A small minority of 16-17 year olds are receiving the boons of a new pilot project in New York, which bypasses the regular criminal court system, where minors or teenagers are treated as adults and put on probation. Advocates of the new system argue that being put on probation and criminal files puts an indelible mark on the careers of youths that jeopardize future career opportunities. New York is one of two states where all defendants above the age of 16 are considered as adults.
The new “adolescent diversion parts” or youth courts are part of a pilot program established this year to provide non-conventional outcomes for nonviolent offenders aged below 18 years but above the age of 16. The project is a hybrid of criminal and family courts, but a bill to establish these courts is pending in the state legislature and would be pending undecided until 2013.
According to records, nearly 400,000 non-violent felony and misdemeanors cases involving 16-17 year olds occur each year. Advocates prefer that such minor and non-violent offenders given an alternative system without stamping them as criminals for life.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman is supporting the youth division bill, effectively raising the state’s age of criminal responsibility to 18. The biggest benefits of the new system is that judges speak directly to the teenagers and make them active participants in the system, and require the presence of parents.
Recently, the Supreme Court had recognized that teenage offenders are different than adult criminals and that automatic life sentences without parole for juvenile murderers violated the constitution. A supporter of the new experimental youth courts, Nancy Ginsburg, who coordinates juvenile intervention for the Legal Aid society said, “If you go to a criminal court in the city, there are 120 cases, the case is called, and the kid has no idea what just happened … The lawyers are speaking their own language.”