Starting this month, children under 12 years old in New York state will no longer face arrest or prosecution for most crimes.
Previously, children in the state between the ages of seven and 18 who committed a crime were charged as a juvenile delinquent. Now, because of a bill signed by Democrat Gov. Kathy Hocul, children under the age of 12 who commit a crime will be referred to their local social services department for treatment rather than going through the court system, according to Buffalo-based outlet WIVB.
Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti told the outlet that the new policy is “another weakening, watering down of our criminal justice system.”
“Speaking to our [social services] commissioner here, she’s taking it very seriously,” Filicetti said, adding that the commissioner “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.”
Reportedly, Filicetti said that the programs social services provide are voluntary, so if a child who commits a crime does not want to participate, they would not have to. In 2019, approximately 800 children under age 12 were arrested in the state.
New York-based attorney Barry Covert told WIVB that the new policy would keep children from going 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. He noted that the only exception to the policy is homicide, but 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.”
New York State Sen. Jamaal Bailey, a Democrat, said “when you criminalize young folks at an earlier age, they’re subjected to much more trauma,” adding that children “can only bear so much” after getting through the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the bill was signed in 2022, State. Sen. Jeremy Cooney, a Democrat, told ABC-affiliated outlet WHAM that the legislation “prevents children from becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system,” adding that “it’s about age-appropriate responses designed to support children in need of help.”
Jim VanBrederode, a former police chief in Gates, New York, told the outlet that children who commit crimes should be held accountable and that the new policy is “risky.”
"Over my 37-year career, I have personally witnessed and in my jurisdiction, kids getting younger and younger committing violent acts," VanBrederode said. "And to just make this black and white and set the age at 12 is a risky thing to do."