New York State Governor Cuomo Acts to Remove Juveniles from State Prisons

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June 25, 2015
M. Currey Cook

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that he will issue an executive order to remove 16- and 17-year-olds from state prisons, moving them instead to separate facilities under the supervision of the Department of Corrections and the Office of Children and Family Services. The Governor made this announcement during an end-of-session press conference, where he discussed a tentative legislative agreement on a number of outstanding issues.

M. Currey Cook, Lambda Legal Sr. Attorney and Youth in Out of Home Care Project Director, issued the following statement:

We applaud Governor Cuomo for taking what we hope will be an important step towards treating 16- and 17-year-old New Yorkers, who are incarcerated as adults, humanely. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Baharra’s recent haunting report on conditions for adolescents at Riker’s Island documented the shocking and unacceptable mistreatment suffered by adolescents at the hands of prison staff where ‘a deep-seated culture of violence is pervasive…’ The tragic suicide death of Kalief Browder, the young man from New York who spent three years at Rikers Island without a trial, has focused long overdue public attention on New York’s inappropriate treatment of 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes, and the failings of our criminal justice system. 

Kalief Browder was only one of a huge number of youth of color who are dramatically over-represented in the justice system and prison populations compared to the general population. In 2010, in New York City, 87.9% of 16- and 17-year-olds arrested were black or Hispanic (only 8.2% were white), and of those sentenced to incarceration, 92.1% were black or Hispanic (only 5.3% were white). LGBTQ youth are also over-represented in the justice system and prison populations, in large part due to family rejection, resulting homelessness, and arrest for “quality of life” offenses. While detained, LGBTQ youth, in particular transgender and gender non-conforming youth, face even greater risk of harassment, mistreatment, physical injury, and sexual assault. For LGBTQ youth of color, the intersection of race and identity places them at even greater peril when locked up. 

Governor Cuomo’s action came as a result of a failure of the New York Legislature to enact more sweeping reform to raise the age of criminal responsibility for adolescents to 18, putting New York in line with 48 other states. While we await broad reform that is long overdue, we hope the Governor’s order will protect youth who are wholly dependent on the state for their health, emotional well-being and physical safety.

Read the press release.