As of April 9, there is only one state in the nation that charges 16-year-olds as adults
Today, 800 inmates in New York jails and state prisons are younger than 18. What’s more, 96 percent of these youth are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. But after an April 9 legislative vote, things will be different.
Following years of youth advocates and politicians pushing for a change in the age of criminal responsibility, Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally succeeded in passing legislation that raises the age for when juvenile defendants are tried as adults. Starting October 2018, any person under 18 charged with crimes will automatically be entered into the juvenile-justice system.
Let there be no doubt—this is a big deal. Youth housed in adult facilities are two times more likely to be injured by prison staff, five times more likely to be sexually assaulted and eight times more likely to commit suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities. Studies have found that they are 34 percent more likely to be re-arrested for violent and other crimes than similar peers in the juvenile system.
New York is the 49th state to make this change. The remaining holdout is North Carolina, which still automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults. It doesn’t seem like it will be that way for long, though. State lawmakers are debating legislation that will raise the age of criminal responsibility, with an initial vote poised to come this week. One is the loneliest number, and all eyes are turned to the Tar Heel State in anticipation.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that as of April 9, there is only one state in the nation that charges youth under 18 as adults. This was incorrect—there are still states that charge 17-year-olds as adults. This ruling is specifically related to no longer charging 16-year-olds as adults.