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Cops, Leave Those Kids Alone: New York Will Not Criminalize Children Under 12

by Jo Ellen Nott  

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill in early January of this year protecting children under the age of 12 from arrest and criminal adjudication for virtually all crimes in New York.  The bill will go into effect in 2023.  

The prior law provided that anyone between the age of 7 and 18 could be charged as a juvenile delinquent, throwing the child into the maws of juvenile delinquency for most crimes.  The new bill raises the lower age for juvenile delinquency to 12, except in the case of homicide.

Criminal justice reform advocates have pushed for increasing the minimum age to 12 to help children of color who are disproportionately affected by entering the juvenile justice system too early and consequently changing the course of their lives invariably for the worse. 

The new law requires that local social services departments provide a differential response program for those under the age of 12 who may have otherwise been charged as a juvenile delinquent. The programs will connect children to proper mental health care and other services instead of sending them into the juvenile justice system. The programs will be monitored by the state.

The Legal Aid Society called the legislation “critical” since over 800 children under the age of 12 were arrested in New York by police in 2019. In New York City, 90% of those children were of color.

Dawne Mitchell, attorney in charge of The Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice, welcomed the new bill in her statement to the press. Mitchell remarked, “For decades, our young clients—the overwhelming majority of whom come from communities of color—have suffered significant trauma from these draconian practices, including life-long harm.” 
The National Governors Association reports that 27 states have no minimum age of juvenile adjudication. In 15 states, the minimum age is 10. In the remaining states, the minimum age ranges from 6 years old in North Carolina to 12 years old. New York will join California, Utah, and Massachusetts in having a minimum age of 12 when the new law takes effect. 

The National Juvenile Justice Network calls on all states to set a minimum age of prosecution of no lower than 14 years old in accordance with the standards set forth by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.   


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