Testimony Delivered Before the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System Committee on Criminal Justice

Jordan Stockdale, Deputy Executive Director for Close Rikers in the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice - December 3, 2019


Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
New York City Council
Committee on the Justice System
Committee on Criminal Justice
Oversight: Implementation and Expansion of Raise the Age
December 3, 2019

Good morning, Chair Lancman, Chair Powers, and members of the Justice System Committee and Criminal Justice Committee. My name is Jordan Stockdale, and I am the Deputy Executive Director for Close Rikers in the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ). Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Chatodd Floyd, MOCJ’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, is here with me as well to answer questions.

New York City has long been a supporter of treating 16 and 17 year olds more appropriately within the juvenile justice system, and applauded the State for its passage of Raise the Age in April of 2017.  This important reform came amid a rapidly shrinking juvenile justice system, and its success builds on ongoing efforts to treat young people fairly and appropriately in New York City. Following broader trends in the criminal justice system, from 2014 to 2018 the number of 16- and 17-year-olds in custody dropped 55% (from 239 in 2014 to 107 in 2018), and the number of children in juvenile detention dropped 65% (from 198 in 2014 to 70 in 2018), even as our overall crime rate continued its downward trend.   

Since the State passed the Raise the Age legislation in April 2017, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice began leading a planning process with the participation of relevant city agencies, the courts, District Attorneys (DAs), Public Defenders and non-profit providers.  As part of this effort, our office formed working groups focused on Court Processing, Programming and Diversion, Data Analytics, and Facilities.  Central to this work was a recognition of key values that anchored our implementation of Raise the Age:

  • Fairness: Justice outcomes for 16- and 17-year-olds should improve following the implementation of Raise the Age, not worsen.
  • Safety: Detain or incarcerate children no more than absolutely necessary. Incarceration is not an appropriate response for children with challenging needs who have no place to go.
  • Continuity: Whenever possible, ensure continuity of defense counsel, court of record, and prosecutorial agency.
  • Speed: Remove appropriate cases from the Superior Court Youth Part to the Family Court system in a swift and timely manner.

There are a few incredible metrics of this success thus far. While arrests of young people have declined precipitously throughout this administration, since Raise the Age was passed, we’ve seen even greater declines.  As detailed in our recent report, in the first 9 months of Raise the Age, misdemeanor arrests of 16 year olds declined by 61% and for 17 year olds 32%. Felony arrests declined by 21% during the same time period for 16 year olds. Moreover, during the same time period, the average daily population of youth ages 17 and under in adolescent or juvenile detention facilities declined by 30%. Again, these declines are on top of precipitous drops in youth arrests and detention during this administration.

These trends show that we can continue to drive down traditional enforcement, increase prevention and diversion efforts, and simultaneously reduce crime. Fewer kids arrested, fewer kids in detention, and safer streets – this is the story of Raise the Age.

Over the past two years we have been working tirelessly to both prepare for the implementation phases and make the system improvements to our facilities and court operations necessary for effective implementation of the law. As you know, prior to October of 2018 the City moved all 16- and 17-year-olds out of jails on Rikers Island and into Horizon, a facility specialized for juveniles and adolescents. From that point onward, all 16- and 17-year-olds detained in New York City have been housed in Horizon or Crossroads — the City’s two age appropriate facilities dedicated to this purpose — or non-secure detention. The Raise the Age legislation also created new court processes.

As of October 1, 2019, 16- and 17-year-olds arrested on misdemeanor charges for offenses occurring on or after that date, automatically go to Family Court. Those who are charged with felonies, as well as individuals under 16 years of age charged with specific serious felonies, are arraigned in the Youth Part in Superior Court of each borough. Youth Part judges received specialized training in adolescent development from the Office of Court Administration.  In order for a case to remain in the Youth Part, a District Attorney must demonstrate that extraordinary circumstances exist that should prevent the removal of the case to the Family Court. While a case is pending in the Youth Part, a judge will decide whether to release the young person with no conditions, set bail, place that person under community supervision, or remand (hold in detention without setting bail). If, after a finding of guilt, the judge imposes a sentence of incarceration, the young person will serve the sentence locally or at an OCFS facility. The development of this entire new court system and court processes required significant coordination between numerous agencies. One notable sign of success, is that during the first year of Raise the Age, approximately 80% of AO cases arraigned in Youth Part were removed to Family Court.   

Young people designated as juvenile delinquents (JDs)—those with cases in Family Court—now include most 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds who previously moved through the adult criminal court system. Department of Probation (DOP) staff interview youth charged in family court to determine if the case may be resolved early through a process known as adjustment. When a case is “adjusted” it can be permanently sealed if the young person abides by certain conditions set by DOP. If it is not adjusted, the case is referred to the Law Department, which acts as the “prosecutor” in the case, investigates the allegations against the young person, and then decides whether to proceed with juvenile delinquency charges in Family Court.

Since the passage and implementation of RTA, these judicial decisions can be made outside of the confines of a court’s daytime hours, with courts available during nights, weekends, and holidays. If, after a plea or verdict after trial, a Family Court judge enters a formal finding that a youth is a JD, the judge must consider a disposition of the case that represents the least restrictive option consistent with the needs and best interests of the youth and the community. A key difference between the juvenile system and the adult system is that a finding of juvenile delinquency does not result in a criminal conviction. Rather, the goal of the juvenile process in Family Court is to ensure that the final disposition of the case meets the needs and best interests of the young person as well as the community’s need for protection.

While the passage and implementation of the Raise the Age has been a remarkable achievement for the City of New York and we’re continuing to see the positive impacts of the law, as with all new efforts some challenges have emerged.  At MOCJ we’ve worked diligently over the past 14 months to meet these challenges and make necessary system improvements in response. For example, we’re continuing to work with all system actors, including the NYPD, Office of Court Administration (OCA) and DAs to make further improvements to reducing the amount of time between arrest and arraignment which, while faster than adult times, we believe could be further improved.   The City is actively working to reduce the overall average time as well as the number of outlier cases.  In the Bronx, the City recently implemented a new court production procedure that has reduced the arrest to arraignment time for youth in that county. This new procedure also allows youth to be escorted into the Hall of Justice within a private sally port as opposed to the public entrance as the previous procedure entailed.

In another related recent improvement, the State recently enacted reforms to allow Accessible Magistrates to remove cases to family court. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice collaborated with our partners at the Office of Court Administration, District Attorney’s Office, Probation Department and Law Department to ensure an effective implementation of this new policy.

The work continues each and every day and is the result of ongoing collaboration among system partners throughout the city to realize the goals of Raise the Age. Raise the Age has undoubtedly led to fewer youth being arrested, fewer youth being detained, and better, more youth-centric conditions for the smaller number of youth in our custody.

I would like to thank all the advocates who fought for years for this reform. This work is possible because of your efforts. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today. I would be happy to answer any questions.