Prison reform advocates and local elected officials were working to bring attention to the age for which young people who commit nonviolent crimes are charged as adults in New York state. They and others gathered Wednesday in New York City to declare the moment as a Day of Empathy. New York was one of the only two states in the country in 2017 that forced minors to appear in adult court. The other was North Carolina.
New York state legislators have long supported a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility from youths, lifting the age for those who 16- or 17-year-olds who commit a nonviolent crime to 18. The official bill would raise the age with an exception for violent crimes such as murder and felony, but Senate Republicans have opposed it because the criminal justice system would look "soft on crime."
The bill would also block any minor under the age of 18 to be placed in adult prison and would seek to allow anyone up until age 20 to be presumed a youthful offender status, permitting children's cases to be heard in adult courts under a special Adolescent Diversion Program that is similar to Family Court.
"As a speaker of the New York State Assembly and a father, there is no greater legislature priority," Speaker Carl Heastie said at the Day of Empathy gathering Wednesday. "We have a moral obligation to confront the faults in the system that exacerbates the economic and racial disparity that disproportionally affects low income individuals."
The gathering featured "a townhall conversation about raise the age" with panel speakers, including a variety of public figures ranging from CNN commentator Van Jones to rapper Mysonne to journalist Shaun King to politicians, according to The Gathering For Justice and Justice League NYC, the event's two organizing groups.