A lack of juvenile detention facilities for teenagers charged with violent crimes under New York’s “Raise the Age” (RTA) law has reached a crisis level, often forcing counties to release the accused into the public and placing communities and children at risk.
That’s the finding of a statewide group of county officials and probation administrators, in a letter sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday (August 8).
As noted in the letter, the 2018 RTA law created a new “adolescent offender” status for 16-and 17-year-olds who commit a felony-level crime. Under the law, instead of being tried as adults and placed in jails, the most serious offenders could be sent to specialized secure detention facilities.
However, despite mandating that counties operate or have access to those facilities (which never existed before RTA), the scarcity of these state-certified facilities has led to “severely negative consequences,” for the public and the counties who administer the law.
“Today, counties either have to transport youth far from home while they await trial, or the youth remains free in their community after having been charged with serious crimes that include murder, attempted murder, rape, and robbery—many of which included the use of guns,” the letter notes. “Both scenarios, which are common occurrences in many jurisdictions, are a direct result of the state not being fully prepared for this hastily implemented legislation and its mandate that counties be solely responsible for detention.”
“When secure detention space is not available, the Adolescent Offender, which is often a high-risk individual alleged to have a committed a serious and violent crime, is released to be supervised by the probation department.”
To help resolve this crisis, the county officials are urging Hochul to transition some of the closed Department of Correctional and Community Supervision facilities to accommodate the lack of specialized secure detention beds.
The county representatives also suggested that the state allow the Finger Lakes Consortium to open a specialized secure detention facility.
That consortium, created via a 2018 Intermunicipal Agreement, drafted by Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman, looks to establish a not-for-profit local development corporation to develop and operate a joint detention facility under RTA. Counties who have joined—or are looking to join—the consortium are Allegany, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Cattaraugus, Wayne, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins and Yates. The counties contracted with John Treahy, of Treahy and Associates Consultation Services, an organization experienced in juvenile justice and child welfare issues, job coaching and staff training.
RTA was intended as a shift from punishing to rehabilitating teens charged with crimes. While in custody, the suspects would be eligible for a variety of case services and programs to divert them from offending again and give them access to treatment for addiction or other problems.
The “Raise the Age NY Campaign” believes the law will be more effective in preventing re-offenses. They cite a U.S. Center for Disease Control study that found youth who are tried in the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent more likely to commit future crimes than those who remain in the youth justice system.
A complete copy of the letter to Hochul, signed by representatives of the New York State Association of Counties, Council of Probation Administrators and County Executives’ Association can be found here