Former juvenile offender weighs-in on”Raise the Age”

District Attorney says "Raise the Age" creates loopholes for overly violent youthful offenders

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Buffalo native Keith Jones was just 16-years-old when he first saw the inside of a jail cell.

He was busted for car theft and vandalism.

Jones told News 4 when he was growing up in Buffalo, there was prevalent gang activity which influenced him negatively.

“You know we used to be on the corners,” he said.

As a 16-year-old offender, Jones went through the criminal court system, something that wouldn’t happen if an initiative by Gov. Cuomo is implemented.

The “Raise the Age” initiative would move the vast majority of 16 and 17-year-old offenses into family court, instead of criminal court.

It would more than double the workload for probation officers, but it would also give teen offenders more opportunities for community-based rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration, alongside adult inmates.

Jones backs it. He was housed with adult men during his time behind bars and said it made starting over almost impossible.

“You’re being recruited in the gangs. It’s not the environment for children,” he told News 4.

He also said it may have contributed to him going back to jail as an adult. He served several years for drug charges.

Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita isn’t opposed upping the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18, but said “Raise the Age” is not the way to do it.

Sedita mentioned to News 4 that currently, the majority of cases involving 16 and 17-year-old offenders don’t end with incarceration.

“It’s not like we have hundreds and thousands of 16 and 17-year old kids languishing in prison you know, under the thumb of these 30 and 40-year-old career criminals,” he said.

Another big concern for Sedita, is the cutbacks on mandatory minimums under “Raise the Age.”

Under current law, when a 16 or 17-year-old is convicted of murder, they must serve at least 15 years with a maximum sentence of 25 years-to-life.

Cuomo’s initiative would chop that minimum to 10 years, and bring down the maximum to 15 years-to-life.

For violent felonies like Predatory Sexual Assault, Attempted Murder, Manslaughter, or Attempted Rape, Sedita says jail time is usually necessary.

Under “Raise the Age,” all of those crimes would go directly to family court.

“Prosecutors are not necessarily opposed to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18. That’s not what this is, ok. This is much, much, much, much more.”

Jones has now turned his life around, and even volunteers to help kids stay on the right path. He told News 4 for any system-wide change to work, there needs to be community support and funding.

$135 million of state money has been set aside for the “Raise the Age” initiative, but the legislation didn’t make it into the state budget.

It’s set to be readdressed in June.

 

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