Chief Judge: NY Should Send More Teenage Offenders to Family Court

New York State's chief judge said the state should no longer try 16- and 17-year olds as adults in criminal courts if they are charged with less serious crimes.

"New York continues to expose teenagers to an adult criminal justice system that so often serves as a breeding ground for career criminals," said Judge Jonathan Lippman in a speech to the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City Wednesday.

Since 1962, the age of criminal responsibility in New York has been 16. Lippman said that age should be raised to 18, "so that the 16- and 17-year olds are treated in family court where the emphasis is on rehabilitation and on the best interests of the child, rather than on punishment and incarceration."

The administrative judge for New York City Family Court, Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, says she's in favor of Lippman's proposal, but she adds that it's not as simple as it sounds.

"In family court, we are a rehabilitative model for young people generally and that is an ideal that makes sense. But actually making it happen is more difficult," she said.

Judge Richardson-Mendelson says the proposal would require an expansion of the family court system, and it's not yet clear what kind of changes would need to be made, or how much it would cost.

Chief Judge Lippman called on the state's sentencing commission to write a bill in time for the start of the 2012 legislative session in January.

He acknowledged that lawmakers may have to spend more in the short term to add family court judges and offer more social services to young offenders. But he says the shift would save the state money in the long term.