Yates County wants youth funding
PENN YAN--The Yates County legislature met Monday, March 13 and passed a resolution urging New York state to fund probation departments and other affected county agencies the full costs associated with raising the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. The language of the resolution reflected fears that this change could pose an on-going financial burden.
The resolution that "the state legislature enact legislation that fully, permanently and unambiguously obligates the state to pay for 100 percent of all new costs incurred..." was passed by a unanimous vote.
According to District Attorney Valerie Gardner, at present, 16, 17 and 18 year-olds are called "youthful offenders" and are handled within the adult criminal system. The change being advocated is to "raise the age" of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, moving this age group out of adult court and into family court instead.
Gardner said it is important to understand what this really means in Yates County. The actual numbers are small since the change applies only to felonies and not to lesser charges. Gardner says during the three year period from 2014 to 2016 a change like this would have affected at most 10 felony cases. In those instances, the felony charges would not have been handled in her office, but in family court instead where the emphasis would have been on rehabilitation and interventions designed to prevent future offenses.
Despite the low numbers, Gardner does have concerns. She notes that if these offenses are handled in family court, the verdicts and dispositions will be sealed. She says in the very small number of cases when a juvenile offender later becomes a violent adult offender, information about anti-social patterns that often begin in the early teen years would not be available to law enforcement. "It is important for public safety to see who has violent tendencies," says Gardner.
Sheriff Ron Spike also worries how the program would actually play out day-to-day. He says, "The devil is in the details," and anticipates that not being able to use adult facilities and courts would be costly and burdensome.
The legislature's resolution specifically mentions some of these cost issues including those associated with transportation, job-training, high school equivalency education, drug and alcohol treatment, family and individual counseling.
Gardner says that even if the age change takes place, extremely violent offenses would still be treated as adult crimes and handled in adult court. Says Gardner, "It is rare, but it does happen."
Recently this issue has become the target of much media attention and public advocacy under the rubric of "raise the age." In a statement released by Gov. Cuomo March 7 he stated, "New York should be ashamed to be one of two states in the nation that treats 15 and 16 year-olds as adults for criminal liability." He has included the issue in his upcoming budget.
As it now stands, his funding proposal stipulates that only counties who do not exceed the two percent tax cap and can demonstrate to the division of budget that funding these services is a fiscal hardship may apply for a waiver of the local share requirement of the program. The legislature's resolution challenges this position.