new york finally signs law to stop charging 16 and 17-year-olds as adults

April 17, 2017

It’s no secret that adult prisons can be brutal places, even for the toughest of criminals. And in two states–New York and North Carolina–16 and 17-year-old are automatically charged as adults, meaning children are regularly forced into these hotbeds of violence for years on end.

But on Sunday, New York took the first steps toward join the 21st century. The state just approved legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Signing the budget including the legislation alongside Akeem Browder–older brother to the late Kalief Browder who spent three years on Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack when he was 16–Governor Andrew Cuomo had called the reform “a lightning rod” and “probably the most difficult part of the budget.”

The mostly Republican opponents of the change argued that it would waste funds, and would put more violent criminals on the streets while overloading the juvenile system.

But proponents pointed to research showing that minors sentenced as adults are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be assaulted by staff, and 36 times more likely to commit suicide. Kalief Browder, who spent his three years on Rikers Island without trial and most of it in solitary confinement, died by suicide two years after his release.

According to the Associated Press, the legislation will raise the age gradually to 17 by October 2018 and 18 in 2019. However, minors on Rikers Island will be required to be removed.

The brutality that all prisoners face is an issue, and keeping children out from under it does not fix the problem. But it’s at least a start.

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.

Photo credit: ABC News