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Reformers seek changes for young offenders

Chris Caya/WBFO news

About two dozen people braved a biting wind outside the Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo Tuesday to call on Albany to "Raise the Age."

Buffalo Branch NAACP president Frank Mesiah says children  convicted of minor infractions shouldn't be locked up with adults.

"I guess there's a belief that if you punish somebody at a young age, they're going to reform," Mesiah said.

"You take a young person, 13, 14, 15, 16,17, and put them in a prison, you don't reform them. You turn them into a criminal. They learn criminal behavior."  

Across New York, about 50,000 16-and-17-year olds are arrested each year. Most in Erie County are for misdemeanors, yet the majority of teens are treated as adults even though research shows the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 25.

Common Council Majority Leader Demone Smith says children are being pipelined to prison at an alarming rate.

"Some people might say, 'Well some of these kids are just bad. They need to go to jail,'" Smith said.

"But why are they bad? Is it that they didn't get the education and they turned to a life on the streets? Or is it they were abused in some form? Or they have some serious problems as children to make them act out to do adult things. Almost like putting a mentally ill person into jail knowing that they can't really comprehend which it is that they did."   
Citizen Action of New York vice president Jim Anderson says, "Children can turn their lives around, if they are charged and sentenced in an age-appropriate manner."