Young justice: Harlem rally pushes for two bills to protect juveniles in the criminal justice system

A coalition of teens, parents, elected officials, advocates, and more rallied in Harlem Thursday in unified appeal to prioritize two youth justice bills.

Dubbed the #Right2RemainSilent bill and The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act, the legislation looks to alter proceedings and expand judicial discretion for young people facing criminal charges. The #Right2RemainSilent aims to codify legal counsel for adolescents prior to being interviewed by police. Additionally, a parent must be notified prior to the offender being taken to the precinct. The legislation would tweak the currently existing Family Court Act and Criminal Procedure Law to ensure an individual below the age of 18 be consulted with counsel prior to a police interview.

“We can have no future without justice and without opportunity. Do not talk to me about young people being our future. I don’t want kind words. I don’t want posters. I don’t want Tweets. I want action! We must pass the bill and we must do it next session,” Brooklyn state Senator Zellnor Myrie charged during a demonstration outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building.

Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell. Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

The second piece of legislation, the Youth Justice and Opportunities Act, intends to build upon Raise the Age legislation — which, for certain crimes, diverts 16-and 17-year-olds to Family Court rather than treating them as adults. This amended act would allow judges to waive fees and surcharges for all young people aged 18 to 25, create opportunities for judges to sentence young people to treatment, alternatives to incarceration and other programs, allowing young people with a criminal record to petition the court to be retroactively re-sentenced, and more.

“Too often, our unfair criminal justice system imposes penalties on young people that are far harsher than they deserve. Even when we know the punishment does not fit the crime, restrictive guidelines prevent us from putting youthful offenders on a path to greater stability. On this, New York’s laws are unjust, and out of touch. I am proud to carry the Youth Justice and Opportunities Act to fix these wrongs and create new pathways for New York’s young people to move forward,” Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell said.

In addition, the Youth Justice and Opportunities Act will develop a “Young Adult” status, protecting ages 19-25 with the argument that a young person’s critical thinking and decision making continues to develop into a person’s mid-20s.   It will also expand judicial discretion to grant Youthful Offender status, including granting this option more than once and increasing the categories of cases where this status is mandatory rather than discretionary.

Photo by Dean Moses