The state chief justice in New York is advocating for special courts that combine family court principles with criminal courts. The judge says this will allow for greater flexibility in sentencing. The court will handle cases for 16 and 17-year-olds with criminal charges for non-violent crimes, such as trespassing or vandalism.
The goal is to use the opportunity to rehabilitate kids, instead of sending them to juvenile detention facilities. "If they weren't criminals before, they become criminals when they go in those places," the judge in said a speech this week.
Pilot programs are already active in several locations, including Syracuse.
New York is one of the only states that still prosecute 16 and 17-year-olds as adults. Roughly 50,000 kids in this age group are arrested and prosecuted in regular criminal court every year, even for minor offenses. The youth court system would aim to rehabilitate kids through community-based programs instead of sending them to prison or juvenile detention.
Research has shown that youths who are convicted of non-violent crimes have higher rehabilitation rates and do better generally when they participate in alternatives-to-incarceration programs. Advocates for the program say that inadequately addressing the needs of youth offenders is expensive and has social consequences for society as a whole.
The proposal requires legislative action on the state level to become a permanent part of the justice system in New York. Opponents worry that the change will impede law enforcement. The conservative part chairperson has said that non-violent crime is too broad and that the state should approach the proposal with caution.