New York is one of only two states in the country where all children 16 and older are treated as adults in the criminal justice system. This month the Raise the Age initiative kicked off a statewide campaign in upstate New York, renewing their effort to keep kids under 18 out of adult prisons.
Kyle Chambers was incarcerated in an adult prison when he was 16 years old, and spent his 17th birthday inside.
He says it’s important for kids to learn that their actions have consequences, but it’s vital that others don’t go through what he did.
“Jail changed my entire life," Chambers said. "You know I will never eat the same around people, I don’t feel comfortable eating around people. I constantly have to watch my back, know what’s going on in my surroundings, and I’m only 20 years old. You know, I sound like I’ve been to war.”
Chambers says more focus needs to be put on initiatives that can keep kids off the streets and away from crime in the first place.
Dr. Jeff Kaczorowski, a pediatrician and president of The Children’s Agenda, says raising the age is just the first step in a list of initiatives needed to protect the state’s youth.
“We need to have after school programs, and employment programs, and things for our youth that gives them the ability to have productive engagement outside of school,” he says.
Statewide, roughly 50,000 16 and 17-year-olds are funneled into the adult justice system each year.
Those who end up in adult facilities may be subject to violence and abuse, and are denied age-appropriate treatment according to the Raise the Age initiative.
Additionally, 80 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds incarcerated in adult facilities become repeat offenders.
Colin O’Malley, organizing director of Metro Justice says pushing youth into the adult justice system, and giving them a permanent record, can have long lasting effects for both the kids and the community.
“The impact might not be just spending time in jail, it might not be just spending more time in jail, it could be loss of section 8 housing possibilities, it could be loss of college aid, it could be decreased job potential once you’re out,” O'Malley said.
The Raise the Age campaign is pushing the Cuomo administration to consider the economic, social and personal impact of trying and punishing youths as adults.
They say the only way to break the cradle-to-prison-pipeline present in some New York regions is to invest in youth early and implement age-appropriate interventions if crimes occur.