This issue impacts young men of color—who make up 82% of sentences to adult confinement—more than anyone else.
We know far more about brain development in adolescents today than we once did. We know that the part of the brain that controls impulsive behavior and weighs long-term consequences develops last.
As a result of these differences, young people are less culpable than adults, and they hold greater promise for change.
The Supreme Court has relied on this research as the basis for recent decisions outlawing juvenile death penalties, prohibiting juvenile sentences of life without parole for all crimes except homicide and outlawing mandatory life without parole for any juvenile.
Raising the age is not only about being more compassionate. States like Connecticut and Illinois that have recently raised the age of criminal responsibility have demonstrated that we can reduce the rate of crime and recidivism by providing meaningful intervention services.
Let me be clear on one other issue: Serious crimes should have serious consequences, and this law won’t change that. The most serious offenses—including rape and murder—will continue to be processed in criminal court under most circumstances.
Yet children who commit lesser offenses and do not lapse back into lives of crime should be given an opportunity to have a clean record. Appropriately, under this proposal, some 16- and 17-year-olds will have their cases heard in Family Court and thus will not have a public criminal record.
It is imperative that we enact Raise the Age legislation, and put the term “justice” front and center in our criminal justice system.
Andrew Cuomo is governor of New York.
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