"The New York State Legislature needs to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility, and they need to do it this year," demands the subheadline on MSNBC.com's landing page this afternoon for a story headlined, "Stop charging kids as adults." The column, co-authored by former NAACP president Ben Jealous and actress Rosario Dawson, promotes a push by the Citizens Committee for Children of New York [CCCNY] to change Empire State law so that minors aged 16 years old cannot be charged as adults.
Jealous and Dawson don't disclose to what age they believe the age of criminal responsibility should be raised, but they do include a reference to mental maturity which suggests they might be happy with it falling somewhere in the mid-20s:
Every year, almost 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults in New York State, and more than three-quarters of these charges are for misdemeanors like shoplifting and marijuana possession. Some 70% of the children arrested are black or Latino, as well as 80% of those incarcerated.
As Cuomo reminded us, now is the time for a change. The New York State Legislature needs to Raise the Age of criminal responsibility, and they need to do it this year.
Teens are far from perfect, and they certainly are not always innocent. That’s part of growing up. A teen’s brain develops well into his or her 20s, and as cognitive skills improve, so does impulse control. As a result, teens are often unable to focus on the consequences of their behavior.
The CCCNY petition calls on New York legislators to change "New York's laws to be in line with the rest of the country (besides North Carolina)." Presumably that means raising the age to 18, but the petition does not give a specific age, and it goes on with language about studies showing "adolescents brains are not fully developed" until "they are in their 20s" and that "youth involved in the criminal justice system" deserve "court processes" and "placement options that are developmentally appropriate" (emphasis mine):
Research has proven that adolescents' brains are not fully developed and in fact continue developing until they are in their 20s. This is why youth are sometimes more impulsive and less able to think about future consequences. With appropriate interventions, youth are able to learn to make more responsible choices.
Approximately 50,000 16 and 17 year-olds are arrested in New York each year and face the possibility of being prosecuted in adult courts, placed in adult jails and prisons, and having the outcomes on their permanent records. In addition, over 600 children ages 13-15 are prosecuted in adult criminal courts because they have been charged with committing certain crimes. And in New York, children as young as age 7 can be prosecuted in the youth justice system.
Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system is short-sighted and ineffective. Youth incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse and to recidivate - realities that are at odds with the goal of rehabilitating youth and protecting public safety.
Rather than continuing to lock young people up in adult facilities, it is critical for New York to ensure that that youth involved in the criminal justice system are provided with court processes, services and placement options that are developmentally appropriate.
New York's children and youth cannot wait - please Raise the Age today!
Under this logic, should we repeal the 26th Amendment because 18-year-olds are still emotionally and mentally immature? Of course, if anyone ever joked about doing that, MSNBC would clang the alarm bells about a war on young voters who, of course, trended Democratic in the past two presidential elections.
Under ObamaCare, grown children must be able to stay on their parents' health insurance plan until age 26. Say what you will about that policy, at least it's not a matter of criminal justice. Again, while the CCCNY petition does not explicitly call for an age of criminal responsibility falling somewhere in the 20s, there's an implication that, if politically feasible, such a move would be warmly accepted because it's "developmentally appropriate" for youths who are still maturing emotionally and intellectually.
CCCNY is entitled to its opinion, and Ms. Dawson and Mr. Jealous are free to promote it. But by msnbc.com giving them a platform to do so, they are granting editorial blessing to a soft-on-crime policy stance rooted in the infantilization of America's youth.