(WIVB) — Starting next month, children under 12-years-old will no longer face arrest or prosecution in New York State. The one exception is in homicide cases.
Under the current law, anyone between the ages of seven and 18 who commits a crime could be charged as a juvenile delinquent. As of January 1, they will instead be referred to the local social services department.
“Speaking to our [social services] commissioner here, she’s taking it very seriously,” said Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti. “She reached out to us to set up a system with all the police agencies, but you can’t get around the fact that this is now an additional duty being placed on social services.”
Filicetti said another concern is the fact that the programs social services would provide are voluntary, which means if the child doesn’t want to participate, he or she wouldn’t have to.
“It’s another weakening, watering down of our criminal justice system,” he said.
In 2019, roughly 800 children under the age of 12 were arrested across New York State.
Criminal justice reform advocates say this change has been a long time coming, and that it will help get children the services they need, like mental health care.
Attorney Barry Covert said it will also prevent them from having to go through the court system for committing a low-level crime.
“[I’ll] give an example of petit larceny, simple trespassing – low-level offenses. You don’t want to traumatize those individuals and handcuff them and put them into the court system and bring them into jail,” Covert said.
But he does agree there are valid concerns that the only exception is homicide, and not other violent crimes.
“I suspect, just like the bail reform was redone after about two years, we may see that in the future here, because there probably should be more carve-outs,” Covert said. “There seem to be some clear-cut examples that will probably play out in the future, unfortunately, and the police will be handcuffed and the court system will be handcuffed and we might regret that the carve-out is so narrow that it’s only homicide offenses.”