her 20s, and as cognitive skills improve, so does impulse control. As a result, teens are often unable to focus on the consequences of their behavior.

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