ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he will issue conditional pardons for about 10,000 former juvenile offenders, who won't have to disclose convictions on employment, credit or other applications.
Offenders with misdemeanor and nonviolent felony convictions at age 16 or 17 will get pardons after a decade with no subsequent crimes, the New York Democrat said. The governor's office plans to do outreach, starting with those convicted in 2004, who will be invited to apply through a state website, and working backwards.
"They were young and made a mistake," Cuomo told WNYC radio. "Don't give them a hardship their entire life."
The Raise the Age Campaign, like Cuomo, advocates raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18 by law, saying youths charged and convicted as adults have higher rates of new offenses. The group praised Cuomo's unilateral decision Monday to grant pardons.
"Reducing collateral consequences for young adults who served their time and have become law abiding citizens is critical for ensuring access to education and employment as well as housing options," the campaign said in a joint statement from Melanie Hartzog, of the Children's Defense Fund-New York, and Jennifer March, of the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York.
New York and North Carolina are the only two states that automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
Cuomo said that if you indicate on a job application that you've committed a crime, it's very hard to get a job. Eliminating criminal history questions from job applications would be going too far, because society and employers have a right to protect themselves, he said, adding there needs to be a balance.
"We spent all of these years believing that if we punished every offender enough without any relief in the future, every crime would disappear," he said. "What we ultimately did was give a life sentence of stigmatization to kids who made a mistake and drive more people towards crime, because society told them for the rest of their lives that that's what they were — criminals."