In response to state mandates changing how teenagers charged with crimes can be tried and detained, the Schuyler County Legislature voted Tuesday to join a planned ten-county consortium looking at ways to comply with the new “Raise the Age” law and lessen the burden on local taxpayers.
The legislature voted unanimously to authorize Chair Dennis Fagan to sign an Intermunicipal Cooperation Agreement between the counties to create a not-for-profit local development corporation. That corporation if formed, would develop and operate a joint detention facility pursuant to the “Raise the Age” law, eliminating the need for the county to create and operate its own facility.
Under “Raise the Age,” effective October 1, rather than be tried in criminal court, sixteen-year-olds charged with most crimes will have their cases heard in Family Court. In addition, they can no longer be held in local jails. The law will expand to seventeen-year-olds on October 1, 2019.
According to Schuyler County Attorney Steven Getman, who acts as the Family Court prosecutor, youth who are charged with misdemeanors (other than traffic offenses) and most felonies will have their cases heard in Family Court, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Cases involving sex offenses, defendants who display a weapon while committing a crime or cause a significant physical injury can still be tried in criminal court, Getman said.
“The teenagers who have their cases heard in Family Court, will have their sentences capped at 18 months in a juvenile detention facility,” Getman noted. “They also will no longer be held in jails, regardless of the seriousness of the charges against them.”
According to Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, although the state certifies and regulates detention facilities, the state does not develop or administer the facilities, leaving that to the counties.
“This group of counties is working with a consultant to determine how to best meet the detention mandate by pooling our resources and needs,” O’Hearn explained. “It is our hope that this plan will allow Schuyler County to once again lessen the burden of state government through intermunicipal cooperation.”
O’Hearn added that the consortium should operate at no cost to the county because the state has promised reimbursement for all costs related to probation, youth detention and alternatives to detention, and allocated $100 million for “Raise the Age” in the 2018-19 budget.
Other counties who have joined—or are looking to join—the consortium are Allegany, Chemung, Cortland, Livingston, Cattaraugus, Wayne, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins and Yates. The counties have already contracted with John Treahy, of Treahy and Associates Consultation Services, an organization experienced in juvenile justice and child welfare issues, job coaching and staff training.
In addition to O’Hearn and Getman, Schuyler County officials working to comply with “Raise the Age” include District Attorney Joe Fazzary (whose office will continue to prosecute adult offenders), Social Services Commissioner JoAnn Fratarcangelo, Sheriff William Yessman and Probation Director Chris Rosno.
The “Raise the Age” law is intended as a shift from punishing to rehabilitating teens charged with crimes. While in custody, the suspects will be eligible for a variety of case services and programs to divert them from offending again and give them access to treatment for addiction or other problems.
The “Raise the Age NY Campaign” believes the law will be more effective in preventing re-offenses. They cite a U.S. Center for Disease Control study that found youth who are tried in the adult criminal justice system are 34 percent more likely to commit future crimes than those who remain in the youth justice system.