New York’s Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, has proposed an overhaul in the way New York State deals with 16 and 17-year-old defendants. Judge Lippman suggested continuing trying 16 and 17-year-olds who have committed serious crimes in criminal courts, but giving family courts jurisdiction over 16 and 17-year-olds who are charged with less serious crimes. Currently, New York State tries all 16 and 17 year-olds as adults in criminal courts, but critics of New York’s severe policy have said that this punitive approach does an injustice to these minors, who are in need of the social services offered in family courts. The juvenile system is more focused on treatment and rehabilitation, and since juvenile court records are sealed, it is easier for youths to acquire jobs after they serve their sentence, which is expected to reduce recidivism rates.
While attempting this change is progressive, it is also complicated. If New York adopts the plan, it would have to funnel even more money into the court system and into social services, at a time when states are facing massive budget deficits. Furthermore, the change would require a complete reorganization of agencies in the criminal justice system, changing the roles of judges, prosecutors, correction officers and others. Not only would this plan be difficult to implement, but it may prove difficult to pass through the Republican held State Senate.
To drum up support for his proposal, Judge Lippman is speaking to advocacy groups and is planning to establish a pilot program where adolescent defendants are tried within the adult court system, but judges handle their cases as if they are in Family Court, to show that his proposal will work on a larger scale.
Supporters of the measure point to the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmonswhich banned the death penalty for those under 18 years of age, citing differences such as immaturity and susceptibility to peer pressure, as the reasons defendants under 18 years of age should be judged differently from adults.
What do are you views on the proposal? Should New York change its system? Should 16 and 17-year olds be held responsible for their actions the same way adults are? Should even bigger changes be made to the criminal court system in New York?