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Youthful-Offender Status Reform Gives New Yorkers a Chance at a Clean Slate

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Thursday, November 18, 2021   

NEW YORK -- This month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law advocates said gives young people who were caught up in the criminal-justice system a second chance.

The legislation expands eligibility for youthful-offender status, which seals the records of adolescents who were prosecuted in adult criminal court prior to turning 19 years old. Under the new law, New Yorkers who were eligible but previously denied youthful-offender status can reapply to have their records sealed five years after completing their sentence.

Julia Davis, director of youth justice and child welfare for the Children's Defense Fund, said it is a relief for people who made mistakes when they were young.

"We see young people making choices that they wouldn't make when they're older," Davis observed. "Giving folks the ability to say 'I'm not really the same person I was when I was 17 or 18 years old' gives them the opportunity to not only have success in their own life but to contribute to that success of their neighborhood, their family and their community."

The youthful-offender status law is an expansion on 2017 legislation, increasing the minimum age for which adolescents could be charged with most crimes as an adult to 18 years old. New York previously was one of only two remaining states to charge 16-year-olds as adults in all cases.

Despite reforms, racial disparities in the juvenile-justice system still persist. According to a February report from The Sentencing Project, Black youths in New York are five times more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers.

Raysa Rodriguez, associate executive director of policy and advocacy for the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, said the consequences of an adult criminal conviction deepen racial inequity already existing in the state.

"We're really unable to tackle race, equity and injustice without this important reform," Rodriguez contended. "When you think about how inequitable access to employment and living wage are for Black and brown communities, this is an important reform that would remove some of the barriers."

A report this summer from The Sentencing Project found the 2017 "Raise the Age" law successfully brought the rates of youth incarceration in New York adult jails and prisons down to zero.



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