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Will changes in state law help young offenders?

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A law designed to keep some teenagers out of the adult criminal justice system is now in effect in New York state.

Under the new Raise the Age law that took effect, October 1, most 16-year-olds who commit crimes will have their cases handled in Family Court. Open Buffalo, Interim Executive Director Max Anderson says, the adult system is one-size-fits-all and doesn't work for young people.

"You know most youth, 16, are not going to have the same judgment or the same impulse control. Or they may not even have a fully formed brain, at the age of 16, compared to what they might be ten years later." And Anderson said, incarceration often makes a person's situation worse.

16-year-olds who might be headed down the wrong track, he says, will be directed to more favorable outcomes in Family Court.   
    
"Because, I think, there can be a different level of sensitivity. And there'll be connections to appropriate services and a more holistic look at what may have caused an incident. Or what may have led to someone being caught in the criminal justice system," Anderson said.  

But, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn says, while the new law applies automatically to misdemeanors his office will be reviewing any cases involving a 16-year-old who commits a felony. 

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Erie County DA Flynn

"Just like 13, 14, 15 year olds beforehand, there are certain offenses such as murder and rape where an individual who's 13,14,15 years old could be tried in adult court," Flynn said.  

The law will extend to 17-year-olds in October 2019. New York was the second last state in the nation to raise its age of criminal responsibility to 18.
 

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