Governor Andrew M. Cuomo this week received the Families Together 2015 Exceptional Leadership Award for his administration’s work on Raise the Age criminal justice reform. The Award was presented at a Legislative Awareness Day and Luncheon where family members and advocates urged state leaders to pass the Governor’s Raise the Age proposal that aims to create better outcomes for children and public safety.

“New York is the beacon of opportunity and hope, and incarcerating our young people in adult prisons is an abject practice that must end,” Governor Cuomo said. “There is no excuse for subjecting hundreds of youth to an environment where they’re being hurt, not helped. I extend my gratitude to Families Together for recognizing my administration’s work on this issue and look forward to working with our broad spectrum of supporters to pass Raise the Age this session.”

The 2015 Exceptional Leadership Award is presented by Families Together in New York State, a nonprofit, family-run organization serving families of youth with social, emotional, behavioral and cross-systems challenges. Alphonso David, Deputy Secretary and Counsel to the Governor, accepted the 2015 Exceptional Leadership Award on the Governor’s behalf.

The Governor’s Raise the Age proposal includes: raising the ages of juvenile jurisdiction for child and adult offenses, changes to regulations governing arrest and police custody procedure, expansion and changes to pre-trial diversion and court processing processes, plans to remove youth from adult jails and facilities, expanded services to assist offender re-entry to communities, and reforms that address the collateral consequences of juvenile and youthful offenses.

New York State is only one of two states that automatically processes, prosecutes and incarcerates 16- and 17-year olds as adults. Youth are incarcerated with the adult population in local jails while awaiting trial and in the prison population if found guilty. Youth housed in adult facilities are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, two times more likely to be injured by prison staff, and five times more likely to complete suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities. 96 percent of these youth are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

Families Together in New York State CEO Paige Pierce said, “We cannot stand by and continue to hear the many horrifying accounts of children falling through the cracks, many of which, have been the result of an interaction with our criminal justice system.”

Alicia Barazza and Doug Van Zandt, parents of a son who was incarcerated in an adult facility at the age of 17, shared their personal story during the event. As an adolescent and someone with a severe mental health challenge, their child struggled to adjust to the adult prison environment. After years of appeals, extended stays in solitary confinement, and an incident of sexual assault, he committed suicide in his cell at the end of 2014.

“We support passage of Raise the Age legislation because it’s an important first step in reforming the injustices in the criminal system for the young and disabled. Our hope is that this will prevent tragedies such as what happened to our son,” said Barazza and VanZandt.

Albany School of Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Meghan Kurlychek analyzed data from the State of Connecticut which raised the age from 16 to 17 in 2010. Professor Kurlychek’s analysis found decreased arrest and recidivism among juveniles. Specifically, of all 16 year olds arrested and processed as adults in 2009, 42 % were arrested for a new offenses within two years as compared to only 26% of 16 year olds arrested in 2010 who were processed and treated as juveniles.

“This suggests a definite advantage for treating kids as kids and not as adults,” said Professor Kurlychek.

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